Winslow Myers: “To have to explain to the innocent why they are an “Other” is a kind of madness, one that fuels the rage that is pouring into the streets of our cities…this cultural tendency toward “Othering” encompasses so much.”
Peace Voice’s Winslow Myers says the concept of “Othering” nurtures racist climate that took George Floyd’s life.
There is another kind of climate change, a mental one, we are undergoing, catalyzed by the combination of the pandemic and the police lynching of George Floyd. Mr. Trump’s non-leadership is a classic example of the mental climate that is dying. His way is division—into the Us of his base, and the Other: the left, minorities, protestors.
But the world of “Othering” is dying to make way for the world of “We Are All in this Together.”
As one who benefits from white privilege yet still believes in the power of loving, trained nonviolence, I revere the example of Martin Luther King Jr.—not the cleaned-up King of the holiday, but the “radical” King who not long before he was assassinated, spoke truth to the triple evils of American militarism, racism, and materialism, the King who made uncomfortable connections between the war in Vietnam and poverty at home.
I wish all the protest was disciplined in the Gandhian tradition, because that would be a further expression of the new world in the making. Such creative protest, exemplified by the Chief of Police of Flint, Michigan who put down his baton and walked with protestors, heading off mayhem in his city that night, makes it harder for Trump to sustain his tired Us-and-Them schtick.
But that may be too much to ask at this further moment of pain for African-American citizens, one more link in an endless chain of injustice and deprivation going back to the slavery that was written into the Constitution. Obedience to law is liberty, but if the law is perceived to be structurally unjust, then, as President Kennedy said in 1962, “those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
I have the honor to be the grandfather of five mixed-race grandchildren ages 15 to 2. In my country, if it does not fundamentally and quickly change, these children are going to undergo a transformation in the eyes of our systemically racist culture. As they enter puberty, their adorable qualities will mysteriously evaporate, replaced by the reality that too many white people will see them as a threat, especially too many of the police. They will require “the talk,” about how to respect police officers as a matter of survival. To have to explain to the innocent why they are an “Other” is a kind of madness, one that fuels the rage that is pouring into the streets of our cities.
My grandchildren also have the opportunity to be citizens of a possible new world of which we see faint signs, a world in which whites will finally accept that their coming status as a racial and political minority in America need not be threatening—that whites will no longer need an Other to help us define ourselves as superior. That challenge must be met entirely by us whites—a change of mental climate indeed.
But this cultural tendency toward “Othering” encompasses so much more than the present racial divide in the United States. It explains and connects so much of what is wrong and false and dying in our world, and what is right and true and being born, a birth upon which depends the very survival of us all.
In the world I hope is possible for my coffee-colored grandchildren, citizens will have made the intimate connection between all of the big challenges facing the planet: ecological degradation, nuclear weapons, world-encompassing pandemics, the polarizing divide in our politics made worse by sneering demagogues like Rush Limbaugh. All of these huge challenges emerge from the human tendency to “Other,” a fire upon which Limbaugh and Trump happily pour gasoline.
Out of our fears and desires to maintain an illusory control, we humans have created world-ending weapons to keep the Other at bay.
Out of their fears and desires to maintain an illusory control, the super-wealthy, enabled by the president and his legislation-burying Senate toadies, enjoy far too much influence over our government. Often they pay no taxes at all (surely a kind of welfare, if not outright looting), and have “Othered” ordinary citizens, forgetting that these ordinary citizens are the interdependent source of their wealth.
Big Pharma and Big Insurance have “Othered” Americans into health care haves and have-nots, when for the cost of a few less aircraft carriers and F-35 fighters, we could all afford preventive and curative care.
Out of our desire to control and monetize our industrial food-supply, we have “Othered” nature itself, when nature is telling via pandemics and many other signs and portents that we ourselves are an integral, interdependent part of the living system.
There is no Other. As someone once wrote, “the earth is a sphere, and a sphere has only one side. We are all on the same side.” True self-interest has become what is in the best interest of all, not the nations, but this small planet. At this moment of pain and destruction in America, obviously we’re far from being all on the same side. Still, the sentiment of seeing the earth as a one-sided sphere means a lot more than some easy Kumbaya bromide. It is a reality that grounds us in interdependence, and points toward a mental climate change where “Othering” of all kinds is obsolete.
Winslow Myers, the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide,” serves on the Advisory Board of the War Preventive Initiative.