Concepts of Race and Ethnicity: Otherness and Collective Memory of Oppression

In the last article, I talked about Jean-Paul Restoule's idea of "identity" and "identifying." For this article, as we continue on with the concepts of race and ethnicity, I will discuss Susan Judith Ship's theory of "otherness" and "collective memory."

What is 'otherness'?

"Otherness," according to Ship, occurs when a 'race' is being -- or has been -- cast out by the dominant group (people with power, status, and privilege). This happens because the dominant group, who creates the images of society under Eurocentric views, tends to view minorities as outsiders and subconsciously places non-whites at the bottom of the 'race' totem pole.

A few years ago, as I was walking around the Calgary Stampede (a cowboy themed carnival with rides, shows, and games) with a Vietnamese sub in my hand, this feeling of being a foreigner randomly hit me. As I continued to walk around with my sub, I had this feeling that the crowd was viewing me as an outsider; as someone odd or someone who didn't belong. There were certain body gestures and eye movements that cued me to believe this... to believe that the event was for them, and not for me and the other minorities. This is an example of the feeling of "otherness" or being othered.

What is the 'collective memory of oppression'?

Ship's concept of "collective memory of oppression" is defined as a memory of a painful period that an entire community remembers as a group. Even though some younger generations may not have experienced the event first hand, they can still feel the pain because of the vivid stories that are told by their family members or through books and films that they read and watch. Examples of collective memories of oppression could include Jewish people learning about the Holocaust by watching Schindler's List or African-Americans reading "The Book of Negroes." As well, this concept can be applied to more than 'race' and ethnicity -- it can also be applied to all groups of people who have experienced oppression.

To review, "otherness" is the feeling of being outcasted, such as an Asian who is made to feel like he doesn't belong. "Collective memory of oppression" is a painful time in history where an entire group of people understand and know about it, and shares this knowledge with others in the community.

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