Reading: John A. Powell, “Us vs. them: The Sinister Techniques of ‘Othering’—and How to Avoid Them,” The Guardian, 8 November 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/inequality/2017/nov/08/us-vs-them-the-sinister-techniques-of-othering-and-how-to-avoid-them
Reading OR Listening:
Alicia Garza on “Identity Politics and 2020 US Presidential Election” (Alicia Garza is one of the founders of the BlackLivesMatter movement), either via this podcast (that is episode 17 of the “Who Belongs?” podcast series) or reading the transcript of the podcast, produced for the Othering and Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley, December 2, 2019. A heads up: the full podcast is 48:48 in length; reading the transcript is much faster!
Today in class, we evaluated, judged and chose a preferred pepper. (NB: yes, this is a history class. We just go about it in a slightly unconventional manner.) An interesting (and often hilarious) exercise, don’t you think?
In reality, we choose all the time. In order to choose, we discriminate (that’s the evaluation piece). First we decide if one thing(s) is different—and then better than another; then we decide which is our preference—and in this case, which was “the best.” To “choose,” we judge one another, we judge fruits and veggies in a supermarket, trying to determine (the verdict) which one to purchase. We judge people by what they wear and how they smell; we judge what looks "good" when we try on clothes, we judge whether one school is better than another.
And then we choose.
We too are judged. Others judge us. They size us up—that’s the discrimination part. They assess who we are and then they draw conclusions (that’s the judgment or the verdict part). Institutions judge us, law enforcement judges us, teachers judge us, our supervisors judge us, some believe that a God judges us. Many factors feed those judgments. Stereotypes play a role. So do preconceptions. So does compassion. So does objectivity. And if someone demands that we make a choice, based on these judgments, well, we usually do!
Judgment and choice imply a sense of ranking. Something is better than something else. Generally, judgment and choice involve a kind of opposition: this is good (or better), while this is bad (or not as good). Inevitably this is a kind of “othering”: the recognition that there is an “us” (usually good) and “them” (usually not-so-good….or bad).
Think about discrimination, judgment, and choice-making for a moment. Must we discriminate among things/people? Must we judge? What’s the point of judgment? Must we choose? Are these good or bad things or somewhere in between? Are there roles for choices in society? Are they essential to making society function?
Is it possible for a world to exist without discrimination? Without judgment?
Using Sheena Iyenger’s TED talk, the reading from John Powell, and Alicia Garza’s seemingly clairvoyant sense of what would happen 11 months later during the 2020 election, as well as what you have learned (so far…) in class (including today’s exercise on the “practically perfect peppers,” please weigh in on the nature of discrimination, judgement, and othering, whether there is anything we can do about it, and whether it is possible to build a post-othering society (and how)? Be certain to support what you say with some concrete examples and/or anecdotes.
At the end of your post, please pose a lingering question on this topic that you might have. This will be addressed by the person who posts after you. (If you post first in the thread, go back and answer someone else’s question! And if the person who precedes you fails to pose a question, find a question prior to his/her in the thread to address.)