Social Marginalization

Zulema Vargas


  • “Social marginality describes the state of being excluded from society or certain parts of society. These people lack the social power or accepted social norms that make them accepted by the rest of the community. Some examples of people who are typically considered socially marginalized (depending on the culture) include the homeless, certain racial groups, those with physical deformities and those with mental health problems.” (
  • Synonyms for Marginalization: “exclusion, disqualification, degradation, belittling, reduction. exclusiveness” ( 


As people from Europe migratedto the what we now call the United States (“Colonial Settlement, 1600s-1763”), this power dynamic began. They colonized and took over, pushing everyone else below them. This created in and out groups, where the in groups are the normative, powerful people while the out groups became the outsiders. The out groups are the ones who are marginalized.

Although this term might seem rather new, its rooted deeply in American society. Slavery, Jim Crow and the current mass incarceration era (“Black History Timeline”)are all examples of social marginalization of black citizens. While looking back, some white people might judge those times as very harsh and inhumane. However, at that time, the marginalization of black people in society was deemed reasonable. Those who deem the marginalization as reasonable are the same people who hold the most power in society. Marginalization happens in society because society approves it. While this might not include everyone, as long as White people agree with it, it is allowed. 

This has had serval consequences on the current society we have. For example: European settlers used their power to kidnap Africans from their lands (“Slavery in America”). The way African slaves were treated displays the dehumanization of their community. This dehumanization weakened the power of black people. Slaves were property and couldn’t get married legally or have power over their children (“Slavery in America”).After the 13thamendment and the emancipation of slaves, slaves were technically free (“Slavery in America”). However, they couldn’t vote and were treated like second class citizens by white people. Then, the Jim Crow era completely excluded blacks from participating in society with white people. After the civil rights era, the war on drugs began. This especially targeted poor, black citizens further oppressing them (“Race and the Drug War”). After the war on drugs, the new tactic to oppress and marginalize black people is excessive police violence and further mass incarceration (“Race and the Drug War”). The continuing governmental pursue to ensure that black people are criminalized and subjected to inhumane treatment, is what allows the social marginalization of black people. The ones marginalizing minority groups are the ones with power.

First example of social marginalization in the United States is the European colonization of the Americas. North and South America fell in the hands of many conquistadors. Between 10 and 20 million indigenous people died from diseases and murder (“European Colonization of the Americas”). As many Europeans migrated to native land, they began to push their political agendas and religions. By doing so, any religion other than Catholicism and Christianity are deemed illegitimate. The power dynamic ensured that European ideals became the norm. 


There are seven categoriesof “otherness commonly experienced in U.S society… race or ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, and physical or mental ability” (Tatum).

There is an intersection of these categories

  • Religion and race:

 Jim Crow justified by Christianity: Hateful violent acts by white pople were justified by being done under the name of Christ, “we can’t deny that lynching-in all of its grotesque brutality- was an act of religious significance justified by the Christianity of the day” (Bouie). The moral justification for the hateful acts is a dominantly white religion (“Racial and ethnic composition among Christians”).

  • The different categories imply different marginalization and a combination of several dominant groups leads to increased power in society.
    • Tatum uses the term “otherness” to reference to the marginalized communities in society
  • Tatum discusses the idea of “dominant” and “subordinate” groups
    • Dominant groups- “set the parameters within which the subordinates operate” (Tatum).
    • The groups who aren’t marginalized “have the greatest influence indetermining the structure of the society” and “assign roles to the subordinate “(Tatum).
    • Dominant groups decide who is marginalized in society
    • Subordinate groups have a relationship with dominant groups the same way siblings might. For example: Sandra and Terry are siblings, Terry is perceived as the perfect child while Sandra is not. They are always compared to each other. Sandra thinks she’s not smart enough because she’s always been compared to Terry. Her self-identity relies on how her parents perceive her. Without each other, their identity wouldn’t exist as it does now because they rely on who is perceived higher than the other. 
    • Applying Tatum’s idea of subordinate and dominant groups in society:
      • Dominant groups are made up of people who are: White, male, Christian, heterosexual, upper class, young, no mental or physical disabilities
      • Subordinate groups are made up of people who are: Any race/ethnicity other than white (Black, Latino, Asian, etc.), Women, Transgender, Non-binary, other religions, old, disabled (mentally or physically)
      • In order to understand social marginalization, we need to consider social marginalization exists because there is an agent of oppression who is not marginalized
      • Although many subordinate groups face oppression, the groups who face the most oppression are defined by race

Indigenous women disappearing: Indigenous women are at an intersection of marginalized groups; racial minorities and gender minorities. There is a sudden increasing number of Native American women and girls disappearing. There is not an exact number of how many are missing due to unreported cases and lack of completed documented cases (Cohen). A U.S senator calls these disappearances “an epidemic, a long-standing problem linked to inadequate resources, outright indifference and a confusing jurisdictional maze” (Cohen). This senator acknowledges the lack of governmental urgency to figure out what is happening to these Native American women and girls. One might ask what would be done differently if these women and girls were white instead of Native American.


Social marginalization makes it more difficult for ethnic and racial minorities to have class mobility in society. “Discrimination and marginalization can serve as a hindrance to upward mobility for ethnic and racial minorities seeking to escape poverty” (“Ethnic and Racial Minorities & Socioeconomic Status”).  “In the United States, 39 percent of African-American children and adolescents and 33 percent of Latino children and adolescents are living in poverty, which is more than double the 14 percent poverty rate for non-Latino, White, and Asian children and adolescents” (“Ethnic and Racial Minorities and Socioeconomic Status”).  While ethnic minorities suffer to overcome poverty, marginalizes groups in society are able to do better financially in comparison. This becomes a disadvantage for ethnic minority groups. The combination of ethnic minority groups and poor socioeconomic status creates a cycle of continuing marginalization. 

Marginalized groups tend to face more law enforcement abuse. Investigatory stops are an institutionalized practice that target racial minorities in a disproportionate rate (Epp et al.). 


To understand many LSJ readings and concepts, requires acknowledgement of dominant and subordinate groups in society. There are disadvantages for marginalized groups in the criminal justice system; paying traffic tickets, inability to afford to a good lawyer, taking an unjust plea bargain to avoid more time in prison, etc.  

Works Cited

“Black History Timeline.” HISTORY, A&E Television Networks, 14 Oct 2019. Web. 11 Feb 2019.

Bouie, Jamelle. “Christian Soldiers.” Slate, 10 Feb 2015. Web. 5 Feb 2019.

Cohen, Sharon. “Why are Native American women vanishing? And who’s looking for them?” The Seattle Times, 5 Sep 2018. Web. 10 Feb 2019.

“Colonial Settlement, 1600s-1763.” Library of Congress. Web. 11 Feb 2019.

Epp, Charles, Stephen Maynard-Moody and Donald Haider-Markel. Pulled Over: How Police Stops Define Race and Citizenship, University of Chicago Press. Print. 

“Ethnic and Racial Minorities & Socioeconomic Status.” American Psychological Association. Web. 2 Feb 2019.

“European Colonization of the Americas” New World Encyclopedia. Web.1 Feb 2019.

“Marginalization.” Power Thesaurus. Web. 2 Feb 2019.

“Race and the Drug War.” Drug Policy Alliance. Web. 10 Feb 2019.

“Racial and ethnic composition among Christians.” Pew Research Center. Web. 10 Feb 2019.

“Slavery in America.” HISTORY, A&E Television Networks, 12 Nov 2009. Web. 3 Feb 2019.

Tatum, Beverly Daniel. The Complexity of Identity: “Who am I?”. Pages 9-14. Print.

“What is social marginality?” Web25 Jan. 2019.