This Land is Our Land

Focusing on our differences only leads to more division.

Anuj Singh, Online Editor

On August 27th, Rani Banerjee was leaving for her house with three of her friends. But their relaxing evening soon took a turn, when a woman named Esmeralda Upton confronted them with a revolting and bigoted attack on their identities.

She advanced on the women, yelling racial slurs and statements such as “Go back to India,” before aggressively assaulting and hitting them. The racist encounter escalated quickly when she threatened to shoot one of the women.

This is a much too common phenomenon within American culture. According to a 2022 Pew Research Center poll, more than two-thirds of immigrants in the United States have faced increased discrimination or racism in the past year.

Rather than appreciating people with different backgrounds and identities, we have started to divide ourselves in a process known as othering or otherization. This term, coined by Edmund Husserl, one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century, describes the process through which we define and label people from another group as generally inferior.

The main cause of othering is our fixation with binary thinking. We as humans have an inert obsession with categorization as we need answers and hate ambiguity.

According to social psychologist Arie Kruglanski, whose work focuses on violent extremism and closed-mindedness, humans desire a firm answer for every question we ask, even if there are none.

When we attempt to sort complicated, multifaceted people into simplified boxes, there will inevitably be some ambiguity. This is the start of a slippery slope, which often starts with small microaggressions insinuating that
you need to be born in America to be an American. But when differentiation meanders into dehumanization, real people are reduced to harmful stereotypes.

When we otherize people like immigrants, we also enable dehumanization against them which invariably leads to violence.

“It’s wrong to kill a person, but permissible to exterminate a rat,” David Livingstone Smith, professor of philosophy and psychology, said.

Look no further than our former president. At multiple of his rallies, Donald Trump repeatedly made comments about Muslim Americans, comparing them to poisoned Skittles, and suggesting some Muslims should be executed using bullets dipped in pig blood.

A few months after Trump’s comments, Indian-American engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla was murdered by a man named Adam Purninton while having a drink in a bar with a friend. After the shooting, Purninton revealed that he had killed Kuchibhotla because he thought he was an Iranian terrorist.

Immigrants can no longer live their lives without fear of being assaulted just for existing. There is no simple solution to this problem. Overcoming generations of racism and prejudice built into our systems is not an easy task.

However, if we take small steps to correct our behaviors, we can eventually create an accepting society. We can do this by focusing on belonging, rather than othering.

Renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow explained in his theory, the Hierarchy of Needs, that acceptance and belonging are crucial for every person to reach their potential. Carefully monitoring our bias will allow us to reduce the impact of othering. While our brains are programmed with prejudice, they are also taught to trust.

Lastly, try to expand your boundaries. Meet people from completely different backgrounds than you and try to understand them and their stories. If we can empathize with individuals from other groups, it will be so much easier for us to accept them as our own.

Today, we are more divided than ever. Othering poses a significant threat to not only immigrants but everyone within the United States. However, by checking our prejudice, we can overcome this imposing problem. By bridging our differences, this land will truly be our land.