Othering can be described as discrimination against groups of people who are different from the collective social norm or dominant groups in a society. We humans tend to other in the form of racial, religious, gender, age, sexual, class or ethnic identity differences, or being differently abled in comparison to the dominant groups. The Other is created via an us-vs.-them mentality, reinforced by our cultural value of competition over cooperation, rugged individualism and “survival of the fittest” over recognizing our interconnectedness and interdependence. Our societal institutions and systems continue to reinforce The Other.
However, othering is more than simply perceiving people as different; it involves a judgment that groups of humans are inherently inferior, “less than,” and threatening to the dominant group’s way of life in some way. This judgement is a degradation and denigration, often leading to bullying, demonization and dehumanization of entire groups of people; in its most extreme form is genocide of The Other. It may be easier to consider the various forms and levels of discrimination and oppression — othering — as a spectrum of bullying.
In Western societies such as the USA, the norm (dominant group) has been white, middle-to-upper class, heterosexual, Christian men without any perceived disability. Our institutions (criminal justice, media, education, etc.) were established to protect and empower this dominant group, with all other groups experiencing prejudice, discrimination and oppression to varying degrees throughout US history.
When one is a member of a dominant group(s) it is difficult to recognize that you are “in” while The Other is “out.” I use the fish analogy: Fish have no idea what water is; it is all they’ve ever known. This is true of people who are part of the dominant groups. Being accepted and supported by our systems and institutions is all they’ve ever known; they’re not aware of systemic othering because our systems were created for them.
This reality is often especially difficult to recognize or accept for white people who struggle financially or who are living in poverty. They certainly don’t feel privileged and don’t believe they have inherent advantages in a society.
Societies are complex, with a hierarchy of social order determining one’s perceived value and worth as a human being. Changes or threatened change to these norms are what create the tension and friction, as people in the non-dominant groups speak out and stand up for their innate human rights and dignity (abolitionist, labor, women’s right to vote, and civil rights movements).
It’s important to know that the vast majority of people being othered do not feel superior and do not long to become dominant in terms of power and privilege. Most oppressed people aren’t longing for “pay back,” which is what so many people in the dominant groups fear, even if they never voice that fear. Knowing what it is like to be on the outside, they/we simply want to be seen as equal — as equally human – and treated thusly by society. No more, no less. When we speak of being empowered, it is not to have power over anyone else. What we seek is balance, and equal partnership in our societal and cultural relationships.
It is certainly possible for members of any group to feel prejudice against and bias toward other groups. Unfortunately, this is frequently used as an excuse to deflect meaningful discussion and introspection.
However, we must keep the power dynamic in mind. Imbalance of perceived value and imbalance of power creates the environment in which discrimination and dehumanization thrives.
Thus, while members of a marginalized group may have an outright bigoted view of dominant groups, they lack the power to systemically oppress. (That said, if members of marginalized groups do feel inherently superior and do want to dominate and oppress whomever they perceive as The Other, that is ultimately destructive.)
While the No-Othering ZONE™ Campaign is initially focused on the most overt ways in which we other, we hope to explore various manifestations of othering which impact our lives in a destructive way, including our tendency to other the planet and non-human creatures, as though humanity is superior and all other life is inferior and there for us to exploit.
The Coalition for Good’s No-Othering ZONE™ Campaign is intended to:
• Raise awareness of our individual, group, societal and cultural divisive habits of creating The Other, and initiate courageous conversations and respectful dialogue around various forms of Othering;
• Deepen relationships, catalyze genuine collaboration and partnership, and build diverse networks committed to equitable change and transformation on all levels, in all systems. It is via these transformational networks that we shall build caring, just, inclusive and sustainable communities that work for all;
• Nurture discovery of our common humanity and Community Good so that we may learn to celebrate our diversity, not fear it; gather and organize the community resources which already exist, and work together to create what is needed.
Ultimately, the No-Othering ZONE™ Campaign’s intent and mission are reflected in these words of wisdom from Aurora Levins Morales:
Either we are committed to making a world in which all people are of value, everyone redeemable, or we surrender to the idea that some of us are truly better and more deserving of life than others, and once we open the door to that possibility, we cannot control it. … If we agree to accept limits on who is included in humanity, then we will become more and more like those we oppose.
Aurora Levins Morales
The No-Othering Zone™ Campaign is a step to catalyze cultural transformation from one of domination and oppression to one of partnership and harmony.
We must learn to embrace the beauty and wisdom of diversity and inclusion.
Read blog post: WHY THE NO-OTHERING ZONE?
See mock-up storefront which shows the merchandising and fundraising potential with the No-Othering ZONE™ Campaign:
#UnityinDiversity #UnionInInclusion #NoOthering
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