A time when you were the “Other”

dave chapelle“Treat me the same but respect my difference.” — Keith Williams

Inspired by our conversations in Visual Rhetoric, I want to leverage the blog to explore what is perhaps a widely shared view: That individuals and groups who feel slighted or offended should just get over it, that they are being too sensitive, that we shouldn’t be so concerned with what we might call ‘political correctness.’ This theme is from our examination of the Popeye’s ads.

Before I ask for your reactions, a few thoughts:

First, as I shared in class, a general principle holds that if a group sees that there is the possibility that they are being insulted by another, it will. This is how we are hard-wired. We are always on guard. We like to think the best of FILL IN THE BLANK HERE (Northerners, white people, the French, whomever), but we don’t.

We will default to our worst fears. For an African American viewing the Popeye’s Annie, he or she will fear you are perpetuating Aunt Jemima. Consider if Annie were white. The black stereotype and historical antecedents disappear. The default fear is gone. (We still might think about the portrayal of gender, too. Annie as the stereotypical woman in the kitchen taking care of us.)

So if we think there is any chance of intent to slight us, we will feel slighted. We live in a culture of indignation. Some are hacked off because we got it wrong. Some are hacked off because we got it right. This is the key: We should care about the first; we don’t necessarily have to lose sleep about the second.

Second, is it up to us to determine when another people group should or should not feel insulted, regardless of intent? When we don’t share that group’s history, culture or even language, how can we judge? We do not relinquish our own “right” to decide when we’ve been slighted, I wonder how it is that we are so quick to decide for others.

Third, our goals in the course are ethical decision-making, ethical image-making, ethical communication. And ethics requires a process. We need diverse people in the room. We also need a process for systematic dialogue and conversation, so we can be deliberate, thoughtful and persuasive. So we can say what we mean, not something else. To discuss how a group or groups might be unintentionally offended, alienated or even victimized by our messages costs very little before the message goes out. As we’ve seen in our in-class examples, it can become quite costly after.

Perhaps a good guide for us is the Keith Woods quote, which gets to the universal sameness of difference and diversity. Don’t we all share this sentiment?

So how do we better appreciate difference? We all are guilty to some degree of staying in our comfort zone, of failing to notice much less engage with the ‘Other,’ with those outside our group, whoever that might mean. I have a trio of exercises that will help us better appreciate difference and what it means to be on the outside looking in, exercises that get increasingly difficult. Don’t worry; all of them should be fun, if you buy into the point or ‘takeaway’ here.

So, to get us started, the first exercise:

Write a response to this post that tells the rest of us of a time when you were the ‘Other,’ a time when you didn’t fit in, when you were excluded. Say something about what that felt like, and about what you wish the dominant or ‘in’ group knew or considered or valued. This exercise is required.

Deadline: 5 p.m., Friday, Feb. 28 (before you leave for Spring Break!)

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16 Responses to A time when you were the “Other”

  1. Gabby Guevara says:

    When I first started public school my sophomore year of high school, I used to wear a lot of dark clothing. The “in” group used to think my friends and I were strange and quiet, but that particular group of people never tried to talk to me to see if I was actually like that. It felt like I was constantly being judged for a personality that I didnt have purely based on the way that I look. I always wanted them to at least attempt to see if my inner personality matched the outside, but they were so quick to stereotype.

  2. Vickie Tallent says:

    I visited a friend in Long Island, New York, who was a former neighbor when I lived in Atlanta. At the time my hair was fairly blonde, and I stuck out among all the “typical” residents there. My friend was Italian herself. Everywhere we went I was stared at, people wanting me to talk to hear my “accent”, asked me all sorts of questions about Atlanta and such. I was uncomfortable for the most part, but I was downright insulted when one guy told me I wasn’t as “dumb”, as most Southerners. I have Northern friends here that always tease us about our snow driving, but I didn’t realize there was this conception we were ignorant here.

  3. Rebecca Frantz says:

    I went to ChinaTown in NYC when I was in high school on a band trip. The whole time we were there we noticed that people kept staring at us and whispering to their friends about us because we were the only white people in the area. We went into a store and the owner had her son follow us around the entire time to make sure we wouldn’t steal anything. It was frustrating because everyone I was with, including myself, have strong morals and would never steal anything. However, I’m glad it happened because it gave me a better understanding of how minorities may feel when they have experiences similar to this.

  4. alexbrizzi says:

    When I was a sophomore in high school, I traveled to South Korea for my brother’s wedding. My hair was a very light blonde at the time and a majority of elderly people in Korea have never seen blonde hair before. I got stared at, pointed at, and whispered about. Some people would even come up to me and play with my hair (without my approval) and call me Barbie. It was somewhat entertaining to see people so shocked by hair color but it also made me self conscious whenever we walked around town because I didn’t like drawing that much attention, positive or negative.

  5. Katie Farmer says:

    A few summers ago I enrolled in a class to learn American Sign Language. As the final activity for the class we all went to dinner with many individuals who were Deaf, as well as other fluent signers. Although this was a situation in which I knew I would be of the minority, I was still surprised to see how uncomfortable it is to not fit in completely to your surroundings. I could understand some of the signing conversation at dinner; however, it was evident that I was not fully understanding. It was embarrassing for the other signers to have to slow down their signing or repeat themselves in order for me to keep up. I feel that they did a great job of trying to include me in the conversation, and it gave me a new insight into the feelings of those of the “out” group.

  6. Liz Bradford says:

    I am from a small town- one stop light small- that is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Being close to the woods I grew up in an area where its normal to go hunting, riding in to woods, mudding on 4wheelers, and shoot guns. Although I do enjoy many of these things, I would not consider myself a redneck or a hick. One particular incident I was talking to someone in Orlando and mentioned I was from Umatila, automatically I was labeled as a redneck country girl that had no class. Without even knowing me simply based on where I grew up I was stereotyped and considered a lower class than those in the big city of Orlando. As much as I love my town, it hurt to be labeled so quickly, and because of it I was quickly the outsider of the group since there was no way a girl from Umatilla could have anything in common with them.

  7. Ciara Stephens says:

    In my youth group in high school, I was the only person who went to public school out of about twelve people. Being around them made me realize that not all homeschoolers are antisocial and awkward as they are often stereotyped as, but I was never included in this group. I was always felt left out around them especially when they bashed public school based on things they had heard or saw on TV and movies. Whenever I joined a conversation it would somehow always turn to something homeschool-related and something I knew nothing about. With them, I always felt like the odd one out because I wasn’t a homeschooler. I wish they would have opened up their group to include people who aren’t just like them.

  8. After my senior year in high school I went to Spain with my AP Spanish teacher and a few members of the class. When we traveled, we stayed as a group and had a tour guide for part of the time. When we went into restaurants everyone looked at us because no matter how hard we tried, we looked like tourists. I always had my camera with me and the group would pose for pictures in front of rememberable locations. In stores they would either try to speak English or would speak really slow Spanish because they didn’t think I, or anyone else in the group, could comprehend the language. I felt like I had to prove them wrong and realized how people traveling to the U.S. might feel. When I got back, my family and I made a day trip to DC and I had a new perspective on the foreign tourists because I understood how they felt.

  9. Louie Spivak says:

    I grew up in a Messianic Jewish congregation in south west Florida. Although I had many friends from Protestant congregations, I did not become familiar with mainstream Christianity until we moved to north Georgia, where the “Bible Belt” left little room for anything other than Baptists. When I first visited a church in Blairsville, Georgia I quickly discovered that although people welcomed me a newcomer, they did not understand my ethnic heritage nor did they want to learn about it other than to incorporate it with their current view of Christianity. Over time, I managed to provide a deeper understanding of my childhood faith to my peers, but for awhile, I remained a welcomed outsider. There traditional upbringing clashed with my fusion of faiths.

  10. Rick R says:

    I spent most of my childhood feeling different than everybody else…like an outsider. From a very early age I knew I was gay. I also knew it was extremely unlikely that I would be accepted for being gay by those closest to me. My lack of acceptance came from many different sources. The number one source was my upbringing in a predominately Latino Catholic family, that consistently told that to be gay meant that there was something inherently sinful and shameful about that existence. I do want to clarify though, that when I refer to my family I do not mean my immediate family, (they are truly a blessing to me and have always supported the person that I am), but rather, I am referring to my extended family. Growing up, I remember how my relatives would persistently feel the need to belittle and debase anyone that happened to be gay, especially while in my presence. At such an impressionable age, I absorbed everything they were saying and believed it to be true. The negative sentiment most of them held toward the gay community had thrown me into a vortex of unyielding depression and self-deprecation. I began believing that if only I could change myself and somehow turn straight, then I would gain their acceptance and everything would be okay. Obviously, this did mot work! As I grew older and reached my late teens, I slowly began to accept the fact that I was gay. I had become so accepting of myself that I took a huge risk by divulging this information to my cousin. In hindsight, it probably was not the best idea for me to have come out to this particular cousin, as I trusted her least compared to other relatives. Nonetheless, as soon as I had told her I had felt as though I could breathe a huge sigh of relief, like I had finally come clean about something I had kept bottle up for so long. I felt as though for the first time in a long time I had control over my fears about being honest with others about myself.. Unfortunately, those happy feelings had subsided for a brief time after I found out what my cousin had done with I had told her. She decided to take what I told her in confidence and tell pretty much my entire family. By this time, I had already told my mom, and the awesome woman that she is completely accepted me without hesitation. In fact, she was elated I had finally mustered up the confidence to come out to her. However, things between my relatives and me were not so great after they found about my being gay. It was awkward at first. Whenever I would go to family get-togethers I felt like I had a million eyes on me, like everybody was gawking at me, watching me as if I had just landed from the moon or something. This made me feel really uncomfortable. Fortunately, with time, things got less and less awkward whenever I would see my relatives. I began to notice a shift in my family’s attitudes toward gay people. Instead of hearing how sinful they thought it was to be gay, I instead started hearing things like “To each his own” and “I love and respect you regardless of your sexuality”. Things had gotten better between my family and me. They embraced me more and more as time went on. I believe their love for me was stronger than there disdain for gays. Even though I had been really hurt by their actions, I decided I was not going to lose faith in them. They have shown me a different side of themselves, that they truly do care about me and that they were just stuck in a mindset that had been passed down to them from generations ago. Although there are still some family members that disagree, they are more discreet about it, which is fine by me. I think my family having a relative who is gay, really taught them a wealth of knowledge and helped them to question the conjectures they had been brought up to believe all their lives. Generally, it is easier to label and criticize people you really don’t have any type of relationship to, but when you do have a relationship with those very people, your view of them tends to change. You start to look past what pre-conceived notions you had toward certain people and based on your own experiences and encounters with them you begin to form your own opinions.
    Through this ordeal, I had experienced what it was like to be the “other”, to not fit the mold properly, and to be something looked down upon. I believe this feeling of “otherness” is a feeling most people feel from time to time, some more often than others. It is thr feeling of “otherness” that helps us to be able to understand the core of who we are as individuals. In my case, the old adage “every cloud has a silver lining” resonates with me. I believe that as painful as is was to feel like the “other” I had indeed learned a great deal about building courage and acceptance of myself, no matter what others had thoughts or felt about me. Now, I live my life without being a slave to the opinions of others – I am free!

  11. Michael says:

    When I met my first girlfriend, she and I always got along great, however, after we had been dating for awhile, we started to invite eachother to see our friends more often. One time she invited me to a Halloween party at a friends house, I was expecting the typical suburban, homey family. When I got there, I realized it was almost a mansion. Her friend’s family were high-class and it quickly showed that I didn’t have the same “elegance in tastes”. The entire night I felt completely left out because none of her friends wanted to associate themselves with me and she didn’t want to be seen differently by associating herself with me. Obviously it hurt, and was one of the major reasons we decided to break up. It would’ve been nice if they at least tried to get to know me before they dubbed me as low class.

  12. Jayme Neitzel says:

    Meeting your older brother’s friends for the first time is normally not a stressful thing, but I was worried about them judging me. When people find out that you go to (or graduated from) an international boarding high school, they tend to make assumptions about what type of person you are. Most of the time they assume one or more of the following: your parents are extremely rich (and often think you’re a snob), you’re some sort of genius, you speak a ridiculous amount of languages, and/or you were a troublesome kid who got sent away. These were some of expectation my brother’s friends had of me when I came home to meet them one weekend. Walking into my own home I was expecting to be judged, and I was. I was right on their expectations, but as we continued to hang out I was able to change their view of me. This was not the first or last time people have jumped to conclusions about who I am because I attended boarding school. But I try to help people understand that not everything you see in movies about these types of schools are true.

  13. annakate shepherd says:

    I have gone to private school my entire life. I went to a private elementary and middle school. Then I attended a private high school. Now, I am in a private college. With the label “private school” others often identify the stereotype with money and snobby personality. The look I get from my peers at state schools when I tell them I go to a private college is immediate judgment. They expect me to act entitled without getting the chance to know me. Although there is a lot of truth to the “snobby” tendencies that go along with attending a private school, a majority of the people I have encountered at Berry are far from snobby or entitled. It is a shame that one simple word can put those judgments in the eyes of others.

  14. Olivia says:

    One summer my mom and I went on a trip to Ireland to visit family. Just to preface, my mom grew up in Ireland but has been living in the US since she was 10 so, to me, she doesn’t really have an accent, and I have never thought of myself as having a thick accent. While driving to a family member’s house, we couldn’t find the road we were looking for, so we had to pull over and ask someone for directions. Luckily there was a man checking his mail in front of us so we stopped. I rolled down the window and asked him if we could ask him a question. When he came over to the car my mom asked him if he could help us find the road our family’s house was on. Before he said anything else he looked at my mom and me, and in a horribly over-exaggerated southern accent, he replied, “Of course I can help you sweet little ladies.” After an awkward moment of silence he slowly told us that the road we were looking for was just down the road. While driving away, my mom and I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed. We spoke the same language and my mom was from Ireland, but because of our accent the Irishman figured that we weren’t as intelligent as he was. I wish he had been slower to judge us just because of the way we spoke.

  15. Jake Emche says:

    When i first started dating my girlfriend her friends and I were very different. Since hunting and fishing are a big part of my life, they thought I was just some low class redneck before they even got to really know me. I always felt weird being around them because I constantly felt like I was being judged or talked about behind my back. Eventually they began to accept me more once they got to know me better, but it was still difficult going through that and being treated as the “other”.

  16. Chantal Guerrero says:

    In one of my high school classes, I had a teacher who felt very strongly about a certain issue going on in the world! She agreed with it and didn’t see anything wrong with it, as to where I felt a very different way than she did! I was pretty much the only person in that whole class that apparently felt that way, or the only person who would argue the other way. I felt as though I was being disregarded just because I was younger or didn’t know what I was talking about just because I wasn’t the teacher. I knew other students agreed with me but were to afraid to speak up and say so, leaving me feeling alone and looked down on in this situation. I eventually realized that sometimes that that was a thing that was going to happen in life; sometimes I would be the only standing for what I thought was right but that doesn’t mean I should abandon those values.

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