gerund or present participle: othering
view or treat (a person or group of people) as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself
“a critique of the ways in which the homosexuals are other by society”
A quick search into the definition of ‘othering’ displays a relatively negative term to describe people who are considered different, or don’t share what is considered ‘desirable’ characteristics (Tekin, C Beyza 2010).
I found an interesting analysis of why this is an intrinsic part of human nature, which stems from the very roots of our species.
‘Othering’ is a concept that is considered to be a psychological tactic’ that had its uses in our tribal past, where group cohesion was crucial in the early days of human civilisation (Dervin, F 2013). To thrive, we needed to be a part of a close-knit tribe of people to look out for us, who share the same characteristics as you and are likely to have the same goals. It is because of this ‘base instinct’ that there is a powerful evolutionary drive to identify in some way with a tribe of people who are “like you”, and to feel a stronger connection and allegiance to them than to anyone else (Othering, 2011).
Through another perspective, an interesting experiment known as the ‘Brown Eyes, Blue Eyes’ exercise centres around a teacher who segregated her class into blue eyed children and brown eyed, and not praising the latter nearly as much as the former and noticed the superiority and acceleration of grades in the blue eyed children compared to the brown eyed children. Astonished, the teacher reversed the roles and noticed that the attitudes completely flipped. What this experiment proved was that discrimination is soaked up subconsciously by both the oppressor and the oppressed. She had not told her pupils to treat each other differently, only that they were different; and yet they developed the characteristic responses of discrimination.
Is it safe to assume, that the concept of ‘othering’ that is inexplicably tied to our human psyche, can then become unlearned?
Through modernisation the values and morals of the world have changed drastically, and although there is still such abhorrent oppression that is present there has been much more movement toward acceptance and equality. Take for example, the representation of people in the gay community. They are seen as representing characteristics that aren’t considered the ‘norm’ simply because of their ideals of love. Thus being represented as the ‘other’.
This way of thinking is being challenged and so is the idea of stereotypes, with same-sex couples arguing for the right to be seen as human. Which, they are.
If we are to link the idea of ‘othering’ back to our basic human psyche and the idea that we classify people as an ‘other’ if they have weak attributes, this archaic way of thinking should be banished for it is not hindering our way of life in any way and they shouldn’t even be considered a minority.
Many people have experienced suffering at the hands of the oppressor, and although it is a base instinct to advance a groups own growth by leaving the minority behind, there is a definite change in what constitutes a favourable and unfavourable characteristic. It can only grow from here, and through the wise words of Mark Twain, “We are all alike, on the inside.”