Trump and Knowing “Other”

I thought I would throw Trump’s name in my title because when I did so a couple of days ago, my readership quadrupled. Talk about powerful name-branding! I confess to the deception. This blog isn’t about Donald Trump unless a reader deems it to be.

I was discussing with friends the other day the book Fear of the Other by William Willimon. We were talking about the concept of “other” which we took to mean people different from us because of race or religion or political beliefs. We were gliding along quite nicely as we considered ways to be more welcoming to those who are “other”, that is f a different culture or religion, into our communities until someone brought out what it might be like to be “other”. At first we struggled with this, but then one woman shared her hesitancy to go into a Somali restaurant. “That is because you are afraid to be the ‘other’,” one friend said.

I have to admit that as I have participated in various conversations over what to do about prejudice in any of its forms, us white folks were seeing ourselves as needing to reach out to those “on the edge” and invite them to come be part of our already existing communities. This, of course, puts us in a position where we are surrounded by people of our own tribe while we do the uncomfortable thing.

We shared in the group various experiences we had when we were the “other”. One woman talked about her experience of living for a time in a foreign country where she didn’t know the language. She talked about the frustration of trying to learn a new language as an elderly person. Another shared a similar situation and talked about feeling lonely and unknown, something a Somali immigrant might feel coming to Minnesota. We appreciated the need to hang with one’s own people where you can have meaningful conversations, not to mention the need to share culture and memories.

One woman shared that when she shops at Aldi’s she makes an extra effort to be friendly with the many Somali’s that shop there. Yet, this again, is meeting the “other’ in one’s own tribal place. What about going to a local Somali business to shop or a Somali restaurant to eat a meal. Worried about a possible language barrier with the person serving or standing behind the counter? This is what the “other” experiences all the time when they transport to a new nation.

I mentioned the idea of going to a mosque to worship with Muslims. “We have been invited to do that,” one friend said. Immediately the thought came to mind, “Who would I invite to go with me?” exhibiting the fear of being “other” alone. I made a commitment to myself that I would do this.

Finally we talked about bringing “others” into our circle of friends. I talked about my daughter, Heidi, who enjoys having big or little gatherings and often invites those considered “other” in a way that doesn’t seem like they are “other” at all. She, in turn goes to their gatherings and friendships are launched. She is richer for this and her parents have been enriched as well.

The statement I made above about this not having anything to do with our new president elect is not quite true. When my group of friends began our discussion, we were thinking of “other” as those people who have a different political view from our own. We realized that all we surmised about coming to know “other” applies. We may not have language or race barriers but there are barriers to understanding that we can only overcome if we chose to come to know and understand whoever the “other” is for us.

It has often been said that once you know someone from a different culture, race, or religion…or any group different from your familiar world…it changes your view of the whole group. Our family learned this when one granddaughter married a Syrian Muslim man. This, in my mind is the secret to achieving world peace, but the lesson I am learning today is that we need to step outside the safety zone of our own little tribes and make it happen.