Step Away From The Keyhole

This post is part of the November Synchroblog, “Seeing Through The Eyes Of The Marginalized”.  A synchroblog is a collection of similar articles or posts made by a diverse group of bloggers who have agreed to blog on the same topic on the same day. You can find a list of all the participants at the end of this post.  If you’re a blogger & want to be part of future synchroblogs, you can join on facebook or go to our new synchroblog site and subscribe.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Being “marginalized” means more than just belonging to a minority. Marginalized people are pushed to the margin because a society refuses to acknowledge their needs, their beliefs, their value, their rights and their concerns.  As a follower of Christ, I want to reach out and help people who are marginalized – I want to be a good ally, who not only empowers marginalized people to believe that they matter and that what they have to offer has value, but also to change society and systems that continue the cycles of marginalization and oppression.  Living that out is hard and even those of us who are sincere and well intentioned are prone to make mistakes.  Here are some things I have been learning as I attempt to become a good ally to some dear friends of mine who often find themselves in the margins.


Someone said, “People who look through keyholes are apt to get the idea that most things are keyhole shaped.”  That is what happens to us.  We see the world through our position of privilege and it robs us of a realistic perspective – we need to step away from the keyhole we have been peering through, throw open the door and walk out into the open. Privilege is the biggest obstacle that an ally of any marginalized person or group has to overcome.  It traps us into mindsets that make it almost impossible for us to understand what it means to be marginalized.  This obstacle can be effectively dealt with and overcome, but many (maybe even most) allies haven’t taken the time to confront their own privilege and the part it plays in the oppression of others.  Most are so accustomed to their privilege that they aren’t even consciously aware of it – white, male, straight, healthy, affluent, employed, included, heard, affirmed – whatever our privilege is, we need to acknowledge it, confront it and learn about how it is part of the problem. Without acknowledging the privilege we hold we cannot truly understand the experience of the marginalized or effectively contribute to their betterment.


The lack of humility is a definite barrier for those who want to see through the eyes of marginalized people and work for justice.  The more one learns about privilege and oppression the more one will recognize oppressive attitudes and behaviors they have held, how little they know about what it is like to be marginalized, and how many things one has done or said in the past that is now considered to be dreadful … in other words, if you want to see through the eyes of the marginalized, be a good ally and fight for justice get ready to be comfortable with humility.  Becoming a good ally means we have to give up the power that privilege has afforded us and allow humility to create space in us to listen, learn and grow.


It is easy for us to forget that those who are marginalized and oppressed are individuals with unique stories of their own.  People within a marginalized group have unique and individual needs and concerns.  We need to take the time to build authentic relationships with marginalized people, to listen to their stories, to see them as more than a project or a cause, to connect with them, learn from them and experience day to day life with them.  The only effective way to empower marginalized people to believe they matter and are valuable is through individual interaction.

What help can you offer to those who want to become good allies to people who are marginalized and oppressed?

Here’s a list of all the contributions for this month’s synchroblog:

Kathy Escobar – Sitting At The Rickety-Card-Table-In-The-Family-Room For Thanksgiving Dinner

George at the Love Revolution – The Hierarchy of Dirt

Arthur Stewart – The Bank

Sonnie Swenston – Seeing through the Eyes of the Marginalized

Wendy McCaig – An Empty Chair at the Debate

Ellen Haroutunian – Reading the Bible from the Margins

Christine Sine – Seeing through the Eyes of the Marginalized

Alan Knox – Naming the Marginalized

Margaret Boehlman – Just Out of Sight

Liz Dyer – Step Away from the Keyhole

John O’Keefe – Viewing the World in Different Ways

Steve Hayes – Ministry to Refugees–Synchroblog on Marginalised People

Andries Louw – The South African Squatter Problem

Drew Tatusko – Invisible Margins of a White Male Body

K.W. Leslie – Who’s the Man? We Christians Are

Jacob Boelman – Seeing through the Eyes of the Marginalized

Peter Walker – Through the Eyes of the Marginalized

Cobus van Wyngaard – Addressing the Normalized Position

Tom Smith – Seeing Through the Eyes of the Marginalized

Annie Bullock – Empty Empathy

Christen Hansel – Foreigners and Feasts

Sonja Andrews – On Being Free

14 thoughts on “Step Away From The Keyhole

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  4. Graham

    I know it’s not quite the same thing, and I don’t intend to sound flippant, but being a smoker in the modern West really does give one an idea of what it means to be marginalised. A huge part of your life is ignored (at best) and ridiculed (at worst) by everyone else. You can’t go anywhere or do anything, you’re taxed outrageously, and nobody understands how or why it bothers you so much.

    Granted, it’s probably easier for a smoker to quit smoking than for someone under abject poverty to get out of it (although how much is possibly subject to debate), and a smoker is likely more to blame for their marginalised status than someone under abject poverty is for theirs (although this is a generalisation, to be sure), but my point still stands. 🙂

    1. Liz Post author

      Graham – I appreciate you trying to relate to people who are marginalized by trying to find something in your own life that feels like marginalization but without any malice I don’t know if I would consider smoking a very good comparison.

      What might be more helpful for you is to start by examining all the ways you are privileged and think about how your privilege perpetuates the oppression and marginalization of others. It’s a painful exercise and I don’t like doing it either but for us who are so accustomed to privilege it is a very big obstacle that can keep us from crossing over into territory that would bring about justice. It isn’t something that can be done in a short period of time – it requires us observing our life over weeks and months – it is actually never ending but after a while we can begin to be aware without so much effort.

  5. Annie

    I really like your comment about seeing them as more than a project or a cause. That’s part of my concern, that they become less individual people and more representatives of a group and opportunities for my growth. One of the great gifts of postcolonial thought is its emphasis on the complexity of identity. Colonialism tells us we are white or brown or black simply. Or rich or poor. Or dominant or subordinate. Reality, though, is that we are complex subjects And that’s why people have to be more than a project or a cause to us.

    1. Liz Post author

      Annie – It is certainly a balancing act. On the one hand I believe that we cannot really be effective in creating change unless we have individual connections but I also believe that we need to be working on behalf of groups of people and within systems and organizations that are oppressive.
      That can become quite challenging as there is not always agreement within a group of marginalized people about what is needed and should be done. God help us all!

  6. Peter J. Walker -

    I should add that the sacrifices I just listed are financial. In some ways, money is easy. I’m also willing to alter my friendships, my group affiliation, my fellowship, and give up a little esteem, respectability, legitimacy and popularity among my groups of origin if it means aligning myself somehow with the marginalized.

    1. Liz Post author

      Peter – Asking ourselves tough questions and examining our motives is great advise. I have also begun to take the time to think more in these kind of terms and it is sometimes very painful to see beneath the surface – but it’s the only way – I have to change myself if I want to have an impact.

      I get so frustrated when I see so many Christians (I live in TX) who say they care about the poor, sick, oppressed, abused etc but spend their time and energy advocating for political parties and policies that perpetuate the marginalization of the people they say they care about. Most of these Christians were against Obama’s healthcare reform because they believed it would raise their taxes or limit their choices – they say that they believe Christians and the church (not government) should be taking care of the sick but these people have their lives set up to where they are living from paycheck to paycheck just to support themselves and their family. Wouldn’t paying more taxes or accepting some inconveniences be one small way that Christians could be advocates of the marginalized – could help care for the sick???? Sorry – I get a little riled up ….

      My point is that I appreciate that you point out very practical ways that we can be good allies for marginalized people – “pay more taxes and live a little less comfortably and even lose out on a couple of job interviews if it means a little more justice, a little more equality and a little more opportunity in this far-from-classless society. … alter my friendships, my group affiliation, my fellowship, and give up a little esteem, respectability, legitimacy and popularity among my groups of origin if it means aligning myself somehow with the marginalized.”

      Thanks for your willingness to do such things for the sake of those who are pushed to the margins. I pray that your offerings and sacrifices will be a blessing to others.

  7. Peter J. Walker -

    One way that I constantly check myself on is: “what are my motives for such-and-such action/belief/opinion/rant/communique?” If what I’m saying serves my own self interests (as you wrote: “white, male, straight, healthy, affluent, employed, included, heard, affirmed…” though I’m not-quite-affluent) then I have a problem and I really try to back up and explore my motives. On the other hand, if I’m serving the interests of my friends or neighbors who are somehow OTHER from myself, I tend to feel confident that – right or wrong – my heart is in the right place.

    Or I could just have a savior complex… uh oh… shit.

    No, but truly: I’m not very interested in voting my interests or advocating for middle-class white guys. I’m willing to pay more taxes and live a little less comfortably and even lose out on a couple of job interviews if it means a little more justice, a little more equality and a little more opportunity in this far-from-classless society.

  8. Pingback: Foreigners and Feasts « Greener Grass

  9. kathyescobar

    oh liz, i always love what you write. thank you for sharing these important reminders about privilege, humility & seeing every person we meet as an individual. i am thankful for your voice and heart!


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