This cropped up when we discussed in my book group Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo. One comment we made was that here were a group of women who were all “other” and perhaps what makes us all alike is that we are all “other”.
One lady mentioned that her brother is very racist and she isn’t. Yet they were brought up exactly the same way.
There is nothing wrong with having a reaction to the strange, to the other. Xenophobia can be forgiven; it is what one does in response to that feeling that counts. I can name a few reactions: I was intrigued with how white my friend Celestine’s socks looked next to her black legs. My daughter was fascinated that her friend Craig’s hair didn’t move in the wind. Who were these tall, thin ladies who wore the long skirts that looked like fine sheets wrapped around them and who wrangled with my grandmother over the remnants box in the market? What are they cooking? How interesting it is that the extended family all gather at the house opposite to us every Friday evening.
We can say, “This is interesting. I’d like to know more.” We might eventually say. “That’s fine for you but it’s not what I want.” Unfortunately some choose to say “What you’re doing is rubbish and that makes me superior to you.” I suspect that often in the latter case something nearer the truth is “What you’re doing scares me half to death and I won’t have anything to do with it.”
There are some genuine concerns too. Foreign workers come and do the job for a fraction of the cost. Of course that’s upsetting. Take what is happening with P & O at the moment. Would you want to go on a ferry operated by an inexperienced work force that is being paid starvation wages? How would you feel if you were one of the sacked workers? There may have been some mismanagement of the funds provided by the government but the firm is where it is now and the sacked workers would be out of a job anyway. Operation Brock is in force at the moment and will become more of permanent feature if this ferry firm remains inoperative.
Do some groups make themselves more “other” by celebrating that otherness?
I go back again my friends or my teenage years. They were just Elaine, Theo, Ingrid, Rene, Monica and Mavis. I cringe even as I tell you that they are black and Windrush generation.
My book group recongised all sorts of “otherness” and in particular we found the women in Evaristo’s book other than us; we are a group of middle class women, most of whom come from working class backgrounds, who now live in the north of England. The women in Evaristo’s book are very much from London and very multicultural. Or is even that too “boxy”? In the end aren’t there just “people”? Will my work with the Schellberg Cycle make that clearer?