Let’s Talk About Marginalization & Being Culturally Sensitive

Disclaimer: this article does not represent any opinions and is based on scientific research that is done in peer-reviewed journals. 

We all know those stereotypes: Asians get the A’s, White girls are addicted to Starbucks, or any other stereotype that you may have heard of. Unfortunately, in today’s day and age, stereotypes can be very degrading and even harmful in certain situations. 


Stereotypes can be particularly harmful for immigrants and minorities. One key concept that relates to this involves “stereotype threat." It means the same as it sounds! Stereotype threat is a psychological threat that minorities, persons of color, or any other sensitive populations may face when they immigrate or move to a culture that is different from their own. This can entail apprehensiveness about confirming a negative stereotype, for instance, that Indians and Pakistanis are the same, about their culture and being aware that a stereotype exists. On top of this, these marginalized populations may also be facing issues if they are from a low socioeconomic status and acculturation. Acculturation is another HUGE issue. Picture this: you recently move to a new community and decide to showcase the culture from your old community (for instance, wearing a baggy pair of pants that were deemed to be super cool). However, you get made fun of and earn funny stares. As a result of this, you become more conscious of your appearance. Should you skip the baggy pants and just wear what everyone else is wearing? This is the concept of acculturation. Immigrants, especially during adulthood, have a very hard time adjusting and relinquishing their cultural norms, traditions, and any other diverse practices that are of importance to them.


So how can we contribute to eradicating some of these issues? Firstly, it is important to acknowledge your privilege if you are white. Research shows that white people in the past and present have greater advantages over Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic ( BAME) individuals. These advantages include not having to deal with racism and other discriminatory mechanisms that are inherent in society. However, this does not mean that Caucasians do not face hardships; they just do not have to face the type of hardships that minorities might face. For instance, if Kim, an African American woman, at a job firm complains of harassment, her concerns are less likely to be taken seriously. She might also be more afraid of highlighting her concerns  in fear that it could lead to her being terminated for “complaining.” This is a problem that several minorities face, especially if they are immigrants and have to transition to a second career, due to limited educational qualifications that do not translate over when they move to a new country. You can help by acknowledging your privilege, or if you are another immigrant, you should always try to listen open-mindedly to the concerns of immigrants. This may help alleviate some of their stress and allow them to know that they also have an individual, in an entirely new country, who is willing to help them or give them unbiased advice. 


Secondly, if you are working with an immigrant or someone who is from a marginalized population, respect them and ensure you are treating them the same as other workers or students (depending on the setting). For instance, if you are letting Jim take an extra week off to submit his reflection report for an internship, but you are doubtful if Supriya deserves an extra week off due, this could indicate that you have unconscious biases that Indian people might be “lazier.” This is not a fair workplace. You can instead ensure that both Jim and Supriya get the same amount of time, and that you leave your misconceptions at the door, when you are guiding both these individuals. Furthermore, there is also a misconception in place about immigrants being “lazy” or taking up jobs. Although you may not necessarily believe this, it is important to mention why these beliefs may be misguided. Research shows that immigrants actually work riskier jobs that “local residents do not want.” This means more accidents on the job in agriculture or even construction. This means that on top of dealing with acculturation and stereotypes in place, immigrants may also have to deal with unfair working conditions which can cause further stress. Our misconceptions may be based on confirmation bias, which means that we are more likely to believe extreme headlines or stances that politicians might take, instead of making an unbiased decision. This can also be detrimental to ensuring an equitable workplace policy.


Finally, aside from unfair workplace policies, immigrants are also susceptible to healthcare disparities. A research study from 2016 shows that noncitizens and recent immigrants, along with their children, can lack access to health insurance and more likely to have their needs being addressed in a culturally sensitive manner. This leads to a system of discrimination that passes down from one generation to the next. These disparities can be overcome by reducing the negative health consequences of interracial interactions and other stigmatized minority groups. However, we can all pitch in to help these sensitive populations. Some of the ways we can do this is by just being compassionate. It is important to understand that your needs may vary from someone who is from a sensitive background. Try to understand and respect their needs and not make assumptions or other biases that might hinder your interactions. The next time you are at a multicultural event or celebrating diversity, ensure that you are able to gauge an accurate understanding between India and Pakistan (two different countries!), China and Korea, and even Australia and the United Kingdom. The next time you see a booth at a multicultural fair, you now know how to avoid being stereotypical or offensive. Learn how to pronounce someone’s name the right way and learn if they eat meat, why they wear a turban, or even why they do not drink alcohol. By being accomodating to different cultural backgrounds, needs, and respecting diversity, we can continue to being a progressive society on the way to tackling this serious issue.