For some, everyday life is a microcosm of the world. Existence is defined by the distinction between self and other we see on a global scale.  To me, “otherness” has inherent dehumanization in the concept. It is the stigmatized version of diversity and the default to a two-dimensional figure rather than an acknowledgment of complex beings unknown. I’m fortunate that the concept of “otherness” doesn’t play a significant role in my own life. That being said, it’s not an excuse for ignorance. For many individuals, particularly those who belong to marginalized or minority groups, the notion of “otherness” is an ever-present reality. They grapple with its implications, navigating a world where they may be treated differently solely due to their appearance, beliefs, or cultural background. I believe this partially stems from the quest for control, many people tend to retreat to what they know and fear anything that is different or unfamiliar. Unfortunately, during times of disorder, this often leads to the dehumanization of diverse individuals, reducing them to a single identity.

In the realm of international politics, the question of identity remains critical. In his work “The Clash of Civilizations,” Samuel P. Huntington suggests that the central question in the contemporary world is not “Which side are you on?” but rather, “What are you?” This delves into trust, loyalty, and familiarity, often categorizing multifaceted individuals into a singular group based on their responses. This question does not always get asked when physical characteristics are taken into account as well as the verbal response when looking for an answer, but its premise remains.

Following the events of September 11th in the United States, a country in shock sought to regain a sense of control it had associated with being a dominant global power for the previous decade. A clear divide emerged: if you were perceived to be part of the small fraction of the population responsible for the attacks, specifically those of Arab, Muslim, Sikh, or South Asian descent, you were considered guilty until proven innocent, relegated to the category of “Other.” In the subsequent weeks, hate crimes against Muslims saw an estimated 1,600% increase according to the FBI. Additionally, policies were implemented that legalized discrimination in areas such as education, employment, and religious land use, with the refusal to grant land for mosques. Special registration programs were also introduced for immigrants from certain countries. Opinions were not sought, and judgments were not withheld. If you were not perceived as familiar, your identity equated to guilt. September 11th is not the only example of such occurrences; in 2020, with the global emergence of COVID-19, there was a 77% increase (Statistic provided by the U.S. Department of Justice) in hate crimes against Asian Americans. During times of panic and chaos, the concept of “otherness” overtakes the concept of diversity, revealing who the racists and xenophobes are. Not to say that you can’t be scared ever, but if fear is your excuse for being hateful you should know it isn’t a valid one.

Currently, the conflict between the Israeli government and Hamas is a devastating example of harmful distinction. The casualties are civilians. The Hamas organization- using terrorism- has sent Gaza into a humanitarian crisis due to the insufficient and soon non-existent energy from the Israeli government’s counterattack. The Israeli government has made claims they have attempted to warn the Gaza population of the air strikes, but it has been shown that multiple UN bomb shelters have been hit as well, and the “Warnings” often come far too late, or not at all. Meanwhile, Israeli innocents remain victims and hostages to Hamas. Saying this comes down to differences and the inability to accept them seems too puny of an explanation, but it has to be a part of the conversation if not the conversation. Add in decades- centuries of conflict, and civilians are the vast majority of casualties in a conflict where the minority that is Hamas and the Israeli government perpetrate the conflict.

While fear may be the primary driver for the inability to coexist without distinguishing between friend and foe based on traits beyond character, it is not a justification. In a world that is becoming increasingly interconnected, embracing diversity and the multifaceted nature of individuals is crucial for fostering progress. “Otherness” perpetuates divisions, preventing us from fully realizing the potential for a cooperative international system

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1 Comment

  1. evelynmw

    Hi Gigi, thank you for your very thoughtful blog post! I really appreciated your inclusion of relevant, real-world examples of the harm that “othering” can cause. I agree with your assessment that the basis of “othering” is rooted in fear, which is a human reality, but that fear is not an excuse to generalize groups of people in a discriminatory manner. Overall, I have also not been “othered” in my life, which is a privilege many people do not have. That being said, growing up in New York and attending NYC public schools has given me some perspective on the topic. My high school had a majority-Asian student body, which allowed me to meet students who led very different lives from me. The students at my school were relatively intermixed socially, and there were no obvious tensions or “othering” of the different demographic groups. I think a good way to combat “othering” and prevent divisions from forming is by creating spaces where people of different identities can interact and realize how much they have in common, and also learn from their differences. Do you think there is a way to fight “othering” from occurring in such a destructive way in the world?

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