Essay on the idea of marginality expressed by Bell Hooks
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From its humble beginnings in 1776, the United States has been a bright beacon of equality, whose light has attracted millions of immigrants from all parts of the world. Yet, this heavily sought equality is still a fleeting ideal, an ideal not enjoyed by a portion of our population. These people, whose numbers have been displaced, oppressed, and dominated, represent the margins of our society. Though part of American’s collective whole, they live and work outside society’s center, and take up space in the margins, much like the margins of a sheet of paper. Author bell hooks, however, believes these margins not only represent sites of oppression, but also serve as places of resistance. To hook’s, the margins are something the marginalized need to hold on to, for it is a site of resistance that allows the oppressed to hold on to their individuality and use it as a source of power.
Resistance is the space in the margins where the oppressed can say “no” to the oppressor. Bob Marley’s song is an example of such resistance, “We refuse to be what you want us to be, we are what we are, and that’s the way it’s going to be” (hooks 160). The space, where which Marley’s expresses his counter-hegemonic resistance, is located in the margins of society. This resistance is a vital outlet for the marginalized, it allows them to speak out against years of displacement and repression. The medium the margins provide gives the marginalized a way to “de-colonize [their] minds” (hooks 161). The colonization hooks is referring to is the control and dominance people from outside have over the people within the margins, while de-colonization is an attempt by those in the margins the reverse the effects of such prolonged oppression. This attempt by the marginalized to de-colonize their minds is essential to their very survival.
“If we only view the margins as a sign, marking the condition of our pain and deprivation, then a certain hopelessness and despair, a deep nihilism penetrates in a destructive way the very ground of our being. It is there in that space of collective despair that one’s creativity, one’s imagination is at risk, there that one’s mind is fully colonized” (hooks 161). It is evident that hooks is placing significant weight on the importance of resistance with in the margins. She believes that if the marginalized only use the margins as a place to denote their years of pain and oppression, they will not more forward, and regress as a community. She believes the regression will not end until those in the margins have been fully colonized and assimilated by the oppressors.
She argues that the margins must be used to “produce counter-hegemonic discourse,” (hooks 160) a place to battle the encroachments of the oppressors, a place where the marginalized can hold on to their “creativity and imagination” (hooks 161). hooks also recounts something her mother told her as she was leaving for a predominantly white university, “You can take what the white people have to offer but you do no have to love them (hooks 161). From this quote we learn that hooks’ mother was cognizant, and somewhat hesitant to, her daughter being taught “in a culture of domination by those who dominate” (hooks 161). Her mother urges her to use her “radical perspective” (hook 161) as a sieve to separate useful information from those used by the oppressor to assimilate the oppressed.
The plight of those from the margins was also written about by Leonie Sandercock, whose article, “Voices from the Borderlands,” expressed the notion that society as whole can learn from people of the borderlands. “They challenge us to work with difference, without being paralyzed by it, or falling into the quicksands of identity politics” (Sandercock 213). They have experienced displacement, oppression, domination, and racism, and because of this, they are in a unique position to tell us what is with our cities. These people often work outside the margins while living inside of them. They have a view of our society from the inside and out, and through this panoramic view, they understand how or society works, and can give us clues as to how to fix its problems.
Sandercock also believes that these people can “turn their very marginality into creative space” (Sandercock 203). These voices from the borderlands challenge our hegemonic practice of epistemology and ontology, and the way we learn. They provide a powerful critique of dominant culture, and through coalitions, they build bridges to expand justice, equality, and love. Voices from the borderlands create a civil society among themselves that aims to expand the notion of citizenship by challenging us not only to accept their differences and diversities, but to valorize them as well.
Understanding of marginality is very vital to the survival of those within it. It gives them space to resist against the oppressor. If those in the margins do not put forth any type of resistance, they will dwell on the margins as a place of displacement and domination, which ultimately leads to their full assimilation. Those in the margins can also harness their power as a collective whole to push forward their cause. With their combined knowledge of how society works, both in and outside the margins, they can provide solutions to many of our cities problems. Marginality is an important function in our society, and those within the margins much strive to hold on to it, even if they now live and work outside of it, for the margins provide space for resistance.