As I write this, it is mid-March, and the world has just learned of yet another horrific act of violence in America. Robert Aaron Long, 21, of Woodstock, Georgia, opened fire in three massage parlors, killing 8 people, most of whom were Asian women. The media was quick to jump on this as an example of anti-Asian violence that is on the rise in the US.
Whether or not this is the case specifically is not really my point. Certainly, Hate is an issue here. I want to talk about a component of Hate, a seed of Hate: Othering.
Othering happens when you view or treat (a person or group of people) as intrinsically different from and alien to yourself. On the surface, it seems innocuous enough, but it is the root of Hate.
When we see some else as basically like us, we empathize with them; we can easily treat them the way we want to be treated. When we see someone as Other, something else happens. First is alienation: we do not incorporate them into our lives, we do not make them a part of our systems. No, “separate but equal” never works; it is an oxymoron. Separation itself creates inequality.
Othering leads to seeing human beings as less than human, to the point of objectifying them.
In the case of Long, we can see how the Othering began. First, there was the Othering of women: women as objects to desire, control, prize, and win. They are valued for their appearance and function, but are not treated as human in the same way men are human. This might not be articulated that way, but that is the lesson learned from the kind of culture that produced Robert Long. I know, because it is the same culture that produced me.
Next, we have the Othering of Asians. In the West, we have long Othered Asian cultures and peoples to exploit and hate them. In Robert Long’s instance, I suspect a second aspect of Othering: to fetishize, to see differences and become obsessed with them in a way that is often, but not always, sexual. We need to recognize that our society put these women in this position, in their work environment, because we failed to adequately care for them as foreigners, and then we fetishized them, making them targets.
Finally, there is the Othering of Self. That might seem like an impossibility, but it is far more common than you think. We Other ourselves when we begin to see ourselves as fundamentally different from those around us, our peer group. If the reports are true that Long was a client of one or more of these establishments, he may have come to see himself as having a problem, of being flawed, of being abnormal. His self-diagnosis is that he is a “sex addict,” as if this explains his crime. He comes from a culture that demonizes all sexual desire. He has been taught that normal healthy human sexuality is not something that “good” people act upon or even have. Forcing sex into dark and dangerous places. He sees himself as Other because of his desire for sex. Once you see yourself as Other, you can then excuse abnormal or extreme behavior, such as shooting a bunch of people, to become “normal.”
Where does this take us? Yes, Long is wrong and deserves the full application of the law. That does not mean we are not all a little bit complicit in his crime. If we have objectified women or treated them differently, if we have either idolized or villainized Asian cultures, and if we have failed to teach reasonable and healthy understandings of human sexuality, then we helped to make him what he is. We need to see how we make our fellow humans Other. We need to see how each one of us contributes to such crimes. If we eliminate what we can from ourselves, we can better prevent this kind of thing from ever happening again.