Othering refers to the way in which some individuals and groups are defined as not fitting within a certain group or community. They are often also attributed to negative stereotypes or characteristics. 

Othering language and socialization

Othering (or otherness) is a marginalization process in which an individual or group of individuals is excluded from another group, culture or society by people who consider them to be incompatible with their own values and principles. Factors such as race, ethnicity, class, gender identity and sexual orientation typically play a role, which is why othering is closely connected to issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and antisemitism.

Othering can be expressed through language that denigrates, stereotypes or undervalues anyone who is different because of their demographic characteristics. Instead of celebrating a person’s diversity and individuality, it leads to premature judgments and biases.

The othering effect on society

Othering is a concept that is essentially based on the idea of “us” and “them.” It allows the mistreatment or dehumanization of a marginalized group by a larger dominant culture. In daily life, it becomes a common tactic that people use consciously and subconsciously through language, attitudes and social interaction. 

In its most basic form, othering is looking at another person and thinking “they are not like me” or “they do not belong with us.” This often occurs subconsciously and as such becomes a powerful vehicle for reinforcing stereotypes and prejudices. On a larger scale, it can lead to the discrimination, persecution and exploitation of entire groups of people.

Examples of othering

Othering can appear across a wide spectrum of human interactions, ranging from everyday workplace conversations to institutional policies and societal structures. It manifests in various forms, such as exclusionary language, discriminatory practices and unequal power dynamics.

Some of the most common examples are connected to race and ethnicity, but othering can often occur in more covert ways when it involves unconscious assumptions about others. 

Here are some examples:

Types of othering

Othering can be triggered by a wide range of attributes that become markers used to create divisions and hierarchies. Some of these attributes are:

How othering contributes to discrimination

Othering is a social phenomenon that arises from our human tendency to categorize and differentiate. It is deeply rooted in social and cultural dynamics, shaping how we perceive and treat each other. 

Sometimes, it can have more disturbing consequences, leading to discrimination and dehumanization. This occurs when a social group (or a society) feels entitled to act cruelly or unethically on the basis of who is part of the “in-group” and who belongs to the “out-group.”

Biases and stereotypes are common reinforcement tools used in the process of othering. They attribute negative characteristics to individuals or groups that do not conform to certain societal norms or expectations. 

Some of the biases linked to othering are:

Challenging othering in the workplace

Challenging social constructs that are false and harmful is critical to creating a more inclusive workplace.

Here are some steps:

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