An Accepted Form of "Othering"
-“What are you” -“American” -“No, but where are you from” -“Virginia” -“No, but really where are you from” The United States has used the term “melting pot” to describe the kind of multiculturalism fusion that we as Americans want in our society. “E Pluribus Unum - from many, one” has held a standing since 1782 on our national seal and was reinterpreted in conjunction with the idea of the melting pot to reflect a new representation of America as a whole. The former mentioned terms have given us the impression that we are all American; so why does a non-white person in America get asked “where are you from or what are you” so frequently? “Othering” is a term made famous by Edward Said in which an in-group and an out-group mentality exists. It has connotations of nationalistic mentality, ethnocentrism, and in many cases dehumanization of the out-group. It has been utilized as a means to excuse discrimination, define nationality, and perpetuate mental barriers based on economic status, race, and other essentially erroneous categorizations. The question “where are you from” implies that because of the way a person looks he or she cannot possibly be described as American. It conjures up feelings of “double consciousness” and creates “two warring ideals” as W.E.B DuBois noted; except instead of “American v. Negro” it has become American v. Non-white. I want to remind people that we are all simply human and the need to define can be detrimental to individual psyches and nurture the ongoing strife amongst people, specifically here in America but globally as well. In my life changing undergrad course “The Origins and Evolution of the Idea of Race” I was given the privilege of reading on the concept of race and ethnicity. In order for us to open up a dialogue and move past the shackles that have held our minds hostage with the superficial labels we created, we must educate ourselves - whether that be from engaging with “others” or reading compelling pieces that force us to confront our prejudices. Race in North America: Origin and Evolution of a Worldview by Audrey Smedley The Ethnic Myth: Race, Ethnicity, and Class in America by Stephen Steinberg