A wide spot in my imagination.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Otherizing Richmond

Dropped the kids off at school this morning and turned on the radio midway into an NPR story. The reporter was talking about his hometown of Richmond. "Hey, I went to school in Richmond," I thought, paying closer attention.

The reporter spoke of typical innercity troubles, drugs, crime, and the like. Then, the story got a bit more hopeful, a glimmer of optimism wandered out of my speakers. With the upturn I thought, "I'll email this story to some of my old Richmond friends. Make sure they hear about their old stompin' grounds."

But then the story took a nose dive. The reporter started talking about a high school gang rape that went unreported, abject poverty that goes unnoticed. He interviewed a rape crisis center director who used a word in a new way: "Otherize." Horribly poor, hopeless people "otherize" those around them, she said. They are so poor they don't think of others as being like them, so victims may become "otherized."

I paid closer attention, and more critical. "This can't be the Richmond, I knew," I thought. "This reporter doesn't have a Tidewater lilt. And the people he's talking to don't sounds like they're from the South. Surely he's not talking about my Richmond."

I began to run through a geographical rolodex: "There's a Richmond, Texas, I know. But that's a little town near Houston. That's not it. There's a Richmond, Indiana, right? Near Gary, maybe? Things are tough there. Maybe there's a Richmond in Jersey or California. Richmond, Washington? No that's Redmond, but maybe it's in Oregon. But he's not talking about Richmond, Virginia. Not my Richmond."

Releived I heard the reporter sign off, saying he was in Richmond, California.

Whew, I thought. Not my Richmond.

And I realized, I had successfully "otherized" those people. I had "otherized" their problems, their poverty, their "othering." I had pushed them out of any place I knew, so I would not have to be bothered by them. They are "other."


  1. I heard that NPR story, too. That word, "otherize," sure stuck like glue in my brain wrinkles. I probably wouldn't have needed a definition, the concept struck me clearly within the context of this story. I'll be chewing on that word all day. Thanks for the reinforcement.

    Glad you're here -- it's about time you had a blog!

  2. A strange parallel.....the bounty of social networking has allowed me to chat up old buds from the white picket fence neighborhood of my youth. Inevitably as the conversation turns to the old hood, we talk in detail of how sad things are, how the golf course has shut down as its crime overrun fairways caused the membership to turn their attention elswhere. How the school now has metal detectors and one entrance guarded by armed security. The irony is that as much as people put their feelings into their emotive language of sadness and remorse for the transition of the land of their childhood dreams into another inner city gangland, they distance themselves from the problem at the same time with equal amounts of energy. I think that 'otherizing' is as much a coping mechanism as it is a defense mechanism. In this case, it certainly allows people to abandon any responsibility.