The Ugly Side of the Literary Other and Societal Implications

Ancients Romans writing about their battles with ‘Savage and Terrible’ Celtic warriors, English explorers writing about how ‘Beastly’ American Indians were towards them and how in the book The Help ‘Home Health Initiatives’ were introduced so black maids didn’t have to share bathrooms with their white employers because…’They have different diseases than we do’. What do all these things have in common? They are strong examples of othering by a colonising race over the colonised.

The concept of othering within Literature is not an unusual or new concept by any means. What is basically meant with the term ‘othering’ is a simple but dangerous concept. There is an enlightened superior  ‘us’ and a ‘Savage’, ‘Inferior’ and lowly ‘other’. The other is usually different in physical appearance or social status, so a real or imagined line should not ever be seen to be crossed in the eyes of society.

Where this thinking becomes truly dangerous is when injustices such as mistreatment, neglect or in some cases genocide in horrific circumstances occur with the belief that the other that is persecuted is inferior, in some way, therefore is unworthy of the basic right to live in peace.

While this all sounds like something that only exists in post colonial fiction that we see published in the 18th and 19th centuries, the post colonial gaze still lingers in todays society.

With migrants coming over in boats in Australian waters the media teaches us that something needs to be done about ‘them’. The line between the self and the other is still as clear as ever.

For years in Australian culture the definition of the self was to be an ‘Aussie’ and migrants and even some first generation Australian’s with parents hailing from another country would be seen to be told to ‘Go back where you came from’… Cronulla riots anyone?

Thankfully this type of behaviour is changing but the fear mongering about unknown ‘other’ races still exists. As long as there are people that perpetrate stereotypes that unknown cultures need to be automatically feared society remains fragmented at best.

When a society aims to work together to become another within rather than creating fortunate few and misunderstanding and fearing the other a more peaceful society exists. And no I don’t believe that its an utopian ideal…I just think the media needs to lay off the fear and take the time to understand people different to yourself……

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