Monday, April 19, 2010

Living the OTHER Life

When we discussed the ways in which we “other” people who are different I was drawn back to the Religious Studies class I took in Violence in the Bible. This is where I was first exposed to the term “The Other”. As I understood it, in terms of the ancient Biblical people, “The Other” was the foreigner, differentiated by looks, law, lifestyle, and religious practices. Particularly for the ancient Israelites, it was important to separate oneself from the Other not only for group solidarity but also because they were chosen by God. In her book The Curse of Cain, Ragina Swartz talks about what the other means to kinship of certain groups. “The tragic requirement of collective identity that other peoples must be identified as objects to be abhorred is manifest in the violent exclusions in Israel’s ancestral myths of kinship, assimong especially poignant expressions in the story of the blessing of Jacob” (Swartz 79-80). I think this principle for separating oneself from the Other can be applied to other historical and contemporaneous situations. As I said in class, it is in human nature to want to distinguish what one is or is not and to do that by marginalizing that which is different from you. It doesn’t limit itself to just majority groups.

As a member of two minority groups, not only do I find myself as being the Other but also othering those that are different myself. I realize that separating myself goes beyond just my skin color. While it is probably this largest sign of my difference there is also a history and social location that situates my experiences differently from a white woman or a Latino man. My experiences, then, are predicated and a result of my skin color and the way that other groups view my difference. It works the same way with gender, class and other identifying categories. I don’t believe that we will ever get to a society that completely integrates us all as people rather than separate groups. It is one of those ingrained structures that would take a long time to dismantle and change. I also personally think that othering people can be good for perpetuating autonomy and individuality. I personally take pride in my differences and can better understand those who are different from myself. Plus our locations in life make it hard to be unified because the dynamics of culture are so deeply rooted and there are things that a 20 something American, white female could never understand about being a 60 year old man in India. What say you?

1 comment:

  1. As a sociology/anthropology major, I am taught to accept that as a 20-something American white woman, that I can't truly understand what it's like to be that 60-year-old Indian man. The social constructs that create our situatedness are simply too vast and too dangerously invisible to completely shake, an action that would be necessary for true understanding. That said, there are vast opportunities inherent in the fact that all humans are so different. Identity is a tricky thing, we are all proud of our markers in life that separate us from the pack. Hopefully that doesn't have to be a negative aspect of human life, but a richly diverse one. I also can't imagine a society in which grouping does not happen based on some identity marker, but I am reassured by the point you bring up that grouping can be a helpful tool rather than always the weapon.


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