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Othering
Edit by. Keuntae Kim | Published. 2017.08.31 13:38 | Count : 163
I attend school in Nebraska, in a town called Omaha, famous for their cornfields. Although this town is located in the dead center of the United States, it does not mirror the central American principle of diversity. Asians only comprise 1.74% of the population of Omaha, which drastically differs from other parts of the United States. For example, in San Francisco, Asians comprise 33.5% of the population. In my school of 500 students, there are seven black students, two Hispanic students, and 20 Asian students. The Asian student population used to be nonexistent until the recent arrival of 20 Asian students from various countries. I am one of those Asian students who fumbled into this school, which is intolerant of different religions and political views.
 
[Picture of Concordia High School Entrance, taken by Keuntae Kim]
Before coming to Omaha, I was worried about encountering racism in American schools. Having seen many incidences of race-based bullying in American media, I expected the students in my new school to make fun of the color of my skin or my accent. Contrary to my expectations, my peers in Omaha were friendly, maybe overly welcoming. They tried to talk to me whenever they got the chance and asked me about my home country with curiosity. They asked flattering questions, such as, “How come you guys are all so good in math?” However, they also asked questions that made me feel uncomfortable, such as “Do you guys eat dogs?” After numerous times of students asking me these same questions based on cultural stereotypes, I felt uncomfortable.
 
[Picture of Concordia High School Hallway, taken by Keuntae Kim]
Reflecting on my experience at school, I came across the theory of “othering” on the Internet. According to Sara Rismyhr Engelund in an essay on “Othering”, “Othering refers to any action by which an individual or a group becomes mentally classified in somebody’s mind as ‘not one of us’. Rather than acknowledging every person as a complex bundle of emotions, ideas, motivations, reflexes, priorities, and many other subtle aspects, it can be  easier to dismiss them as being in some way less human, and less worthy of respect and dignity, than we are.” 
(“Introductory Essay: “The Other” and “Othering”.” New Narratives, 15 Oct. 2011, https://newnarratives.wordpress.com/issue-2-the-other/other-and-othering-2/)
 
[Picture of Concordia High School Cafeteria, taken by Keuntae Kim]
I understand that “othering” is  a survival tactic  that humans have used to foster group cohesion and to demarcate enemies from allies, and the students in Concordia might have been simply wanting to get to know me to see if I am their enemies or allies, but their questions based on a narrow stereotype started to irritate me.
 
It was reasonable for my peers at my new school to ask me such ignorant questions. Most people in Omaha have not left the United States and were limited in their exposure to other cultures.
 
I am hoping that with more foreign exchange students coming to Concordia High School, the students will become more familiar with diversity and multiculturalism. By becoming more exposed to people of other countries, my peers will be able to look beyond the differences and form meaningful friendships. In order to do so, I have founded an International Student Club in Concordia with 12 others this year. I hope this club will foster more discussion and allow for students to share their cultural backgrounds and customs. I hope this endeavor will enlighten Omaha so that even unconscious racist attitudes, such as "othering," are not overlooked.
 
 







Keuntae Kim 
Junior
Concordia High School

Keuntae Kim  student_reporter@dherald.com

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