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
Recent 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.
“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,