On -isms: The Other

By | Thursday, April 17, 2014 Leave a Comment
Last year, I moved from southwest Ohio to just outside Chicago. The primary reason for the move was to be with my S.O. but it didn't hurt that Chicago has a thriving comics community. And (mainly) because of those two things, I have been incredibly happy up here. I mentioned to someone recently that I could count the number of bad days I've had since I moved up here on one hand, and even those were more just annoying than actually bad.

But then I've got a friend from back in Ohio who's not happy with my move. I've never asked, but I suspect it's for selfish reasons. Change of the status quo and all that. But I still keep in touch with him, and when I do, questions about Chicago inevitably come up. (I think he's had a layover or two in O'Hare, but he's never actually been to the city itself.) But the questions always seemed to be phrased in kind of a curious way. Curious in that they were about America's third largest city. With answers that can be read in the first couple paragraphs of Wikipedia's entry on Chicago if you hadn't gleaned them from, you know, hearing stuff. About things that really aren't at all uncommon for larger cities like, say, Cincinnati.

So I'm sitting here scratching my head over these questions, not because they're hard to answer, but because they're so ridiculously easy that the questions shouldn't even need to be asked. This isn't "how's life on an experimental Mars colony" despite the seeming tone and approach. It's not all that different from Miami or Minneapolis or San Diego or a hundred other cities across the U.S.

It wasn't until I was explaining my confusion to the S.O. and she clued me in. She pointed out that by acting as if Chicago was this strange and foreign land, it increases the sense of it being The Other. By focusing on the differences, you mute the similarities. Suddenly, it's no longer "a large Midwest city with a professional football team" but "that evil place that was taken over by Al Capone, and didn't the Black Panthers terrorize the city with a bunch of shoot-outs?"* You can justify hating the latter a lot more than the former because you've made it a very different place.

That's where these -isms come from. When you convince yourself that only 25% of the Eisner nominees being women, despite them making up half the population, is a great achievement, that's making them an Other. That rape threats are reserved exclusively for women in comics and not for men? That's making them an Other. When your employers blocks webcomics featuring gay people, regardless of the story content? That's making them an Other.

Making a person or group an Other puts them in a different category as you. It "forces" an Us versus Them binary situation. Which it totally isn't. Sure, there are differences between you and whoever you've labeled Other, but no more than those between you and your two-year-older brother. And sure, some of the comics that people whom you've labeled other create suck, but to no greater or lesser degree than anyone else's. People are people and just because you share some superficial trait with them doesn't make them part of "your team."

Whether you live in Cincinnati or Chicago, whether you're a man or woman, whether you're straight or gay, whether you're black or white, you're a person. Just like every other person on the planet. All those labels are superficial. Instead of doing a lot of mental gymnastics to make them all out to be Others, isn't it a hell of a lot easier to just treat everyone the same no matter where or how they live?

Though Capone was indeed involved in many illegal activities, he hardly ran the entire city and, in some ways, did more for the community than elected officials. Most of what you probably think you know about him is fiction from the movies. And the only real "shoot-out" the Black Panthers were involved in here was when police raided Fred Hampton's apartment, ruthlessly murdering him. Most of what you probably think you know about the event is fiction concocted by the police, and later largely disproven in courts and by reporters.
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