Othering in America

We were hosting an introduction meeting with two new contract employees who would be responsible for helping our Fortune 500 organization with acquiring new talent. We could not hire permanent talent fast enough to meet the growing demands for new employees in the fields. Our leader, a seasoned VP who ruled the team with an iron fist, preferred to start and end our meetings in a timely manner.

The new contract employees were made aware of the VP’s punctuality rule. We all planned to join the meeting earlier than the designated 2:00 pm (EST) meeting invitation so that we could be prepared to talk about strategy. The new contractors logged into the zoom meeting at 1:55 pm. As the host of the meeting, I was already waiting for everyone to join the call. The VP joined the call early as well. She greeted the three of us by saying “Hello everyone. Wow, this seems to be the “all-black” call today!”

Yes, there were three African Americans on that zoom call, including myself. I noticed the smile of the two new contractors fade and I had a frozen look on my face. After the shock of her greeting wore off, I spoke up by introducing the VP to the two new contractors and I said a silent prayer that the contractors would not quit on the spot.

After the meeting, I spoke with the contractors separately. I then had an uncomfortable conversation with the VP before I addressed my concerns with the Chief Human Resources Officer. It was a lesson in that crime that we label othering. As a side note, this VP was also responsible for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion practices within the entire company.

” Othering is a phenomenon in which some individuals or groups are defined and labeled as not fitting in within the norms of a social group. It is an effect that influences how people perceive and treat those who are viewed as being part of the in-group versus those who are seen as being part of the out-group. It is an “us vs them” way of thinking about human connections and relationships. Othering is a deceptive type of poison that erodes the human character.

Called by many different names in the past, othering often happens without any conscious effort or even awareness. People feel bias based on what they presume is the norm, just as the VP was accustomed to attending meetings where everyone looked like her. Racial and religious othering has been in place since the beginning of time. Othering is rooted in pride. In Proverbs 16:18 it states “Pride goes before disaster, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” It is this self-worship (pride) that makes us think that our group, race, religion, etc. is above any other group, race, or religion.

As American as apple pie, othering is deeply rooted in the United States fabric. The slavery and oppression of African Americans and other minorities were easily explained by white owners to justify their othering practices. Fast forward to the present day, I recently came across a diagram depicting women of color and their journey in corporate America.

There is the “Honeymoon” phase, which comes immediately after hiring the woman of color. In this phase, the woman of color feels welcome, needed, and happy. The woman of color is viewed by white leadership as their “token hire” and the person who would “fix” their problems. Feeling confident, the woman of color moves into the “reality” phase of her employment. This is the phase in which the woman of color experiences microaggression and sustains mental injuries due to continuous efforts to work within the constructs of the organization’s structure and policies. As the woman of color progresses through her corporate experience, she experiences overt racism as the organization denies, ignores, and blames her for the problems within the organization. The woman of color notices how she is pitted against her other colleagues of color.

Finally, there is the “Retaliation” phase in which the organization decided that the woman of color is the problem, and leadership begins to target her. The attacks continue until the woman of color is “othered” and labeled as “not a good fit” for the role. The othering and targeted attacks continue until the woman of color exits the organization.

Othering and its partner pride can only be tempered by the constant practice of humility. The Bible says, “When pride comes, disgrace comes; but with the humble is wisdom.” I read a quote that summed it up nicely it said “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” This could be the greatest tool to distinguish the flames of othering and its partner in crime, pride.

April Griffith Taylor

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