The Haves and the Have Nots: Dismantling Othering in America

“Precisely at this point when you begin to develop a conscience,
you must find yourself at war with your society.”

James Baldwin

I have always been fascinated by jigsaw puzzles. I really enjoyed the challenge of being able to put together intricately designed pieces to complete a picture. Occasionally, I tried to force a puzzle piece into a space where it didn’t fit. But even though the puzzle piece didn’t work, I didn’t throw it away because I still needed it to complete the picture. Our nation is like a jigsaw puzzle. Every individual’s unique attributes represent a piece of the puzzle that contributes to the betterment of our country. It is our diversity that makes us unique. But, unfortunately, it can also divide us.

The act of othering involves treating or labeling individuals or groups as different or not fitting in with other respective groups. It’s similar to how the Pharisees looked down on those they deemed inferior, according to Luke 18:11 (NIV).

The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.

While you may find this prayer appalling, how is their behavior different from the comments and actions we hear and see today? Othering can take on many different forms. Let’s focus specifically on individual classism. Classism is defined as prejudice against or in favor of people belonging to a particular social class. Classism is the offspring of racism. In the African American community, we are quick to call out acts of racism, and rightfully so. However, we often ignore our internal and external acts of classism. It is still a form of discrimination.

We can also see classism in our language and how we refer to people. Us, them, our, they, and those are the most common pronouns used in classism. Truth be told, we have all participated in or heard discussions in which derogatory remarks were made regarding a particular group of people. The following comments might sound familiar to you. “I don’t want you to play with those kids.” “Marry up.” “You know how those people are.” “How can they afford to be in here? They must be the help.” “I’m tired of those people coming over here and taking our jobs.” “It’s too many of them moving into our neighborhood.” “There goes the neighborhood!” “We’re going to take our country back!” “How did she/he/they get invited to this event?”

Have you ever had people who considered themselves intellectually superior to you correct your language to conform to their standard of speech? This is another example of classism. You may have even been subjected to questions about your social status, a litmus test, if you will, to determine whether you were worthy of inclusion into a particular organization. You may be asked questions like, “Where did you go to college?” “Did you graduate from an HBCU?” “Are you a part of this organization?” “What is your occupation?” There is nothing wrong with those questions. However, it may be perceived as classism if you treat someone differently because their answers do not meet your standards. It is amazing how people can subconsciously place themselves at the center of the universe as the standard for what everyone else should strive to achieve. Examine yourselves accordingly.

How can we stop the practice of othering in our own lives? According to a medically reviewed article titled ‘What is Othering?’ by Kendra Cherry, an educational consultant, there are seven things you can do to stop the practice of othering. [1]

  • Focus on people as individuals
  • Become aware of your own unconscious biases
  • Remember that diversity has important benefits
  • Be aware of your language
  • Remember that identities are multidimensional and intersectional
  • Broaden your social circle
  • Speak up and hold others accountable when classism is happening

Let’s not label anyone as common or unclean. This is a shared experience. There are no insignificant individuals in this country. Earlier, I mentioned how our nation is like a jigsaw puzzle. Every individual’s unique attributes represent a piece of the puzzle that contributes to the betterment of our country. We are not complete without each other. It is impossible for us to exist as a nation without each other. Let’s embrace our diversity so that we can build a better society together.

By Carliss, Maddox

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