i’m here working through some ideas on the Other, Othering, and our relationships with the Other…
back in the day, as a student in Philosophy and Women’s Studies, particularly my days in deep dive study of psychoanalysis, post-colonial, feminist, Black Feminist theory (calling in Bhaba, Lacan, Derrida, Iriguaray, Collins), there was a lot of debate and theorizing around the term “Other”: when to capitalize, when to use lower case, when to use the verb…it all feels ridiculous to me, now. i say this to nod to the decades i’ve been in these questions. the decades they’ve been working me.
a good reminder of the wayward and beautiful journey to love, liberation.
for a long time i held that “Other” and definitely “Othering” was a bad thing. there was harm in our westernized, dualistic thinking and beliefs that led to such behavior. i no longer believe this.
it’s noteworthy that i held this to be true despite my extensive study on the matter, which centered on the need for Other and its vital role in the development of self-identity; after all, there’s a difference between intellectual knowing and embodied knowing.
my lived experience taught me, conditioned me to know that Othering was violent, hateful, based in fear.
now, i know that Othering is necessary and healthy in the development of wholeness. the Other provides a mirror to the self, allowing access to parts of ourselves that we cannot access in isolation. in relationship with the Other, we can gain more and more access to the truth of who we are individually, communally, collectively.
the question–the sticking point–is what it means, what it asks of us to be in relationship with the Other. relationship requires subject and object. it requires self. it requires mutuality. it requires reciprocity, dynamism. relationships are conduits, channels, bridges that connect two or more individual beings through energy, resource-sharing, love. fear shuts down the flow and blocks relationship.
how can we open to the Other? how we can be in relationship with the Other?
the answer to these questions is determined in large part by the degree to which we can open to ourselves.
ironically, as necessary as the Other is in our development, i see one of the most harmful patterns of domination and supremacy culture being an addiction to “the Other”. addiction is co-dependency; it precludes relationship. co-dependency lacks a healthy self and looks to the external to complete/fill/validate. rather than the Ubuntu wisdom of “I am because WE are”, it assumes a stance of “I am because YOU are”, looking to the Other for security and identity. the gaze is locked solidly on the Other, never returning back in relationship to the self.
the Other becomes the object of desire, project, blame/shame/guilt. the Other becomes object.
rather than relationship, there is transaction. a quid pro quo deal. the gaze is fixated externally– for the problem, for the answer, for everything. attention is directly completely outside the self.
the issue is that with the lack of self, the promise of the Other is thwarted. with no return to the self, there can be no development. there can be no growth, connection, relationship, love. only fear. only a reproduction of separation, us/them, domination, supremacy.
to end violence, we must locate ourselves in the story. there is a turning inward that is an essential element of development–we gotta bring ourselves in!
for me, this is what the meaning and call of the innerground railroad. it is naming that where we have been limited in the work of healing and reconciliation–particularly racial reconciliation–is the sole external focus between people, between communities, between White folx and BIPOC folx. there’s has been a missing link: the inner journey.
without this, we just keep doing violence.
the even more painful piece is that this isn’t just true on an individual level. we don’t just deny our own personal development by turning away from our inner truth, the Other within. it is true communally, collectively. the medicine, the wisdom, the perspectives, the skills, the gifts available within humanity as a whole are laying wasted because of our refusal to be with the truth of ourselves.
in our book, we quote Daniel Deardoff in his wisdom:
“The prohibitive cost of denying Otherness could not be more crucial to the survival of the human race. Our mass refusal to face the ‘Other within’ has engendered a regime of sociopolitical atrocities, genocidal horrors and environmental devastations–a virulent storm of global of proportions. Contrary to the tenets of foreign policy and social activism, a remedy for this aggressive pandemic cannot be mediated, legislated, or enforced at a global, regional, or municipal level; it can only begin at the root, within each individual (intra-personally) and within our nearest and most intimate relations (inter-personally). It is therefore in this small and most private of territories that the potential for a truly humane society can begin.”
beginning at the root, within…
this morning i was blessed with a poignant, heartfelt, authentic story from Tom. he is a White gay priest and shared that he was choosing stories that felt most vulnerable–not the canned ones he usually shares. these stories, he said, were those about relationships in his life.
these relationships were with the Other. each story told of a person of color with/by whom he was drawn, connected, related, and formed. for Tom, there always seemed to be a faith that in knowing the Other, he’d come to know and love more of himself and therefore, God.
Othering holds the promise of Belonging
when we orient from the beginning at the root, within…