How the Others Other

by Leanna Keyes, ‘14

Frantz Fanon was one of the founding thinkers in critical studies of race. Born in the Caribbean, he studied in France before becoming a resistance fighter in the liberation of French-colonized Algeria. His most famous work, The Wretched of the Earth, argues for the necessary role of violence in revolution. It extensively discusses the process of ‘othering’ and dehumanization.

What ways have I been “other’ed”, or contributed to ‘othering’?

This is always a question that makes me uncomfortable. In my mind, it sets up an “us vs. them,” Manichean world view that hurts people who are fighting oppression. It encourages us to set up a system of ranking for ‘othering,’ as if there is some scale upon which we can measure how much people are dehumanized. To explain:

As a white person, I know I don’t really understand racism. I’ll never experience racism in the same way that a person of color will, and does, and has. I am from a village that is 97% white, and I considered myself very forward-thinking racially. ‘Post-racial,’ even. Then I came to Stanford and realized that I had NO IDEA what I was talking about. I was appalled when I went back to my village for a visit and saw just how racist even my ‘liberal’ friends were, to say nothing of the general populace.

I’m sure that pretty much every day I do something that contributes to ‘othering’ on racial lines. I try my hardest to check myself and my privilege. I’m just finding it very hard to reverse the conditioning I received, not that that is an excuse for any sort of racially inappropriate actions I take. Even when I mean something positively, there’s always a chance that I’m being insensitive. Inadvertently, I ‘other’ people around me, even when I try hard not to.

I am also ‘othered’ quite frequently. As a trans woman, my community is oppressed as a matter of public policy, and there is no intellectual consensus that this oppression is wrong. Similar to how whites went on ‘civilizing’ missions into Black regions ‘for their own good,’ many cis people try to ‘help’ the trans community ‘for our own good.’ This ‘help’ usually does more harm than good, or forces us into paths that are predetermined by cis people (esp. doctors, psychiatrists, etc., who want to ‘fix’ us and assimilate us) without consultation with trans people.

The problem I have with the question “What ways have I been “other’ed”, or contributed to ‘othering’?” is that it implies (at least to me) that these various forms of ‘othering’ are comparable, that they exist on some scale of ‘otherization,’ etc. Fanon is speaking directly to the issue of racial ‘otherization’, but in the process I found that very often he ‘otherized’ many groups, especially women. I found his analysis of veiling to be INCREDIBLY naïve, and his tone often patronizing, paternal, and patriarchal. However, I understand that my frustration with Fanon is tainted (on some level) by my racialized upbringing. It would be very easy for me (emotionally) to write a rant about how Fanon is helping to liberate one group while oppressing another, but doing so automatically creates an opposition: women’s rights vs. PoC rights, as if the two are mutually exclusive.

The question “What ways have I been “other’ed”, or contributed to ‘othering’?” seems to turn the discussion into a game of Oppression Olympics, i.e., “Well, sure, I othered you by making a racial comment, but YOU othered ME when you made a sexist comment!” This is not productive for coalition building or for the deconstruction of internalized prejudice.

What ways have I been “other’ed”, or contributed to ‘othering’?” might be better phrased as “In what ways have we been othered and have we contributed to othering, and what can we do about it?”


Leanna Keyes is a radical queer transgender activist who will most likely be double majoring in Drama and Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity. She can be reached at lkeyes@stanford.edu.

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