I and 'Other'
It may go without saying that most people are afraid to discuss privilege or social status directly. Instead we make mental note of the differences and similarities between us and those around us, resulting in an unstated social hierarchy. Of course comparing one's self to others is imperative to the coming-of-age narrative, and one must find them-self through exposure to others whom they relate to. After all, the foundation of friendship is a shared experience. What concerns me is how often people put themselves down, or put others down in the process. Whether it's intentional or out of ignorance for what we don't understand, human beings bare the unremitting compulsion to create dichotomy between I and 'other.'
It's really interesting to reflect on what words you think of to identify yourself when put on the spot. I came up with a quick list of 11 attributes that describe me, both physically and mentally -- in under 30 seconds. Words that when put together with a not so flattering sketch of myself, begin to feel really personal despite the fact that at least half of them are completely out of my control. Rather, each attribute is a clearly defined category the world has placed me in. I jump happily into the box of artist and designer. Despite being young and not knowing what my professional future holds, I love expressing creative concepts and I love the people I've met through school. I somewhat unwillingly define myself as introverted because I think that it's an oversimplified take on a person's social needs. I'm empathetic and sensitive and while I see that as a huge setback sometimes, I also appreciate that it makes me have a greater capacity to feel love.
What I really see when I look at all these words is that social hierarchy I mentioned. I'm privileged in the sense that I am cis-gender, white, heterosexual, and skinny -- because of our country's prejudice and bigotry I have a greater freedom to be me without much scrutiny or fear. It’s critical that we have words to describe ourselves so we know who is like us and who is different. Because when someone is different, they are stigmatized, polarized, and blatantly victimized by institutional and social injustices. If you're a racial minority, gender minority, queer, gay, elderly, physically disabled, have a mental health disorder, struggling in poverty; if you are 'different' then you've dealt with ignorance and prejudice directly, and consistently.
We affirm our identity through clothing, vocabulary, social circles, spirituality, sexuality, choice in hobbies, professions and so on. The tragedy is that so often, we're boxed in and rarely given the space to explore and redefine status quo. And progress takes more time than it should. I think it's really important to ask, how do you interact with people you don't identify with? Because unfortunately it's too easy to disassociate from what so many think are "far away" problems. I have this feeling that the human struggle is so relatable that you don't have to have the same setbacks. You don't have to be the same type of 'other' to empathize with people. You don't need to see the videos to feel the heartache for Philando Castile and Alton Sterling and their families and all the unarmed black men that have been killed this year, and last year, and the year before. We need to listen. We need to change how we navigate the world. This country needs to stop looking at migrants and refugees as ‘the other,’ we need to start diversifying our social circles and reading, and hearing more perspectives. We need to start treating each other BETTER. We can do better.