Recently the White House hosted a meeting called, “Bringing Marginalized Girls into Focus in STEM.” The intent of the meeting was to convene eminent scholars and activists in STEM education to focus on the access and success of girls of color in STEM fields. Here too, it is an important objective, one that I believe in completely. It turns out a young lady who is an alumna of the charter school I am chair of in Atlanta was asked to speak at the event. I was thrilled for her and for her family and for our school, but I cringed that she had to stand at the podium in the White House under the banner of a Marginalized Girl.
To be marginalized is to exist on the margin. By definition you are not central to the primary text. At best you are a potential edit to the core narrative or a mere musing as the reader passes by. As the event described, you need to be brought into focus. In 1903, W.E.B. DuBois asked, “How does it feel to be a problem?” At the White House event, they stopped short of asking this bright young star from Atlanta, “How does it feel to be marginalized?”
The problem with this language is that it reduces this beautiful, talented and remarkable young star to a mere sidenote. The assumption is that there is an editor who will decide whether she is fit to be included in the narrative or not. The question becomes, how do we change her to make her more relevant? This description, like so many others specially designated for Black and Brown young people, is based on the notion that they need to be changed somehow – that they need to be granted permission to cross the barrier between being an edit or being part of the national narrative.
This young lady’s dreams and talents do not exist on the margin. They are central to her identity and she is central to the American narrative. Her interests and curiosities are no more or less various than the young unnamed talented and privileged White girl against whom she is being compared.
The difficult work is changing the narrative, not changing the girl. Restructuring and expanding the narrative and eliminating the margin will make the American story more compelling.