the language of the ‘other’

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This is something that has being weighing heavy with me recently. With so many headlines full of people groups in peril and headlines of people pointing fingers at individuals that they perceive to be responsible for this mess, or that mess, there’s one thing that comes across very loudly. The blame always lies with the ‘Other’.

who exactly is the ‘other’?

We are all human beings, and I believe that we each have just as much right to live a life in all its fullness all the days of our lives on this planet. Yet, by using language that segregates us into different groups, we find it too easy to justify our own status at the expense of someone elses.

Rather than seeing everyone as equal, we put labels on them that tell ourselves that the they have less reason for being, and less right to have rights, than ourselves.

defining with labels

Whether the label we use is colour, class, faith, background, sex, wealth… really it’s all the same, what these labels so easily can be used to say are ‘Other’. We can fall into the trap of using labels to define people as different to us, placing them into convenient groups. And as the people in question are now categorised as different to us, it then becomes our thought process that it’s ok to treat them differently to the way that we ourselves expect to be treated.

“They’re black and I’m white”, “they’re male and I’m female”, “I’m a lord and they’re a cleaner”, “they’re autistic”, “they’re deaf”, “they have downs syndrome”, “they’re homeless”, “they’re rich”, “they’re poor”, “they’re a priest”…… it goes one and on. We give ourselves so many reasons as to why the person opposite us should be treated differently to the way we ourselves expect to be treated.

This sadly is nothing new. History is told through stories of groups of ‘us’ and ‘them’. The language of the ‘Other’ fills the internal walls of the pyramids, the Assyrian palace reliefs, Trajan’s column in Rome, and many more. Stories told of ‘people who are different to us’ and ‘therefore deserve to be treated differently’. All of these stories would have a very different impact if they were told through the lens of ‘people like us’.

Seeing the person and not the other

What would happen if we were to approach all ‘Others’ by starting with what we have in common, rather than seeing the differences?

As a documentary producer specialising in sensitive access, this is something I do instinctively every time I meet a new person that I’m filming. For the filming to go well, I need to understand the person in front of me, and they need to trust me. This is only done by identifying common ground, or finding things that I can empathise with. By seeing the person in front of me in their full humanity and not as a collection of labels, I have a far better chance of getting to the heart of their real story; to really encapsulate who they are, the journey they’ve been on, and what they’ve achieved – rather than trying to place my own created narrative on them.

If I enter the situation with preconceived differences and judgements, then I’m unlikely to be able to showcase that person’s story, and instead, I’ll produce a biased view of the story from my own perception and not represent their own voice.

current media trends

So much of our media currently thrives in the approach of the ‘Other’.

Let’s face it, a lot of the media stories that appeal to us are the ones that make us feel a little bit safer at the expense of someone’s else’s discomfort. Sadly, good news doesn’t always sell as well, and instead the media powerhouses thrive on headlines that focus on ‘people over there’ who have done or are doing something terrible. Those stories that we can read over breakfast that make us feel just a little more safe and secure in the knowledge that ‘at least we’re not like them’

across the world

As I’ve travelled through various countries, and paid attention to headlines and news channels, it seems that media approaches fall into 2 camps. For ‘in country’ stories the subject of the headlines are either individuals (politicians, celebrities, criminals, etc) – people who we can point fingers at, the headlines are focussed on a people group that we perceive problems to be due to, be that refugees, climate change campaigners, millennials, drug users, homeless, the church, the state… the list goes on.

However, there is one thing in common in the way that these inwardly focussed country stories – they are very often surface issues. These stories rarely explore the deep rooted issues of the country in question, as that would make the readers at home feel uncomfortable.

However, when a country’s headlines are focussed on lands external to their own borders, ‘the Other’ takes on a very different form. When we look to other countries we are all too quick to use headlines that expose and shame them for their weakness, failings, corruption, human rights atrocities etc.

It’s very rarely that the media (I would argue in any country) would apply the same magnifying glass to their own country as they do others. This means that we can so often live being very aware of the failings in other countries and totally oblivious to those of our own.

absolutvision-The Other - Anne Buckland - media

A trip to brazil

I recently met with someone who has lived in South America for the last few years and completes a lot of work campaigning to increased awareness and improvement of human trafficking. Around the time of the Rio Olympics they and others had been walking the streets, using a VR headset to make others aware of the harrowing testimonies of some girls who had been trafficked in the sex trade. Their aim was to increase awareness of this travelling to the country that this was going on. One lady however had a reaction that surprised them. They put the headset on a Brazilian lady who watched the testimonies and was visibly shaken by what she had just witnessed. She was deeply shocked that anyone could be going through this in her country. The person relaying the story to us then said ‘I found this surprising, how could she not know?’.

That got me thinking. What if the Brazilian media operates in the same was that the UK does? Magnifying the failings of other countries to make the inhabitants of their own feel more comfortable and safe?

how can we see those around us?

It’s my personal belief that NO one should be defined by a few meagre labels. Every person on this planet has a right to a life as much as anyone else, and a right to be able to be seen and heard.

The mindset of the ‘other’ is dangerous. It enables us to fall into a trap of pointing the finger at a people group, and placing a sweeping judgement over them. And yet, so many of the most inspiring conversations I’ve had have come from the most unlikely of places. I would challenge us to each day, strive to reach out to people that we perceive to be different, and see them as ‘people like us’. If we start with acceptance rather than judgement, this world may just get a little bit better.

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