Powers Granted by Exclusion

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Updated: May 29, 2021
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“No matter the situation, humans have always found a way to categorize themselves and others based on factors such as their looks, how much money they make, where they come from, and even the kind of music they listen to” (John Henrik Clarke). Although this kind of behavior may at first present itself as unharmful and nothing but a means of arrangement for individuals, the power one group has over another can easily turn things into the direction of hostility. The switch from positive to negative behavior in regards to categorization of people is caused by an action called othering. Othering is the process of treating groups differently simply because they do not belong. The issue with othering is that the group that is seen as the ‘other’ is automatically held to a lower standard, which can lead to them facing hate and prejudice. The same issue is found in literary works Pygmalion by Bernard Shaw, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Othering causes hierarchy in social structures defined by differences in race and ethnicity, enabling those in higher power to oppress and mistreat victims based on the location in which they reside in and their heritage.

Differing geographical locations that groups inhabit allow for hierarchy to exist because of the idea that those from a better off, more suitable location are perceived as better than those outside of their area. Alice writes in his article, “The zenith of this “nice, happy” American suburban living is the physically gated community, a “purified” environment where outsiders can be spotted immediately..they come with gates, swipe cards and tight security. And they largely isolate the white middle and upper classes from poorer blacks.” (Alice). In the quote, Alice illustrates the attitudes caused by the divide of groups based on location. Americans living in suburbs create the mindset that they are the alphas of the city because they all together live sheltered away from everyone else, forming their own group. They become so used to what is normal to them, that anything else is seen as insignificant and foreign to their kind. This kind of distaste towards the other group makes it easier for those with control and power to treat the rest as they please, and oftentimes the victims face hurtful stereotypes, judgment, and abuse.

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The same situation is found in Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, when Scout tells Calpurnia, “He ain’t company, Cal, he’s just a Cunningham-” (Lee 13). In this case, Scout is acting upon the differences that set her apart from the Cunningham family, specifically where they live and how they act. They’re described as “ an enormous and confusing tribe domiciled in the northern part of the county, and they formed the nearest thing to a gang ever seen in Maycomb. They did little, but enough to be discussed by the town and publicly warned from three pulpits: they hung around the barbershop; they rode the bus to Abbottsville on Sundays and went to the picture show; they attended dances at the county’s riverside gambling hell, the Dew-Drop Inn & Fishing Camp; they experimented with stumphole whiskey” (Lee 5). Rather than welcoming Walter Jr. Cunningham into her home, she sees him as less than her and refuses to acknowledge his presence in a positive way. Scout’s family is depicted as well off due to the fact that Atticus, her father, is a lawyer and comes from a good family lineage along with their economical and locational advantages. The Cunningham’s on the other hand, struggle financially and live on a big farm occupied by many members of their family, and are known to be all over the place in town. The differing situations between both families cause Scout to see herself and her family above the Cunningham’s because they do not fit in with the majority similar to her own, and therefore finds it acceptable to treat them as nothing but what they’re known for.

Similarly in Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness, the main character Marlow highlights the cause of hierarchy due to contrasting locations when he describes his city of Brussels in Europe as a “white sepulchre” (Conrad 24) and the other location, the African villages, as “deserted, the huts gaped black, rotting, all askew within the fallen enclosures” (Conrad 24). By doing so, Marlow sees himself and the entirety of the Europeans as superior to the Africans, which justifies the way they treat them when making efforts to colonize the African population. Because they live in disgusting and unsuitable conditions, whereas the Europeans live in a glorious and prosperous city, it allows for the superior group to dominate and control as they please due to the belief that living in untasteful locations reflects on the identities of those who reside there. Lichter and Parisi elaborate further by stating, “Most middle-class and affluent Americans have little or no real contact with the poor—in neighborhoods, schools, or communities. The poor are literally and figuratively separated from mainstream society, living in economically distressed places that often seem worlds apart from most Americans. In fact, poor neighborhoods are places to avoid; rightly or not, they are perceived as different, dangerous, and dirty. They are “out of sight, out of mind” (Lichter and Parsi). The quote illustrates the problem of othering allowing not only systems classified by authority and status to be formed, but the use of that same classification to dehumanize and oppress the individuals who lack power. In this case, middle class Americans treat themselves as different from the lower class and go as far as acting upon those differences by creating boundaries that separate themselves from the others. Often times those in the lower classes are bounded to unpleasant locations which to those superior to them, justify treating them as less than because they are not living to the standard that they believe deserves ultimate dominance.

Shaw’s Pygmalion depicts the same concept that deals with geographical locations establishing systems of hierarchy to exist. This is found in the text when the character Higgins announces, “You see this creature with her kerbstone English: the English that will keep her in the gutter to the end of her days” (Shaw ). Shaw in this case displays through Higgins that those in the ‘gutter’, a metaphorical description of a location that is in a degraded and filthy condition, most notably associated with lower classes, do not deserve to be seen as part of the more prosperous bunch. By creating this kind of separation between the two classes, Higgins, an admired and respected phonetics professor, uses his dominance as a higher member of society to belittle Eliza, a poor uneducated flower girl with a weak grasp on the English language. He disparages her through the use of stereotypes that illustrate her lack of worthiness because of the position she will be in if she does not change her speech. These stereotypes are harmful to individuals because they “…distorts our perceptions such that we tend to exaggerate the differences between people from different social groups while at the same time perceiving members of groups (and particularly outgroups) as more similar to each other than they actually are” (Jhangiani and Tarry). Because stereotypes tend to magnify what makes one group or individual different from another, it allows those who fit in more with the greater crowd to use their position to hurt everyone else, as seen in the situation with Higgins and Eliza.

To continue, differentiation between racial and ethnic groups enables a system of organization based on the worthiness of one group versus another to exist, and the groups that sit above the others often oppress and discriminate because of their control and power over the rest. Blackwell states, “We need places in which we can gather and be free from the mainstream stereotypes and marginalization that permeate every other societal space we occupy” (Blackwell). The importance of the quote is that within society, people viewed as the ‘other’ suffer from harsh consequences simply because they exist. Because those people aren’t given the representation they deserve, they become pushed further outside of their society until they no longer hold power or privilege. Marginalization makes it easier for those with more dominance to treat the other individuals at hand negatively because they lack any kind of voice that would allow them to believe themselves as worthy. This subcategory of oppression which reduces any kind of potential for others to be seen as human is reflected within Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness, specifically when looking at the colonialism that exists within the text. Conrad writes, “I could see every rib; the joints of their limbs were like knots in a rope; each had an iron collar on his neck, and were all connected together with a chain whose bights swung between them” (Conrad 24). The main character Marlow describes the horrific circumstances the native Africans are held to by the hands of their colonizers.

They are chained one by one like animals with collars around their necks, which causes them to be seen as less than human and more like property someone can take ownership over. Marlow continues by saying, “one of these creatures rose to his hands and knees, and went off on all-fours towards the river to drink” (Conrad 27). He could no longer see the African men as people anymore because they were so far past the point of humanity that they were instead compared to a creature. He cannot seem to view these people are what they are, true individuals who deserve respect. Instead, he sees them as beneath him and does not treat them as humans because of what they have suffered that creates a divide between them and the colonizers, which makes it difficult for a connection to form that allows people like Marlow to see them as worth something. The dominant norms set forth as the societal standard are defined by those in power and might therefore not apply to people of different cultures, backgrounds and races. “Different is in most cases interpreted as ‘deviant’ and sometimes as ‘inferior’”.

In To Kill A Mockingbird, the mistreatment victims have to face because of a set hierarchy caused by othering is found in multiple occasions, this time dealing with race and ethnicity. The first instance is when Calpurnia brings both Scout and Jem to her church and a church member Lula stops her. She says, “You ain’t got no business bringin’ white chillum here-they got their church, we got our’n” (Lee ???). Lula expresses disapproval towards Scout and Jem because of their distinct differences, most notably dealing with the color of their skin and what background they are from. Jem and Scout are seen as less than the others because they are not part of the black community that the rest of the church is a part of. She seems offended that Calpurnia would even think of bringing those of another ethnic background with their own customs and ways different from hers into their church, dominated by their own kind. The behavior she shows comes from the fact that “…we often feel a strong sense of belonging and emotional connection to our in-groups, we develop in-group bias: a preference for our own group over other groups” (Lumen). Upon seeing Jem and Scout, the woman automatically creates a bias that makes her view them as different to her simply because they do not belong to her own group. Not to mention, she also feels so strongly about Calpurnia’s action of bring the kids to the black dominated church because of the way the white community, which Jem and Scout are a part of, treated her own black community. Her negativity towards them heavily has to do with the injustices of slavery caused by racism her own group had faced. Gordon writes, “American slavery was tied inexorably to white dominance.

Even people of African descent who were freed for one reason or another suffered under the weight of the white supremacy that racially based slavery entrenched in American society” (Gordon 2). He describes how although some African-Americans were no longer subjected to mistreatment by white people, there was still an underlying idea of themselves as less than because of the superiority that still existed and lingered. Taking that into consideration, one can understand why the woman acted the way she did, it stemmed from the issues that existed between white and black Americans which lead to her developing a prejudice against white people due to the fact that she witnessed the mistreatment caused by them, including slavery. Although Calpurnia explains that “It’s the same God, ain’t it?” (Lee, ???), the woman still refuses to accept white people attending a black church. This is because of , “The experience of slavery, Jim Crow legislation, de facto and de jure segregation, institutional racism, and the ongoing economic oppression in America have taught Black folks to distrust White folks” (Priest). Lula expresses the same kind of distrust as explained in the quote when she sees Jem and Scout. Even after the emancipation of slaves, the feelings of negativity towards white people continued to exist because of the divide originally created between blacks and whites. The difference being that now black people maintained the split between the two because of what they experienced in the past.

The application of the quote by John Henrik Clarke indicates that as humans, categorizing individuals and recognizing their differences from one another, is a standard no matter the circumstances. This application presents itself as othering, as one group views the other as different to themselves. Othering causes a system of hierarchy within society based on factors such as race, location, and heritage, that allow those on the top of the others to negatively treat the individuals below through acts of oppression, superiority, and marginalization. When discussing locations, the divide exists between the suitable and unfit residential areas. Those who live in better locations with access to more benefits view themselves as superior to those below them who live in poorer areas, which allow for them to separate themselves and act upon their differences through unjust treatment. Differences that exist in an individual’s race and or heritage also create a system in which those in the higher classes defined by race or heritage use their power to treat the classes seen as inferior as unworthy of any kind of positive behavior. The inferior individuals face unjust treatment and are subjected to the control of those above them, often dehumanizing them and disregarding their importance as individuals. Those who continue to enable the cycle of othering caused by societal structures that place power in the hands of those deemed more virtuous are equally as guilty as the groups who caused genocides of indigenous people, as they both used their authority and dominance to cause suffering to those who are not seen as important and powerful.

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