The world is obsessed with boxing people in. What do I mean by that? Notice how almost every conflict both nationally and internationally is advertised to the public as being a fight between two distinct groups, a fight between warring identities and ideologies. I experience this concept daily at Dickinson College. Here at Dickinson, I play women’s lacrosse, which means that I am not just recognized as a member of the lacrosse team, but as an “athlete.” On campus, athletes label non-athletes as NARPs, or a non-athletic regular person. When I first arrived on campus for freshman orientation, I was actually warned by athlete upperclassmen to avoid NARPs because they were collectively labeled as snitches who were weird and boring. On the flip side, because athletes behaved standoffish toward non-athletes, NARPs viewed athletes as rude and egotistical. In this way, both NARPs and athletes “othered” each other, meaning each group treated the other group differently because of their differences.
This concept is observed at the international level as the media aims to “other” certain ethnic, religious, or racial groups in order to push a certain narrative that is beneficial for some stakeholders or political actors. For example, let’s take a closer look at the recent terror attack in Israel. Hamas is a Sunni Islamist political and militant group operating in Palestine whose goal is to create a Palestinian state; the group thereby rejects peace with Israel. On October 7, 2023, Hamas attacked Israelis from the air, sea, and ground as the country’s seven-day celebration of Sukkot came to a close. Noticing the timing of the attack and the personnel involved, the media rushed to label the devastating attack as the climax of a longstanding battle between Palestinians and Israelis over religious differences. While religion may have played a role in the original conflict between Palestine and Israel and in the act of terror performed just a week ago, labeling the conflict as a religious genocide does not fully explain or describe the conflict or the people involved.
The media immediately jumped to label Palestinians collectively as antisemitist terrorists, sparking outrage against every person identifying as a Palestinian. Although there is no justification for the senseless and violent killing of innocent civilians, it is important to understand that the violence was a retaliatory action in response to the Israeli government’s oppression of Palestinians and their efforts toward sovereignty. The media, however, wants to group Palestinians and Israelis into two separate groups: Israelis labeled as religiously oppressed and Palestinians the oppressors when the reality is that both groups have played both roles on different occasions, respectively. Consequently, however, Palestinians across the globe are “othered,” meaning that they are stand out negatively in their communities because of the connotation their ethnicity has in the international narrative.
The question that we are left with, however, is why? Why does the media attach identity groups to a label or category? The answer is simpler than it seems. When I was seven years old, I saw a group of black ants and a group of red ants. Each group of ants was working separately but peacefully, each focused on collecting food and surviving. Driven by curiosity, I ran inside and grabbed a jar. I placed a few crumbs in the jar, enticing the ants inside; once they were in the jar, I closed it. And then I shook it. A split second, a sudden act of violence. The ants went from peacefully coexisting to fighting. But they didn’t know why. To this day, when I see a conflict broadcasted across the TV, I ask myself who is shaking the jar. And why.