Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Other

“The Other” is a term I chanced upon as a title for my book after I had finished writing it. When I started writing I had no idea what the title was going to be. In the end the title was self-suggestive. This was in 2010.
Since then the term has crept into occasional usage by political commentators in the international media when referencing human rights situations. I suspect that it will gain traction and be more widely used in the future. So here I want to attempt to define it.
The starting point is to recognize that ordinarily humans deal in assets, power and influence. They do this to a greater or less extent, depending on the “goodness” or “badness” of the socio-economic realities of the countries they live in. With good governments, such as those of Norway and Sweden, they are more or less in equal competition as regards assets, power and influence. With bad governments, such as Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, it is not so much a competition, but a lottery.

The USA is now undergoing "trumpism" that seeks to posit anybody, such as Mexicans, dreamers, Muslims and those that are not White male Americans, as "others"
Trumpism, the rise of the Alt-Right and Brexit in the UK guarantees an exponential increase in the incidence of “others”.
However, whatever the overall situation, “others” still exist. As an “other” you are a sort of peripheral player in the socio-economic competition. You drift or ghost in an out. There might even be periods when it seems that you are indeed an equal competitor but you never really are. 
This is because there is an organic ambivalence about an “other”. You are regarded as being somewhat irrelevant. Like a shadow, you exist and can be seen, but are irrelevant … inconsequential. The main or dominant group tolerates you as long as you are not a real threat to their unfettered right to be dominant in the competition for assets, power and influence. Once you are perceived as a real threat action is taken to your detriment, as a matter of course. In this way you are mostly kept out of the main competition and tolerated as a matter of convenience from time to time.
This phenomenon can be either “systemic” or “organic”. In Rhodesia it was systemic as regards the status of Coloured folk, with Black folk being perceived as real competitors. So too as regards racist apartheid South Africa where this unequal status was legislated.
It is organic when it exists despite there being no systemic or legal prohibition against full equality. That is largely the situation for Coloured folk in current South Africa where, despite the seeming absence of legal impediments, Coloured folk are no more than peripheral players in the competition between the Black and White groups.
South Africa’s current racialized reform model guarantees that Black folk become “us”, White folk become “them” and Coloured folk become “others”. As said there is a kind of ambivalence and irrelevance about them on just about all fronts. Substantive achievement becomes opportunistically incidental … not in terms of full equality as a human or citizen. Blacks and Whites take each other seriously. Coloureds are not taken seriously.
These days we see many Coloured embracing the “Black” label just as, in the past, some "played White". This is an organically induced attempt to join a dominant group so as to become relevant. It is naive as those groups will still regard them as “others”.
“Others” are never taken seriously unless posing as an actual threat situationally.
So when “the other” is being assessed for a post or advancement of any kind, it is never only about merit. There is a “glass ceiling” that has to be smashed through. This has been the story of my life.
When you are “the other” you are not specifically oppressed. You are just treated as “almost human” or as an “almost citizen”
Other minority groups find themselves in the same situation. Jews are a striking example of this. Anti-Semitism is a widespread phenomenon. Its starting point is “the other” phenomenon. The “anti” kicks in or becomes keen when these “others” then prove so resourceful as to “beat” the phenomenon at the expense of the dominant groups. At that point, Jews cease to be “others” and are perceived as rivals. In this way a difference between Jews and “others” kicks in. Jews are then taken seriously, and anti-Semitism becomes a norm. “Others” are never taken seriously.
Even members of the dominant groups can drift in and out of being “the other”. We see this as regards women. They have been in this position from time immemorial in a World that has been traditionally patriarchal. Today women are theoretically equal but often find themselves “situationally unequal". This explains the current sensational exposés we are seeing as regards sexual predators such as Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Donald Trump et al.
The fact that Trump's victims remain victims, proves my point beyond a shadow of doubt.
It also explains the vexed matter of unequal pay for women that has been a matter of organic reality, even in a highly democratic institution like the BBC.
So I realize that, at a certain point, just about anyone can become “the other”. This is when those with systemic, organic or situational power exercise it to your detriment, because you are perceived as “naturally” unworthy of full equality. It might be because of your ethnicity. It might be on account of your sex, or sexual orientation, or religious persuasion...
Protesting about this, or drawing attention to it, invites opprobrium to be heaped upon you for being “a feminist” or a “reactionary” or, as in my case, “having a chip on my shoulder”.
At the heart of being “the other” is “powerlessness”. This can degrade to the point where humans are then stripped of their rights and become victims, persecuted and oppressed, as we are seeing with the Rohingya in Myanmar, who started off as just being “others”.
Have you ever been “the other”?
Have you known that you are being cheated as a human being but are "powerless"?
Have you known that you are being "screwed" just for being who and what you are and could do precious little about it?

The Patricia De Lille saga plays out on account of her being  "the Other" ----


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