Sunday, April 15, 2007

the stranger

so jan has given me feedback about my running title - "defending the other" and she thinks it sounds like i'm defending the other, hence losing its critical gist. i think she has a point. what about "defenders of the other"?

in other news, i participated in a theatre workshop on the weekend "the art of change", through rmit community advocacy unit. it was fun and i learnt a lot. the theme is "otherness." two ideas that were raised for me were that of the stranger. i liked the way that framed the other. the relationship one has with the stranger is telling. does one mistreat them? does one try to understand them? does one only offer them hospitality if they conform to your own values? how long does one stay a stranger? there's quite a lot of literature on middle-eastern cultural values on hospitality and the stranger. (i use the phrase "middle-eastern" due to profound ignorance of the spread of these values, i'm not sure if they are muslim, regional, or what).

the other idea is that of absence from public discourse. it's one of those things that needs to be named to be noticed. who is absent? not just who is present but treated with hostility, but whose existence is silenced. this is relevant in terms of the presence of lebanese people in australia for over a century, but their absence in the "story" of australian history; also in the absence of disabled people from public spaces, an absence which i think is referenced in the Yooralla poster, when it asks the rhetorical question "why Yooralla week?" and answers itself with "Because this is our community." this seems to me to be an act of claiming space by a group that is specifically invisible. Finally, it's also relevant in the discursive silencing of diversity that happens in so many ways. for example, in the use of "we" to refer to an exclusive group, but without naming that exclusivity. for example, when anyone talks about how "we" should treat a marginalised group, they are invisiblising the presence of those people in the group already. my experience of progressive groups has been that those of us who are in a position of privilege, but are aware of the desirability of participation by those who are not in that position, so often ignore the presence of those people in our groups already. for example, in a feminist collective that i was involved in, a women who was not a woman of colour (she is jewish and identifies as "not-white-enough", but definitely not as a woman of colour) bemoaned the absence of women of colour in the group, despite the presence of close friends in the group who are women of colour. i think there's something about a profound stranger-ing of the Other, by which i mean that once you know someone personally, they are no longer deemed to be a member of the class of Others. so, utterances like "i can't stand gays, i mean i have this gay friend dan, and he's lovely, but you know, he's different, he's not like those other gays" make perfect sense.

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