Othering is recognising, and often labelling, someone as different from you. The Oxford Dictionary defines othering as:
To view or treat (a person or group of people) as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself.
Othering can be a ‘first impression’ or ‘knee-jerk’ judgement when we see or meet someone who is different from ourselves in some way. It is how we respond to that judgement both internally - within our own thoughts and actions, and externally – our behaviour towards the person, that matters. As we self-reflect on our judgements and choose to take the time to learn about, and empathise with, the people we meet, we may find that as we learn more, we judge less.
Without taking the time for self-reflection and learning, othering can lead to negative consequences scaling from making assumptions, through to misunderstandings, stereotyping and at the extremes, hatred.
Categories of Othering
The researcher Beverly Tatum identified seven categories of otherness that have historically been used to place people as ‘other’. These are:
- Race or ethnicity
- Sexual orientation
- Socioeconomic status
- Physical or mental ability
Some of these categories are ‘fixed’, while others are more fluid and individuals may move in or out of these more fluid categories at different times in their life. Social and cultural norms will also affect these categories – for example, some cultures place a lot of respect on elderly members of society, whereas other cultures favour younger members.
Listening to and Hearing Different Views
Listening to and learning about people who are different from ourselves in some way can help foster deeper understanding and negate discriminatory behaviour and violence. But it doesn’t mean we all have to think or act the same.
John A Powell, writing in the Guardian explains his view of what it means to live in a society without othering:
The opposite of Othering is not “saming”, it is belonging. And belonging does not insist that we are all the same. It means we recognise and celebrate our differences, in a society where “we the people” includes all the people.
See the Teachers' Notes page for suggested starter activities aimed at creating a safe and respectful classroom and help students have an open mind when they meet people who may seem different from them