Marginality

Marginality is an in-between or liminal situation experienced by a marginal person or a
marginal group of people because they are forced by the dominant group to exist on the
edges or threshold of the accepted social norm.

Liminal existence is marked by ambiguity, lack of structure, and lack of identity. It is
a negative experience. And yet marginality opens up possibilities and hopes that cannot be
seen by the dominant people in the center. The situation of marginality can be an occasion
for great creativity, insight, and leadership toward personal and corporate transformation.
It can be an occasion to name negative and positive forces that have been nameless and thus
empowering people for transformation.

Barack Obama is a marginal person who has experienced the brunt of marginality,
searching for his identity between black and white peoples, between his white American
mother and his black African father, between countries and regions as diverse as the United
States, Indonesia, Kenya, Hawaii, California, New York City, and Chicago. Throughout his
wonderings in various forms of marginality, Obama has consistently chosen the path of
creativity and service marked by discipline that has led him through the negative aspects of
marginality to the creative, insightful, energetic leadership that could transform a nation.
He will be the first bi-cultural President of the United States–the first truly marginal person
to become President.

President Obama’s election has generated great hope for change not only in the U.S. but
around the world. I believe that the people of the world sense that Barack Obama is not
merely an American but a global citizen who has walked the boundaries of different cultures
and thus is able to understand the international peoples and needs.
My hope is that he will continue to draw from his ability see things and events from his
marginal point of view. May he take the way of the road less traveled–toward justice for
the poor and the oppressed and marginal peoples everywhere. I hope that he will continue
to listen deeply to the pain and brokenness of this country and of those around the world.
I hope Obama will be an agent of God’s shalom, leading us all towards healing and wholeness.

The flipside of this hope is a fear of what may become of a creative marginal person when
that person is placed in the epicenter of power. How will President-elect Obama use power
that will be available to him as the most powerful person in the world? The problem is that
when a marginal person is put in the center of power, his/her ability to see things anew may
become nullified. There is nothing that can quench creative insight more than sheer power.
There will be temptations to use power as brute force rather than as a creative means toward
wholeness and peace. He will be tempted to seek more power by pleasing people and becoming
paralyzed by the myriad of expectations projected onto him. Also, there is fear of how a
few people who cannot tolerate a marginal person as President will deal with Obama. I fear
for his and his family’s safety.

I pray that President Obama will not lose his identity as a marginal person and will
continue to actualize the great potential of creative power given him by listening to the marginal
voices and using power given him creatively and continue to be an effective critic of the
center. I pray that God will use President Obama to harness God’s hesed (steadfast love) and
shalom (holistic peace) in this country and the world.

Kevin Park is the associate for theology and Stewardship in the office of Theology, Worship, & Education Ministries
of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Louisville, Kentucky.