“They are like animals.”
“They smell bad.”
“They are all thieves. Be careful.”
“They just want to take from us, and they are lazy. They do not want to work.”
These are phrases from my past, but they are also phrases from my present. They bring back unlived memories of people being pushed into cattle cars, torn away from their homelands, herded into showers, and ultimately destroyed. They are the words of rape and destruction, of death and abuse, of war.
They were the words used to describe the Roma as we traveled through Slovakia.
I woke up this morning in a moment of writer’s epiphany. While I am no closer to clearly explaining what story I wish to write, what novel I will commit to living and breathing for as long as it takes to finish, I have recognized something important. Every story that I think of involves being different, being other, and learning to look beyond those differences to our common bonds.
I have grown up feeling like the Other. I have always been defined by the things that made me different: my intelligence (which separated me from my peers in school); my religion (as there were only a few other Jews in the classroom and I got to “skip” school on Jewish holidays); my height (always in the front of the line, always working harder to keep up); my financial status (I wasn’t wealthy enough for the other kids in Hebrew School, and when I went to college I actually had to work my way through); my race (live in Japan or Hawaii for even a short time, and suddenly you realize that you will always be gaijin or haole); even my pursuit of theatre and the arts as a career. I feel separate and different, not better or worse, but simply unable to be fully understood because I am OTHER.
I’m sure everyone can define their Other-ness, because in reality the one thing we have in common is that everybody is different. Everybody is Other.
Yet, this attitude of Us and Them or defining ourselves by our groups is the ultimate failure of humankind. Look at our world today. We fight wars of Otherness. In the United States, which was built on the premise of letting people live as they wished in all their glorious difference, certain factions of the government are trying to reestablish the Otherness of men and women and create a world where men have all the control and all the power.
After all, defining Others is really about Power.
Think about it. In Slovakia the hatred between the Roma and the Slovaks has existed for hundreds of years. They all eat. They all drink. They all dream. They all love, hate, dance, sing, smile, laugh, hurt cry.
I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands,
organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same
food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases,
heal’d by the same means, warm’d and cool’d by the same winter
and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If
you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?
And if you wrong us, do we not revenge? If we are like you in the
rest, we will resemble you in that.
Replace the “Jew” with this speech with anyone from any group (Roma, Muslim, Black, Gay, etc. etc. etc.) and the words ring true throughout all time. That’s why Shakespeare was the master.
The Roma choose to live a life that is different, where their roots and values lie in a different family structure and an old tradition of wandering. While they really are not longer wanderers, their different perspective on life threatens the norm. Anything that threaten’s the perception of what a majority sees as normal causes a defensive attitude, because after all in a world that sees things as black and white, there can only be one right. If we allow people to live differently, it threatens our power.
So the world becomes a constant battle between Us and Them.
What happens, though, if we recognize that we cannot survive without difference? What happens if we recognize that our differences make the world a fabulous, vibrant place? What happens if we recognize that grasping for power while destroying everything we don’t like will ultimately lead to our own destruction? Eventually, if someone controls difference completely, someone else will come along with a new idea of what is “normal” and what is good. The battle against the Other will never end.
So, whatever I write, I will be writing to celebrate difference and encouraging a life where being Other is how we live and is truly wonderful.
Vive la différence!
A little later. . .
Beth over at It’s Just Life wrote a post called “Gratitude Dance’ today that included a YouTube video that really fits with my thoughts today. I can’t seem to get it onto this post, so please go visit Beth and watch the video.