The Other Side Of The Track

How do you stop a bad habit? How do you silence an off-color joke? How do you unsee something outlandish, and how do you undo something that has been done for years, centuries, and even longer? That is the dilemma over the matter of “Othering.” It’s been around for as long as humankind has walked the earth. No group of people can claim it as their own.

However, thanks to American ingenuity, Othering has become American-made in many ways. By exploiting Chinese and Mexican workers who built them, the ingenuity of the railroads has separated communities. We have all heard of “the other side of the track.” The ingenuity of the interstate highway system has for years been a key component in the craft of Othering.

“Planners of the interstate highway system, which began to take shape after the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, routed some highways directly, and sometimes purposefully, through Black and brown communities. In some instances, the government took homes by eminent domain.

It left a deep psychological scar on neighborhoods that lost homes, churches and schools, says Deborah Archer, a professor at the New York University School of Law and national board president of the American Civil Liberties Union.” – From, A Brief History Of How Racism Shaped Interstate Highways NPR ( by Noel King.

Removing physical structures may seem like an easy fix. However, the life pathways, outcomes, and generational ramifications are not easy to fix.

According to Kendra Cherry’s article in Very Well Mind [Race and Identity Racism] entitled What Is Othering? “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.” The historical American default has been the social construct of race. Yes, many have heard it before, “If you’re white, your all right if your brown sit down, and if your black go to the back.”

If we are ever going to escape from the gravitational vortex of racism, we must Un-other the Othering. This article is not going in the direction of the melting pot or colorblindness; the latter is an in-depth subject destined for an upcoming issue. 

Othering opposes humanization, which is to value the human qualities within persons and give respect and dignity to their rich and bountiful uniqueness as human beings. 

Scripture explains it this way:

 “Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! It is amazing to think about. Your workmanship is marvelous—and how well I know it.” 

Psalm 139:14 The Living Bible (TBL)

It has been a repeated practice to dehumanize a person or a group as a way to justify horrible things that people do to fellow human beings. Whether we are speaking of chattel slavery, the Dread Scott decision in which the Supreme Court declared that Black people could never be U.S. citizens, Plessy vs. Ferguson, Emmet Till, to the 2020 killings of African Americans by police and vigilantes, and beyond. Immigration is a common seedbed for dehumanization; using terms like Alien and Illegal, remember that we are talking about fellow human beings. On top of that, dehumanizing vocabulary comes the othering terms of pouring and invasion. 

Now close your eyes, and you can envision a colorized version of a mid-twentieth-century black-and-white movie with little green men invading planet Earth. That sounds funny, but instead is a frightening reality of how Othering vocabulary can subtly foment hatred toward many Hispanic Latino people, documented or not. 

Real and lasting systemic change will only come when those systems, which are the products of the people that exist within them, from the most powerful to the least, become empowered to change them. Un-othering Othering comes through relationships, problem-solving, and collaboration with people who are different. Changes in our laws and legal system are needed. However, we don’t need to wait on that to make a difference. Moving from the macro level to the micro level will yield some momentum for un-othering othering. At the micro level where relationships are formed, one on one encounters with someone from a different ethnic background can begin. Heterogeneous interactions must be highly intentional.

These will go far beyond the patronizing verbal microaggressions, such as I have a black friend or some of my best friends are Black, Latino, Asian, Indigenous, etc. They go deeper and discover shared hopes, dreams, love, and concern for parents, siblings, children, loved ones, and Community. It is much more difficult to hate someone that you are close to and care about. This concept can expand to those they, in turn, are close to and care about, versus caricatured people on the other side of the proverbial track, ethnic divide, political isle, faith, gender, etc. Policy divisions will not seem so wide when we start seeing the real people involved. This only happens in the atmosphere of building multiethnic relationships. Ultimately, good health is associated with diverse friendships.

Imago Dei speaks of the commonality to one another as image bearers of an all-powerful and eternal creator.

In “Synergy, Healing, and Empowerment,” Richard Katz said:

“The term Synergy describes the pattern by which phenomena relates to each other including how people relate to each other and other phenomena. A synergistic pattern brings phenomena together interrelating them, creating an often unexpected, new, and greater result from the disparate, seemingly conflicting parts.”

In Humanity, we find our unity. Through ethnicity and culture; we congeal our Synergy. Now let’s get started.

By Kevin Robinson, Founder/Editor, Publisher of Three-Fifths Magazine

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