The concept of “others” or the similar “us vs. them” mindset is rather fascinating to consider, especially in terms of how this perspective influences not only our perception of other individuals but also our perception of other cultures and nationalities. While we may not intend to cast individuals who are different than us as “others,” it is a natural human tendency.

As we studied in my social psychology class, many Western cultures, including the United States, tend to reflect individualistic mindsets, meaning more emphasis is placed on the individual and their own attributes and identities, rather than the collective group. However, in other cultures, such as cultures in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America, greater value is placed on collectivism. Given these foundational differences in cultural ideologies – individualism vs. collectivism – we are led to further explore the differences between our Western culture and the culture of other regions such as the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. As we find more differences between the two, we inherently start to characterize individuals in Eastern cultures as “others” or look at it from a lens of “them vs. us.”

 

Individualistic Culture: Definition, Traits, and Examples

What Is a Collectivist Culture? Individualism vs. Collectivism

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This concept of “others” is found within our communities. Northern Virginia is a relatively diverse area with individuals from various backgrounds, ethnicities, nationalities, and cultures. Given our proximity to Washington D.C., there still exists the concept of those who belong and those who are cast as an outsider. Growing up, in my high school, individuals from Western cultures were predominantly viewed as belonging, while individuals from Middle Eastern, Asian, and African cultures were viewed as outsiders or plural others. Furthermore, given the demographics of Northern Virginia and the consequent lifestyle, individuals from higher socio-economic classes were viewed as more belonging compared to individuals from lower socio-economic classes.

Even in my college experience at Dickinson, while the college strives to promote diversity and inclusion, the concept of “others” is still prevalent. Given the demographics of Dickinson, I feel that individuals who are from foreign countries, but specifically non-European countries are viewed as the “other” or as plural groups. For example, the current student population at Dickinson is 2,204, of which 24% of students are of color and 13% are international. Given these statistics, both international students and students of color are in the minority, hence these individuals can be perceived as “others” or a part of plural groups. Furthermore, moving away from demographics pertaining to nationalities, I feel like there is another presence of “other” mindset in the sense of athletes versus non-athletes. Given the size of Dickinson, about a quarter of students (if not more) are members of varsity sports teams. This in itself creates the mindset of “others,” in that student-athletes view those who are not fellow athletes as “others” and vice-versa.

 

Dickinson College Diversity: Racial Demographics & Other Stats

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In viewing individuals as “others,” this can not only influence our perceptions but also our interactions with them. While we may have our own preconceived notions of different cultures and nationalities, the media plays a significant role in shaping our perceptions. For example, the media coverage of the 9/11 terrorist attacks led to the misperception and stereotypes of Middle Eastern cultures, specifically Islamic culture. Due to these misperceptions, individuals outcasted Muslims within the United States and portrayed them as “dangerous” or as “terrorists,” hence harming the interactions with individuals from the Middle East. Similar to the 9/11 attacks, in the wake of Pearl Harbor, misperceptions of Japanese led to the general characterization of all Japanese Americans as “dangerous to national security” thus, resulting in the creation of internment camps.

Each of these two examples depict how preconceptions influence both domestic politics but international politics as well. Given how the United States viewed Japanese after Pearl Harbor and Arabs after 9/11, U.S. foreign policy to these regions drastically shifted. In each of these situations, the U.S. responded with increased hostility, which led to tense and adversarial relations. While these two examples are extremes, it demonstrates how preconceptions of other cultures on a self-level can influence domestic preconceptions, and subsequently influence international preconceptions. Thus, the concept of “other” is not only prevalent in our local communities but also appears on the global scale, as nations perceive other nations as the “other.”

 

 

 

 


Comments



3 Comments so far

  1.    Darren Moses on February 20, 2024 1:43 pm

    Hi Caitlin, I 100% agree with what you are saying in this vlog, I do feel that International students are listed as the others on campus. I also liked that you brought up the athletes’ vs the non athletes because I feel that Athletes view non athletes as the idea of others and vis versa for non athletes.

  2.    Sara Ayoub on February 20, 2024 4:30 pm

    This was such an interesting read! It’s really fascinating to uncover how cultural differences can influence, whether positively or negatively, how we view others and those we consider to be outsiders. Having been the outsider in college in the US as an exchange student, I related to what you wrote. It wasn’t intentional othering but rather a more natural one that comes along with coming from a different culture, background, and mindset. Your examples of 9/11 and Pearl Harbor serve as a reminder for us to challenge our preconceived notions and try harder to be more emphatic and understanding rather than immediately jumping to exclude others.

  3.    Swarnim on February 21, 2024 1:26 am

    Thank you for sharing your insightful reflections on the concept of “others” and the pervasive “us vs. them” mindset. I appreciate your mention of the individualistic and collectivistic mindsets in Western and non-Western cultures, it was certainly a culture shock as an international student coming from a collectivist culture.
    Your insight into the role of media in shaping perceptions is crucial, especially in the context of the 9/11 attacks and the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. This information underscores the power of media in perpetuating stereotypes and influencing public opinion.
    Building on your observations, I wonder if you could share your thoughts on potential strategies or initiatives to foster greater understanding and bridge the gap between individuals and cultures. How do you think education and awareness play a role in dismantling stereotypes and promoting a more inclusive perspective?

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