We Need To Talk About “Otherness”

I had a quick look at the newspapers yesterday and I knew straight away I had to write a blog on ‘otherness’. We all need to know about this.

Otherness reflects a particular struggle that all of us humans have, and in the newspaper, it’s just played out on a bigger stage.

So, what is this particular struggle?

It’s the difficulty we have dealing with other people’s ‘otherness’. This is the quality or fact of being different.

Otherness shows itself when we feel someone is not like me in skin colour, gender, religion, opinion, clothing, sexuality, social status, financial equivalence, country of origin, family, and/or more.

Anything that highlights an individual, group, even a country’s otherness can be experienced as a mild to severe threat. When they are perceived to be a threat, our defensive responses kick in. We may gossip about them, not employ them, move away from them, ostracise them, belittle them, or even stalk them. We can also treat the ‘other’ with hostility, violence, or even cause their death.

It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean the ‘other’ is actually a threat – it’s the perception of threat that otherness creates inside of us. Let’s look at how this plays out in two of the newspapers articles.

Rising domestic violence during the pandemic

Domestic violence generally increases massively after large scale disasters. Research estimates 60,000 women experienced abuse for the first time in 2020. This was the first wave of the pandemic. We don’t know the figures yet for the second year of restrictions and lockdowns. I can’t imagine they’ve improved.

This figure reveals the partners (perpetrators) escalating attempts to control and dominate an ‘other’ – their partner (their victim). Their right for safety in the home was denied, and instead, they experienced their partner’s control, abuse, and violence.

I’ll stop your bloodline’: Anti-Semitism reports grow across Sydney schools

This article shows how ‘otherness’ has been determined by religion, where Jewish school children are being given the Nazi salute, told by another student that “he would like to become Hitler to “hunt down his family and stop the bloodline”. Another child was stuffed into a locker and sprayed with deodorant to simulate a Nazi gas chamber. This was laughed at by other students and filmed.

The Holocaust revealed the cruel extent that was institutionalised due to ‘otherness’. This not only saw the extermination of 6 million Jews in Europe, but also trampled millions of ‘others’. These include millions of Soviets, Poles, and Serbs. Also annihilated were Jehovah’s Witnesses, criminals, homosexuals, those with disabilities or gypsies. It was an ‘otherness’ hate fest.

Sadly, we haven’t been able to learn from this. Recently a study also found widespread religious attacks on Christians, Muslims, and Hindus in Australian schools. Students also experience homophobic and transphobic bullying.

‘Otherness’ is innate. It is biologically wired into us to perceive those who are like us as ‘friends’ and those who are not as ‘foes’ This had massive safety implications for early man as other tribes or animals were likely deemed a threat – unless proven otherwise.

Given we are all wired this way, we need to take care to process our need to categorise and label people into groups of those like me versus those who are other and therefore, not like me.

We all need to check our own biases, racism, and forms of discrimination. We can listen to the voice of our ego and the stories it constructs. We can check our behaviour to see if we have acted with prejudice or a lack of respect. We can call out our friends and colleagues for their casual racism and discrimination.

We can all pull up our societal socks.

If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual assault or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000

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