“The greatest humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves…” – Paulo Freire
What is “the other“?
The other is someone OTHER than who is considered to be the normal. It is someone who is clearly set a part from Sally and Bill with their nuclear family, mid-size SUV, and dog named Spot.
There are several “OTHERS” created each day and/or whose categorical lines have been drawn for them for generations. Lesbians= others. Homeless people = others. Immigrants= others.
This writing is dedicated to the Indigenous “others”.
When categories of “other” are set up it allows individuals to see human beings as separate entities. It is no longer human to human but human to other. Upper class to lower class. Brown to white. White to Black.
OTHER permits us to treat OTHERS with a lower standard of respect/warmth/kindness that we wouldn’t treat our OWN with.
Lately, I have been feeling caught up in my own “Otherness” . It began when I started learning about First Nation history, current politics, and coming to terms with my own personal history – addictions and abuses. Instead of slowly erasing the lines between myself and whatever Whiteness laid beyond the borders… I dug deeper in the trenches.
“I’ll show you other!” I cried, digging deeper into history, culture, tradition, myself, and right into the earth until I forgot why I was digging.
I stood on my side of the even deeper divide and squinted over to the other plateau. I started to ask questions. Asking questions is good.
How could I, ever be understood by someone who had lived on that side?
How could they understand the effects of growing up with “Otherness“?
How could they even begin to fathom what I had to grow up in and live through in order to be standing here all because of “OTHER”?!?
OTHER was raised up and spoon fed since 1492. Other was a slow moving beast, always hiding it’s true nature but began to shape shift. It took the form of promises in foreign symbols, in muskets, in invisible lines and boundaries, in laws, in policies, in educational systems, in the eyes of God’s ordained. Other ate up everything, including ours Indianess. It ate us up until we seen ourselves as the Other, internalized it. Made it a part of who we were because it was all that we seen, all that we knew.
I stood on my side of the divide, swearing that I was going to become so fucking god damned full of my OTHER that you would never see me feel ashamed of it ever again. I would boast of my OTHER.
I started noticing strains though, it was harder for me to connect with White people. Even super amazing, pro decolonization, on the Aboriginal side allies, White people. I was good at keeping them at a distance. Other still stood between us.
I got angry in class when I had to sit through a White girl’s presentation on violence against Indigenous women.
“This is just a presentation for her,” I scoffed in my head, “this is something I had to live through.”
Other began to consume me, for the second time.
Whenever we construct or define the “Other” and put someone else in a category that is not where we are, we risk dehumanizing them. We do have cultural differences and I fully believe and advocate that these differences be celebrated, respected, and embraced. But when we continue to dig the trenches between “them” and “us” we only help perpetuate what was wrong in the first place.
Division amongst people. People who must share the land that we are on. People all connected and made from the same life essence.
Paulo Freire states that it is the oppressed who are tasked with the duty to not only liberate themselves but their oppressors. The oppressors cannot do this themselves.
It is us, who have to escape “the other”, to lessen the divide, to help each other see one another as human again.
I have a million and one reasons to be angry and harbour hate. Some of us have fewer, some of us have more. What is important is that we don’t live there. We must be able to be comfortable with being ourselves, with being strong in tradition. To reach a place where we no longer need to use it as a shield to protect us from the shit storm that otherness has created but are able to use our identity as a place and space to embrace individuals who may differ from us culturally.
I’m not stating that we stop advocating for our people, for better environments and our own self governance. No way. There are structural inequalities that perpetuate otherness and they must be corrected. There are individuals who thrive on otherness, who preach it (both brown, black, yellow, and white)… educate them and if that fails….pray for them.
What I am stating is that we no longer see individuals as others, just as an extension of ourselves, of our kind.
To see the world as an array of others is an easy thing to do. To see the world as a continuation of one, now that is a great feat.