There is a moment in Spike Lee’s BlackkKlansman where a Jewish police detective, who has gone undercover as a KKK member, laments being put in this position by his Black counterpart. It’s as if he’s forgotten (or never fully understood) the Ku Klux Klan were not only rabidly anti-Black segregationists but also virulently, and quite openly, anti-Semitic.
I’m Jewish, yes, but I wasn’t raised to be, says the character played by Adam Driver. No Jewish rituals, no deep education about Jewish history, not even a bar mitzvah. I was just another white kid.
Suddenly, and much to his chagrin, he’d been OTHER-IZED.
Somehow a movie set in the early 1970s has managed to become the most timely filmic statement now out there about Trumpism. Based on the 2014 memoir of real-life Black police officer Ron Stallowrth, it tells the story of how Ron made phone contact with the KKK, pretending to be an eager acolyte, and worked with his White counterpart, Flip Zimmerman, to pose as his physical self while in their presence.
Part comedy, part drama and many parts many other things, it tells not only a racial story but speaks to the type of numbness all of us can fall into when traveling in circles where THEY are in the majority and WE are just the unwanted, or at least unfamiliar, INTERLOPERS.
To be OTHER-IZED is not a choice so much as it is a condition of where you live, where you travel and overall what you choose to do or need to do with your time. A room full of jocks of many races can OTHER-IZE the lily Whitest of nerds just as a gaggle of snow White Hollywood BROs in power can OTHER-IZE any Brown-skinned woman of color – or any FEMALE of ANY color for that matter – who may be twice as smart and/or talented as any one of them.
Or all of them if you’re Oprah.
We are all nothing if not multi-tribal, depending on where we live, how much we make or what we do for a living. The one tribe that trumped (Note: Ahem) all in the U.S. used to be American, but what being a REAL AMERICAN is seems to be quite up in the air these days.
In actuality, it seems to depend on which other TRIBE you belong to – or at least choose to identify with. And with that comes a full handbook on who one needs to OTHER-IZE.
The fact is, it is no longer feasible to be a part of ANY TRIBE where SOMEONE is not generally THE OTHER.
We here in the Southern Californian #Resistance headquarters seriously distrust Trump voters of all stripes – and that’s the best case scenario of when we’re not foaming at the mouth angry at what we see as the nasty, racist…well, so many things I can no longer count… those voters have allowed.
On the other hand, Trump voters all over the country call us snowflakes, and at best see us as weak and anti-working class – or so I’m told from the few of them that I can still bear to talk to. At their worst, well they prove the very points we’re trying to make, probably daily, about them, though I’m sure they’d put it quite differently and probably a lot less delicately if I gave them the chance. Which I’m not any longer.
The funny part is there are Black, White, Jewish, Hispanic, LGBT, straight, poor AND rich members on BOTH SIDES. In that sense, we’re all getting OTHER-IZED daily, and perhaps hourly, by somebody, and often in ways we don’t know about as we go about our day.
Of course, there are times when we do realize we are being cast as THE OTHER, and it is at these moments we are faced with THE CHOICE.
Ah yes, you do have any number of CHOICES when you realize you’re the only _________ in the room – or at least woefully outnumbered, discredited or discounted in that person or group’s mind/think about those in YOUR TRIBE, depending on your looks, skin color or affect. They are:
- BLEND – This is the easiest or hardest of the options depending on your denial system, how much therapy you’ve had, or both. Am I GAY???? Not a chance, I hate musicals and I have season tickets to The Lakers/Knicks/Eagles/_______. Jewish? Whatever gave you that idea, I don’t like those _______s any more than you do.
On the other hand, it’s hard to deny you’re Black if you are very dark-skinned or pretend you’re not poor if you are three months late on the rent and about to be evicted. Though even in the latter case of ZERO money, there’s always the chance that person is just being…irresponsible. #AreYouWokeYet?
- HIDE – This is not a pleasant alternative but there are advantages to just going along and being an under-the-radar, quiet part of a group. In my younger days I’ve heard straight guy locker room talk about women that offended me to the bone, not to mention bitchy talk among my gay brothers about lesbians that I should have stamped my feet more adamantly about. Yet too many times in my teen and early twenties I did neither.
Sadly, most of us are not always up for a FIGHT, especially when we have the luxury to sit behind the tallest person in class and go unnoticed. At least metaphorically. I, for one, have also spent time with one or two Republicans I admit to have gleefully watched squirm at Southern California dinner parties rather than blow their cover to the other guests in the room. Sure, I told myself it wasn’t my place to say or do anything to help them but these days I realize my sadistic inner self rather enjoyed OTHER-IZING them far more, in secret hopes that this would somehow wake them to their senses.
- DENY – Oh, he can’t be a sexual harasser. My roommate told me he had a torrid affair with Mary Jane and she would never put up with someone like that. And no, just because she’s from Paris and her visa expired and he’s an American citizen doesn’t mean she’s tolerating it or pretending they’re an item. Please. Besides which, she’s NOT marrying him for her green card to be with her lesbian lover! Come on!!
Okay, perhaps the last example is a bit fanciful. But it is possible to be into vintage and thrift stores and old school tech because you want to seem cool when you’re searching for work. In the same way you can DENY you are RACIST by producing one of two Black co-workers or acquaintances of color even though there are dozens more who heard you use the N word when they were in the room. And no, just because a videotape of that has yet to be produced doesn’t make it any less so. Or mean that when it is it was somehow doctored. #ApprehensiveApprenticeTapePart1
- FACE THE MUSIC – The best alternative because even if you hide, blend and deny most effectively you will NEVER prevent EVERY single ONE of THEM from seeing YOU as something OTHER than THEY are. Implicit in this is that to some people you will ALWAYS be INFERIOR. And that’s in any version of the perfect world that is viable at this moment in time.
Yes, it’s easy to advise be yourself when YOU yourself don’t run the risk of being killed, permanently maimed or beaten up for doing just that. But the way we’re going soon there will be nowhere for any of US to hide in certain circumstances. That is a condition that will be inevitable for pretty much ALL OF US at some point in our new GLOBAL REALITY. #ThisISUs.
Meaning blending in, denying or hiding behind HATE simply won’t cut it anymore, if it ever did. That is unless we want to live out the rest of our days as petulant junior high schoolers playing an eternal game of spin the bottle where we kiss the same people for all the wrong reasons in one unsatisfyingly long loop of endless hell.