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It's Time to Marginalize "Marginalize"
What the radical right is doing to Jews, LGBTQ, Blacks and others should no longer be tossed aside as simple marginalization, a euphemism that has outlived its usefulness.
We spend a lot of time, justifiably, bemoaning the predicament of so-called marginalized people. I do as well. I’m part of one such group, though some dispute that Jews are marginalized - which is precisely the problem. We’ve gotten too hung up on a word that cannot be defined with precision, yet has become a touchstone for indignation. It’s a lightning rod, both for infighting among victimized groups and anti-woke hate-mongering among those nurturing their own grievances of supposed marginalization at the hands of liberal elites or their own “Lost Cause.”
What we have here is a race to the margins.
It’s time to retire an expression that has seen exponential growth in its usage over recent years. The term may be a lightning rod for resentment, but in truth it’s not nearly strong enough to convey the vile, despicable, unforgivable hatred that is manifested when a group faces chronic discrimination. The discrimination can take many forms, but no matter what form it takes, the hatred is the same. We need to refocus our energies away from determining who’s on or off the list of the marginalized, and instead join forces and take aim at the hatred itself.
So what exactly does it mean to be marginalized?
The Etymology Dictionary focuses on the meaning "force into a position of powerlessness," which was first employed around 1929, a time when the Great Depression marginalized millions, most of whom did not fall neatly into any particular group. Everyone was rendered powerless by the overwhelming tide of the financial collapse. There was no specific perpetrator, just lots of victims. Throw in some microbes, and that’s how we all felt in 2020, during Covid.
Thesaurus.com presents the following synonyms for “marginalize” - criticize, demean, deprecate, diminish, disparage, and belittle. All are potentially malevolent, but none does justice to the venomous hate that "marginalize" connotes - and provokes. They are pinpricks, mere schoolyard taunts, when what we are really talking about, in its broadest sense, are actions that have led to crimes against humanity. The road to George Floyd or the Nuremberg Laws should not feel so circuitous and benign. The 1935 Nuremberg Laws targeted Jewish participation in civil service, medicine and law, and went as far as to control their sex lives, health care and finances, ultimately relegating them to disenfranchised, second-class citizens. We are heading in that same direction now with the trans population, with LGBTQ more broadly, and with women as a whole. We can’t be lulled into a false sense that a little belittling is harmless. It’s the most slippery of slopes and all stems from the same hate.
Historically, the Jews have been a marginalized group, but the term simply doesn't do justice to the venom we've endured through the ages, and continue to now.
I was both delighted and saddened that two Broadway shows dealing with antisemitism, "Parade" and "Leopoldstadt," won multiple Tonys - thrilled to see antisemitism so openly discussed, but sad that it needs to be. Micaela Diamond, who stars in Parade, employed the "m" word in her recent op-ed in the New York Times. She wrote, “If we refuse to embrace our inherent otherness — the parts that make us definitively Jewish Americans — we forget our common struggle with other marginalized people.”
She is saying, "Hey, we are victims too!" That's true, but why clamor for admittance to this club of the loathed, in a perverse, Groucho Marx kind of way? Instead, let's dispense with this sad assembly of victims and replace it with something less self deprecating and more defiant. We can join forces, not as powerless outsiders, but as the true insiders. We who have been “othered” need not define ourselves as others define us, even as those others race to the margins to claim their own status as victims.
Besides, to say we’ve been marginalized is far too kind to the perpetrators, who for the most part have not relegated their targets merely to the margins of society, but off the board altogether. They’ve kicked their chosen scapegoats right off the playing field and then kicked the chair right out from under them. And now, as corrective measures get cancelled one by one - voting rights, control of one’s body, affirmative action - victimized groups have been left without safeguards and societal protection. This treatment has been far worse than “marginalizing.”
Call us anything but marginalized. We are not merely disparaged or diminished - we are the humiliated and broken, the tired, the huddled masses. The legion of the lynched.
Listen to the songs from Parade and study the lyrics, and you can see that "marginalize" doesn't do justice to this (or any) lynching. Granted, Leo Frank was one of only three known Jews to be lynched in the Jim Crow era amidst 3,446 Blacks. To say that Jim Crow-era Blacks were "marginalized" sounds like a parody of the systemic ostracism that they faced then, and to a degree still do today. The term is a euphemism designed to lessen the shock and numb the response, much as the Nazis euphemistically called deportation "resettlement."
Only three Jews were lynched a century ago, but eleven were mowed down in a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018, solely because they were Jews. Those victims were marginalized all the way to their graves.
When facing down the most vile human impulses, we can't deliberately soften the blow. I've always been a believer that transparency disinfects, and the antisemitic tropes exposed in the lyrics of Parade are so chilling that they rip off the bandaid of toleration, the illusion of acceptance that the Jews of Atlanta thought protected them then, and that American Jews think protects us now. These lyrics baldly lay bare the despicable stereotypes, one by one.
How's this for starters - from the song, Real Big News.
So give him fangs, give him horns,
Give him scaly, hairy palms!
Have him droolin' out the corner of his mouth!
He's a master of disguise!
Check those bug-out creepy eyes!
Sure, that fella's here to rape the whole damned South!
They'll be bangin' down my door,
Yellin' "More, Craig, more!"
"Call for justice! We need justice!
Beat the bastard! Kill the bum!"
Big news! Real big news!
My savior has finally come!
The lyrics are chilling but they seem harmless in the context of a Broadway show, until we realize that they are repeated on an endless loop on social media - and people believe them. The ADL has put together a Parade study guide explaining how stereotypes like these invariably lead to much worse. Sticks and stones can break bones - but names too can hurt you. The demonization of Leo Frank that led to his faulty conviction and eventual lynching draws a straight line from the medieval blood-libel child-killing accusations right through Pizzagate and associated conspiracies - and straight to the "grooming" accusations of today's news. As the ADL has stated, "The antisemitic Goyim Defense League has distributed fliers across the U.S. claiming "every single aspect of Disney child grooming is Jewish.” No wonder Parade was targeted by neo-Nazi protesters.
What the radical right is doing to Jews, LGBTQ, Blacks and other minorities should no longer be tossed aside as simple marginalization. According to the Beyond Bullying website, half of all trans students in the US are bullied at school. Half! When you repeatedly kick someone to the curb, that goes beyond mere schoolyard antics. It's pure evil, and it cannot be allowed to become normal.
It is incumbent on all civilized, kind people to stand up to the bullying of trans folks that has become all-too-normalized in our society. This population is feeling utterly and maliciously assaulted by those trying to legislate them out of existence. The goal, again, is not to push them to the edges of society, but beyond the margins and off the table altogether.
We need to treat acts of hate like NATO treats a breach of international borders. An attack on one must be met by a response from all. The hatred directed toward the trans community and others who are LGBTQ is the same hate Jews have stared down for centuries.
As any writer knows, margins are malleable. They can be adjusted, whether justified or unjustified, to fit the needs of the assignment and the contours of the case. Some are inside the margins, others are outsiders. Some shift between the two. It’s all a matter of perspective.
Margins are malleable - but hate is evil. Hate is constant. Let’s join forces to defeat that.