As Others We See Us

Opinion piece by Fiona Grahame

“Pit race against race, religion against religion, prejudice against prejudice. Divide and conquer! We must not let that happen here.”,  Eleanor Roosevelt

FionaRecent figures produced by the National Crime Agency and reported by The Orkney News  have shown that slavery exists not just in some far off place but right here in our communities. Hiding in plain sight. We are taught in schools that the Civil War that tore the fledgling United States apart was about ending slavery and some may think that is where the story ends and yet here it lurks in our very own islands.

Treating our fellow human beings as products is part of ‘othering’. The term of ‘Othering’ is where   a person is labelled as someone who belongs to a subordinate social category defined as the ‘Other’.  They do not fit in. They do not belong here. Human Rights do not apply to them as they are ‘Others.’

And ‘Othering’ does not exist on the fringes. It is not merely being expressed by a handful of extremists. ‘Othering’ has found acceptability by being expressed by elected politicians. Most notably over recent years Nigel Farage, “Our real friends in the world speak English” used the fear of ‘Others’ to successfully campaign for a Leave vote in the EU referendum in 2016.

Stoking up a fear of ‘Others’ has been used throughout history and it allows all that hate and vulnerability that people may be feeling to be directed away from the actual reasons for the pressures their society or group are experiencing. In the 20th Century the Nazis rose to power by focussing this fear towards Jews, in Cambodia Pol Pot used it against intellectuals, in Hungary today it is being used against refugees. Whether you look to history for examples or to right here and now, you will find plenty of uses of fear against one group, to deflect public opinion. So we look to blame the ‘Others’ for whatever problems our current society is experiencing.

And it has become acceptable to do this. As recently as last week, Douglas Ross,newly elected MP for Moray expressed his views on gypsy travellers. His top priority if he was Prime Minster would be for “tougher enforcement against Gypsy Travellers”. With this statement he has immediately unleashed the ‘othering’ of this group in our society. An easy target to hit out at with a history of being used and abused in this way. Let’s pause,consider it and what it has revealed about a person elected to represent all those who reside in Moray. And what it gives permission for the racists and haters to openly express.

In his ‘apology’ he said:

 “The settled community continually complain that Gypsy Travellers receive preferential treatment, whether it is with regard to planning decisions or just the way they take over a piece of land or lay by and then often leave it in a significant mess which has to be cleaned up at a cost to the local tax payer.”

So it is not an apology. It is a continuation of the ‘othering’ that he started with his initial remark. Of course what is really shocking is that he has not been asked to resign by the Conservative Party for displaying such a racist view against his own constituents. That one statement is also asking us to buy into the idea that the ‘settled community‘, that’s everyone else in Moray, thinks the way he does. That this is the norm and any other viewpoint is a minority one, part of the ‘others’.

“Ignorance and prejudice are the handmaidens of propaganda. Our mission, therefore, is to confront ignorance with knowledge, bigotry with tolerance, and isolation with the outstretched hand of generosity. Racism can, will, and must be defeated.” , Kofi Annan

Singling out one group of people and permitting it to happen shames us all. Orkney is not exempt from it. We like to think of ourselves as ‘friendly’ but some people who choose to live and work in our islands have a different experience. And it is not confined to those who have chosen to live here. Some islanders have felt it necessary to move from their birthplace because they have been made to feel that they do not fit in, starting with bullying at school.

And most of us are friendly. We are disgusted when we hear of people being abused in our community – picked on because they do not fit into a constructed ‘image’ of  those who are welcome and those who are not.

Diversity is a strength in any society. It does not diminish us but adds to our experiences often in ways we never expected.  In Orkney, as everywhere else, we must confront ‘othering’, expose it and call it out for the destructive racism  and intolerance that it is.

Diversity“There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard.  There are not more than five primary colours, yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever been seen. There are not more than five cardinal tastes, yet combinations of them yield more flavours than can ever be tasted.”,  Sun Tzu, The Art of War


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3 replies »

  1. Well put Fiona…we see the ‘normalisation’ of exclusion, which leads, inevitably to ‘othering’ and the contempt and maltreatment of people. The most dangerous of evils covers itself with the cape of banality, sneaking in under the radar of our moral compass. We need to remind ourselves of our duty to others, to care for those less fortunate with dignity, not subjectify them…

  2. Some people don’t ‘like’ – are fear-full of – thinking people. Some people don’t ‘like’ clever women. Some people don’t like people who are honest.
    Many people do like those who pull the right faces and make the right noises.
    It all comes down to FEAR. That terrible thing, which is behind so much wrong-doing – it’s what’s behind the distrust of the ‘others’, that’s for sure.
    So……trying to live as fearlessly as possible and trying to encourage others to do so, is one way. It’s a hard way – and folk often won’t ‘like’ you for it, too!
    It is a lot easier, and sells more newspapers and magazines, makes more widely viewed television programmes etc. etc., to feed the fear and please the people.
    Feeding their fear, could be said to be the ‘opiate of the people’ – and don’t politicians just know that!
    Where to begin with this subject? Where to end?
    Yes, well written, Fiona.
    Far too often, it’s ‘them and us’. From domestic, to local, to national, to international
    – and further than that, when we get round to it. “Look at those Klingons, with their funny, knobbly heads.”
    I’ll repeat myself – again – “mind forged manacles”. There are a lot of manifestations of slavery, and a lot of expressions of FEAR.

  3. About – being other places – leaving where you’re from, encountering other kinds of people etc. I left home in 1974, and went to Lampeter University, as a working-class Yorkshire person. The majority of students there were middle-class, and Southern. We didn’t understand each other – they thought I was nuts – I thought they were cold. We got used to each other, and I am still firm friends with me old mate, Mart. from those days, but he’s Welsh!
    Then, I moved to Aberystwyth to work, and met Mike, who is what I call ‘Posh Southern’. As different as chalk and cheese – but, it works. Chalk and cheese – similar basic material?
    And now, to get to the point ……….
    We used to live in Lowestoft, and went to a monthly poetry group. Each month, we were given a subject, for the next month. So I wrote this – being a poem about a Yorkie, married to a ‘Southener’ – the irony being, that, of course, in Orkney I’m a ‘Southener’!
    Here it is……………………..


    In Yorkshire, we say ‘F***’ a lot
    In Hertfordshire, they don’t.
    In Yorkshire, we eat pie & peas
    In Hertfordshire, they won’t.

    A Yorkshire man, will say what’s what
    In Herts., they keep it in.
    In Yorks., they sup on John Smiths Bitter
    In Herts., they sip on gin.

    Between North and South, there’s such division
    Why do they make a fuss?
    I suppose it’s just the human condition
    It’s always them and us.

    Bernie Bell

    I say – vive la difference!

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