The Mainstream

In doing some research for a paper I’d been writing about selecting good multicultural literature for children, I came across this quote in an essay entitled “Literature About Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People and Their Families” by Linda Leonard Lamme:

“The ultimate goal for any marginalized group is to fit into the mainstream.”

Something about that sentence irks me. It re-frames the issue of marginalization in ways that I think are dangerous and counter-productive. It sounds like the “melting pot” view of multiculturalism all over again. It suggests that achieving social justice is a matter of assimilation. That marginalized people just need to make a big enough effort to “fit in,” that their difference from the mainstream is just something that needs to be overcome. It ignores their very real oppression–the whole reason they’re “marginalized” in the first place.

In terms of multiculturalism, that’s smack in the face as big as overt racism and ethnocentrism. As someone in the “mainstream” racially, ethnically, and “culturally,” even I can tell you that people don’t want to be melted down. Marginalized ethnic, racial, and cultural groups may want to have their cultures validated and accepted by the mainstream, perhaps. They don’t want to “fit into” it. Doing so would erase what made them marginalized in the first place, which indeed erases the marginalization. But it also erases part of who they are.

Even if we just look at the theme of the article (even though the claim was explicitly made for “any marginalized group”), it still doesn’t work. The mainstream is cisgendered and heteronormative. The queer community automatically doesn’t “fit in” and simply cannot. Our goal isn’t to “fit in”–it’s to expand the mainstream so that queer identities are (again) accepted and validated.

Marginalization occurs because groups of people gain relative societal power and prescribe their identities for everyone else. “We’re White (or male or straight or able-bodied or yada yada yada…and, therefore, you should be, too.” They normalize their experiences and identities. When people can’t measure up because they’re different from that, well…that’s when marginalization occurs.

So, no, Linda. That is not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is this: For there not to be a “mainstream” at all. For all kinds of sexualities and gender expressions and abilities and cultures and faiths and skin colors and identities to be allowed to be “normative.” For people not to have to apologize for not being “normal.”

Normal is just a setting on my washing machine. It doesn’t describe people very well.