How 'Othering' Hurts Our Witness | Sojourners

How 'Othering' Hurts Our Witness

I remember being taunted as an 8-year-old in elementary school by an older boy who said, "Go back to your home country!" Those words stung because it was a way of calling me out, of making me feel different than everybody else. For my whole life, as most kids, I just wanted to belong, to be accepted and liked. I didn't say anything back to this boy; I really didn't know what I could say. I honestly just remember thinking that this kid's parents didn't raise him right and he was just really ignorant.

The idea that you're "the other" means that you often are treated differently, often treated as less deserving, or less worthy of respect and protection — both from your surrounding community and often from the law. I've seen the "othering" of not only Asian Americans but also of Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans, Muslims, and countless others. The political construct of race, and — in an international context “othering” — serves and protects those attributed in-group status. It allows the in-group to keep those deemed “outsiders” at a safe distance to lessen the threat presented by their presence — threat to internal value, threat to safety, and threat to resource access.

“The other" in the U.S. has often been based on the construct of race. Clear evidence of the racialization of the "other" can be found in our immigration laws. Immigration and naturalization laws are intended to define who belongs and who doesn't belong in a country, and U.S. immigration laws have long used race to perpetuate the idea of an Anglo-Saxon nation. The U.S. Naturalization Law of 1790, for example, limited naturalization to immigrants who were free white persons of good character, excluding American Indians, indentured servants, slaves, free blacks, and Asians. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first time a single ethnicity was prohibited from entering the United States, on the basis that the Chinese were deemed incapable of assimilating into American society. In 1924, the National Origins Act restricted immigration from southern and eastern Europe and banned the immigration of Asians and Arabs. And the struggle for immigrant rights in our country continues today.

Race is the common denominator that has fueled much of the injustice in our country, including immigration, our criminal justice system, education, and myriad other issues. We must investigate the intersections of otherness and race within multiple justice movements. We must examine the implications of these intersections with an eye toward understanding how they affect the internal capacities of our movements, as well as the deep impact they have within our communities.