On “Others”

February 21, 2024 | | Leave a Comment

When I was growing up in Ethiopia, I remember becoming familiar with the term ፈረንጅ or “ferenji.” The term refers to foreigners, especially white Westerners. But more importantly, it signifies an outsider, someone who doesn’t belong. As a child, the concept of ferenji seemed abstract, so different from my own Ethiopian identity and culture. But I understood that at its core, it meant not one of us. When my family relocated to America, the concept of ferengi followed. But suddenly, the term took on a new meaning. Surrounded by white American culture, it was my family and I who were the outsiders, the immigrants, the ones who didn’t fully belong. In a profoundly short time, I embodied the very foreignness signified by “ferenji.” Navigating school and daily life, I occupied the space of the outsider, forced to code-switch and assimilate to gain acceptance. The familiar had turned foreign, and I found myself longing for the comfort and freedom of home. This shift in perspective was definitely jarring. But I gained an intimate understanding of what it meant to be marginalized as the “other.” 

Years later as a college student, I have long shed much of my foreignness. Aside from my name, I doubt most people in my community would see me as an outsider or an “other.”  And despite my understanding of being othered in the past I still catch myself doing the same to members of my own community. 

Specifically, in the current polarized political climate, I’ve noticed I often view those on the right or Republicans as a faceless outgroup rather than complex individuals. Especially on social media, it’s easy to see “the other side” as a monolith and make assumptions about their motivations. It’s easier to attribute the right as having blanket views, rather than acknowledging diversity of thought within the party. It fosters an “us vs. them” mentality.

These dynamics certainly affect domestic politics and civil society. Othering the opposite party makes bipartisan policymaking and compromise far less likely. It also widens societal divisions, as each side views the other warily. Bridging political divides requires making an effort to understand different worldviews, even when we disagree. I am committed to reminding myself of each individual’s complexity. Participating in dialogue is the first step.


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