Your Parenting Mojo - Respectful, research-based parenting ideas to help kids thrive
Your Parenting Mojo - Respectful, research-based parenting ideas to help kids thrive
Jen Lumanlan
114: How to stop ‘Othering’ and instead ‘Build Belonging’
58 minutes Posted Jun 19, 2020 at 6:00 am.
Hello and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. In today's episode, we're going to draw together themes from a couple of different series that we've been working on over the last few months. One of these was on the intersection of whiteness and parenting, and the other more recent one has been on the intersection of money and parenting. And one common theme across both of these topics is the idea of seeing someone who's different from you as somehow other than you. And so I'm deeply honored today to welcome Dr. John Powell, who is an internationally recognized expert in the areas of civil rights and civil liberties. Dr. Powell is the director of the Othering and Belonging Institute at the University of California Berkeley, which supports research to generate specific prescriptions for changes in policy and practice that address disparities related to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability and socio economics in California and nationwide. Dr. Powell is Professor of Law and also Professor of African American Studies and Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley. And is the author of the book Racing to Justice: Transforming Our Concepts of Self and Other to Build an Inclusive Society. Welcome, Dr. Powell.Dr. Powell 2:17Nice to be here, Jen.Jen 2:19And so I should also add that we scheduled this interview way back in February, right? Because your calendar is absolutely bananas. And we're just now talking here at the beginning of May. And so to put this in context, when we scheduled this in February, COVID-19 was something that was happening in China and really didn't seem to affect us very much or like it was going to affect us very much. And here in May, obviously, we are in a very different situation. And so I think our conversation today is going to be even more powerful with this additional context of othering that we're seeing related to things like attacks on Asian Americans here in the US, as well as under counting the number of Native Americans who have the virus, and how the whole world is basically shut down for an illness that's killed a small fraction of the number of people that diarrheal diseases and tuberculosis kill every year. Although, obviously the people that those diseases typically kill is very different from the people we are seeing the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases. So I'm sure our discussion today is going to be as this backdrop. And I think it makes it even more timely and even more compelling to listen to. So, I wonder if we could maybe start with a definition because othering is, I'm guessing is a term that's not going to be so familiar to many of my listeners. So can you start by grounding us a little bit and telling us about what is othering, please.Dr. Powell 3:33All right, so there's, as you would expect, there are many different ways of thinking about othering and the flip side of belonging, which we'll get to, I guess early.Jen 3:41Mm-hmm. Certainly, will.Dr. Powell 3:42It comes from many different disciplines, from healthcare, from sociology, from psychology, from philosophy, from feminist studies, from political science, each one has a slightly different variation as to how they talk about it. But one way of thinking about it is just when you do not accept someone else's full humanity and full equality. The bus concept as people are not seen as grievable, or people don't count, or in some way, they're less that. So it could be because there are different levels of othering, you connect othering between husband and wife, but not gonna have genocide in that context. Whereas when you have extreme othering of some groups, it also can lead into genocide. And there’s othering that’s exploitive. So, I was young made to observation that to be superfluous is worse than to be exploited. Because when you are superfluous, you can be subject to genocide. When you're exploited, you're not likely to suffer genocide.Jen 4:47Because you have a use to somebody.Dr. Powell 4:49Right. So, there are forms of othering, but sort of broad way of thinking about it when someone is seen as less than fully equal, less than mutual, and it can add to that like maybe a threat. In some sense, we're in different slow to some ways of thinking about it.Jen 5:07Okay, and so I'm trying to think about this from a psychological perspective and thinking about we've talked a long time ago now about how social groups form and a big part of it seems to be about creating this difference in your mind between what is me, what is myself, and to understand that you have to have something to compare it to some kind of other, how do you integrate that psychological aspect into the definitions of othering that you work with?Dr. Powell 5:32Well, the psychological definitions tend to be individualistic. And whereas some other definition certainly when I talked about Judith Butler or when I talked about sociology, Steve Martinot, they’re not psychological in that sense, in the sense that one of the preconditions to think about othering is when you think about group othering, there does seem to be a mind is set to actually categorize and differentiate and out of that comes the concept of ingroups and outgroups. But there's a lot to suggest that there's no stability in ingroups and outgroups, that people move in and out. And when we were talking about othering, we're largely talking about at a group level, not at individual level. And there's no natural other. I mean, that's the mistake I think that a lot of the psychological literature suggests that you see someone was different. And as the Dean of Harvard Law School wrote a book called What Differences the Difference Make [Jen note: I believe Dr. powell is referring to the book Making All The Difference]. So the psychological literature seems to suggest that there's natural others. And we think that those natural others and natural othering process fall along certain well traveled categories like race, gender, and that's clearly wrong. There's no natural other and there's no natural group. And part of that comes from a misunderstanding of our history. And so we think about, we organized in tribes, and so in tribes we had intimate contact with anywhere from 50 to 150 people. And that was it. And everyone else was an outgroup, and potentially either a threat or a different. But when we talk about whiteness, for example, we're not talking about 50 people. So the 2 million years that we spent on tribes, there was no concept of whiteness. And people weren't organized from whiteness, they're organized around proximity. And race as we know it is relatively new, a few hundred years old. And then the capacity to actually define someone as an ingroup is a sociological process, it’s not in a build on a psychological tendency. For example, there are over 1 billion Christians, they'll never see each other. They have different languages, they have different race, but in some sense, they think of themselves as a group. They identify as a group. There's 340 million Americans and so why is that a group? That sounds nothing to do in a deep sense with 50 people, right? This is a very broad process. And so it's not that I see a person who has a different race than me, and then I have a whole bunch of things happen is that I've actually been constituted in such a way, not on my own behalf, and not on my own efforts entirely. In fact, a lot of this is pre-given. So for example, prejudice can only really exist when there's already a structure in the language and a grammar for prejudice that’s not the individual. So there's a little tension between the way psychologists approach it and the way sociologists and others approach it.Jen 8:39Yeah, for sure. And one thing I wanted to pick up in what you said was that we sort of assume that these are essentialist categories that I one thing or I’m another thing, and actually, we create these categories, right? I mean, I'm thinking about the immigration of Irish people who were not initially considered white in the US when they first came over. And so what are some of the other ways that you see this? You know, we think these are essentialist categories, but actually, they're not in any way, essentialist.Dr. Powell 9:07Right. And so interesting question, I've been a little bit about this so as you suggest essentialist sort of will locate something in the person who's just it’s in your biology, it’s in your nature and change, we have largely moved to anti-essentialist posture, in the sense that there are very few, if any essential categories and even if they were essential, the meaning is not essential. So when I was growing up, initially, race was considered essential. And you read stuff from the 1950s and 60s and races talk about us being biological and essential. And then some people would take that biological understanding of race and then attribute certain characteristics to it. As that started to melt away or become contested, people shift it as that okay race is an essential or biological, it’s sociological. But gender, aha, that is different. And they’re only, you know, a man or woman, you know.Jen 10:01Yeah.Dr. Powell 10:02And some people early on, so that's not quite true, you can be more. And now of course, people don't think of gender, or gender roles as essential at all. And there's no clear human biology associated with it, you have transgender. And so, again, in terms of the Academy, people question if there's anything that's essential. Now, the mistake that people make with that is that they then assume, because we're not essential, and if these categories are sociological and creative, can we step outside of these categories, and live in some way in which there are no categories? And that seems pretty wrong. And the categories don't have to be as rigid, and they can be multiple and they can be fluid and we can influence them. But the way the mind works and the way we work as people, we're always in relationship. And we need some categories to actually negotiate the world. We seem to be taking too much information. And another are saying that is that all of my interactions are mediated. We have no direct interaction with the world or with each other or even with ourselves. It's sort of interesting, my experience and when they say that, they assume they're talking about some unmediated, unfiltered phenomenon. Most people who look at this carefully would say, there's no such thing, that the very concept of reception is already structured. But it's not essential. So it can't restructure. And there are things we can do to shift it. But we can't simply step outside and have God's eye view and just see the world as it is.Jen 11:42Yeah. And so when we start to think about things that we could do that are different from othering, one potential way we could think about it is well, I've seen it referred to as saming, you know, we could just say, well, we're going to treat everybody equally. Why is that a bad idea?Dr. Powell 11:57Well, first of all, it doesn't work. In some ways, it's basically saying, in order for me to treat you as a full human being, you have to become some version of me. And that's better than saying, you’re categorically different. And I can never understand you. And therefore, I can do all these terrible things to you. It's like, so I have this thing, it's like, because we are both the same and different, dialogue is necessary and possible. And what it means by that, if we were just the same, dialogue wouldn't be necessary. I don't need to talk to you on the same thing. I don’t need to ask you how you feel.Jen 12:35You already know.Dr. Powell 12:36You know, it's like, what would I feel? A gentle exactly is out here because she's an extension of me. And the other is that because it were totally different, the infinite other as Hegel talks about, that I couldn't understand. And so his life is a little bit more messy. The other things that are interesting, I find very fascinating, is that the process of suppressible saming some ways an erasure, you know, it's like, it's actually kind of the liberal response to the categorical differences that we made in the past like, blacks are women, it's like, no, we're all the same. And that all the same, the person speaking, generally is the dominant group. And so then, in order to be a member of society, it means I have to adhere to whatever the dominant group considers to be the necessary thing. And so if you think about something like a Bill Clinton, Don't Ask, Don't Tell, right? Like you can join the military and kill people just like anybody else, but we don't want to hear about your sexual exploits. But from heterosexual, a heterosexual man, I can brag about my sexual exploits. So even in that formulation, you're saying one group can show up and be messed up on the chest for how many sexual exploits I have, but if you're homosexual, shhh, no one would talk about that.Jen 14:00Yeah.Dr. Powell 14:01It’s different. So the goal is not to be treated as the same. In fact, the idea of equality exit from the western concept come from Aristotle. And Aristotle understood that there were two different forms of equality when he calls arithmetic and what he calls geometric. And arithmetic is when we people are situated the same. And he says basically treat people who were situated the same as fare or treat people who are situated differently is unfair, but when people are not situated the same, to treat them as if they were the same, doesn’t make any sense. We got half of Aristotle's insights and not the other half.Jen 14:40Yeah. And it seems as though a lot of what you're speaking to is sort of getting at the idea of denying people agency and I think I see that a fair bit in the parenting world, you know, I'm obviously white and a lot of people who are talking about parenting are white, and schools I think you're very much geared for the success of middle class white children, and you know, in the parenting spirits, it's really common to hear about children needing protection. And often there are specific groups of parents, they're usually, you know, black or brown, low socio economic status. And these parents don't care about their children's education in some way. And in doing that, we're kind of removing, we're constructing a narrative where we really remove agency from these individuals. And we say, well, the school knows best or the state knows best. And if only you parented, like middle class white parents did, then your children would be so much better off and so much better able to succeed in the world. How do you relate what we've been talking about so far to parenting and the parenting world?Dr. Powell 15:36Well, it's actually interesting on a number of levels. I mean, even the construction of the family, right? It's a relatively new phenomenon.Jen 15:43Mm-hmm.Dr. Powell 15:44And, you know, the idea of a nuclear family, just a few thousand years
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I had originally approached today's topic of Othering through a financial lens, as part of the series of episodes on the intersection of parenting and money (previous episodes have been on NYT Money colunist Ron Lieberman's book The Opposite of Spoiled, How to Pass on Mental Wealth to your Child, The Impact of Consumerism on Parenting, and How to Set Up A Play Room. The series will conclude in the coming weeks with episodes on advertising and materialism).I kept seeing questions in parenting groups: How can I teach my child about volunteering? How can I donate the stuff we don't need without making the recipient feel less than us?And, of course, after the Black Lives Matter movement began its recent up-swing of activity, the topic took on a new life that's more closely related to my guest's work: viewing othering through the lens of race.My guest, Dr. john a. powell, is an internationally recognized expert in the areas of civil rights and civil liberties and a wide range of issues including race, structural racism, ethnicity, housing, poverty, and democracy. He is the Director of the Othering & Belonging Institute (formerly Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society), which supports research to generate specific prescriptions for changes in policy and practice that address disparities related to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and socioeconomics in California and nationwide. In addition, to being a Professor of Law and Professor of African American Studies and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, Professor powell holds the Robert D. Haas Chancellor’s Chair in Equity and Inclusion. Our conversation was wide-ranging and touched on a host of topics and thinkers, which I promised to track down if I could. These include:Martha Minow's book Making All The DifferenceAristotle's theory of Arithmetic and Geometric EqualityJudith Butler's book Gender Trouble Amartya Sen's idea that poverty is not a lack of stuff, but a lack of belongingDr. Susan Fiske's work on the connection between liking and competenceLisa Delpit's book Other People's ChildrenDr. Gordon Allport's book The Nature of PrejudiceMax Weber's idea of methodological individualismThe movie Trading Places (I still haven't seen it!)This blog post touches on Dr. powell's idea of the danger of allyshipJohn Rawls' idea that citizens are reasonable and rationalMaslow's Hierarchy of NeedsRichard Bernstein's concept of the regulative ideal [accordion][accordion-item title="Click here to read the full transcript"]Jen 1:11Hello and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. In today's episode, we're going to draw together themes from a couple of different series that we've been working on over the last few months. One of these was on the intersection of whiteness and parenting, and the other more recent one has been on the intersection of money and parenting. And one common theme across both of these topics is the idea of seeing someone who's different from you as somehow other than you. And so I'm deeply honored today to welcome Dr. John Powell, who is an internationally recognized expert in the areas of civil rights and civil liberties. Dr. Powell is the director of the Othering and Belonging Institute at the University of California Berkeley, which supports research to generate specific prescriptions for changes in policy and practice that address disparities related to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability and socio economics in California and nationwide. Dr. Powell is Professor of Law and also Professor of African American Studies and Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley. And is the author of the book Racing to Justice: Transforming Our Concepts of Self and Other to Build an Inclusive Society. Welcome, Dr. Powell.Dr. Powell 2:17Nice to be here, Jen.Jen 2:19And so I should also add that we scheduled this interview way back in February, right? Because your calendar is absolutely bananas. And we're just now talking here at the beginning of May. And so to put this in context, when we scheduled this in February, COVID-19 was something that was happening in China and really didn't seem to affect us very much or like it was going to affect us very much. And here in May, obviously, we are in a very different situation. And so I think our conversation today is going to be even more powerful with this additional context of othering that we're seeing related to things like attacks on Asian Americans here in the US, as well as under counting the number of Native Americans who have the virus, and how the whole world is basically shut down for an illness that's killed a small fraction of the number of people that diarrheal diseases and tuberculosis kill every year. Although, obviously the people that those diseases typically kill is very different from the people we are seeing the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases. So I'm sure our discussion today is going to be as this backdrop. And I think it makes it even more timely and even more compelling to listen to. So, I wonder if we could maybe start with a definition because othering is, I'm guessing is a term that's not going to be so familiar to many of my listeners. So can you start by grounding us a little bit and telling us about what is othering, please.Dr. Powell 3:33All right, so there's, as you would expect, there are many different ways of thinking about othering and the flip side of belonging, which we'll get to, I guess early.Jen 3:41Mm-hmm. Certainly, will.Dr. Powell 3:42It comes from many different disciplines, from healthcare, from sociology, from psychology, from philosophy, from feminist studies, from political science, each one has a slightly different variation as to how they talk about it. But one way of thinking about it is just when you do not accept someone else's full humanity and full equality. The bus concept as people are not seen as grievable, or people don't count, or in some way, they're less that. So it could be because there are different levels of othering, you connect othering between husband and wife, but not gonna have genocide in that context. Whereas when you have extreme othering of some groups, it also can lead into genocide. And there’s othering that’s exploitive. So, I was young made to observation that to be superfluous is worse than to be exploited. Because when you are superfluous, you can be subject to genocide. When you're exploited, you're not likely to suffer genocide.Jen 4:47Because you have a use to somebody.Dr. Powell 4:49Right. So, there are forms of othering, but sort of broad way of thinking about it when someone is seen as less than fully equal, less than mutual, and it can add to that like maybe a threat. In some sense, we're in different slow to some ways of thinking about it.Jen 5:07Okay, and so I'm trying to think about this from a psychological perspective and thinking about we've talked a long time ago now about how social groups form and a big part of it seems to be about creating this difference in your mind between what is me, what is myself, and to understand that you have to have something to compare it to some kind of other, how do you integrate that psychological aspect into the definitions of othering that you work with?Dr. Powell 5:32Well, the psychological definitions tend to be individualistic. And whereas some other definition certainly when I talked about Judith Butler or when I talked about sociology, Steve Martinot, they’re not psychological in that sense, in the sense that one of the preconditions to think about othering is when you think about group othering, there does seem to be a mind is set to actually categorize and differentiate and out of that comes the concept of ingroups and outgroups. But there's a lot to suggest that there's no stability in ingroups and outgroups, that people move in and out. And when we were talking about othering, we're largely talking about at a group level, not at individual level. And there's no natural other. I mean, that's the mistake I think that a lot of the psychological literature suggests that you see someone was different. And as the Dean of Harvard Law School wrote a book called What Differences the Difference Make [Jen note: I believe Dr. powell is referring to the book Making All The Difference]. So the psychological literature seems to suggest that there's natural others. And we think that those natural others and natural othering process fall along certain well traveled categories like race, gender, and that's clearly wrong. There's no natural other and there's no natural group. And part of that comes from a misunderstanding of our history. And so we think about, we organized in tribes, and so in tribes we had intimate contact with anywhere from 50 to 150 people. And that was it. And everyone else was an outgroup, and potentially either a threat or a different. But when we talk about whiteness, for example, we're not talking about 50 people. So the 2 million years that we spent on tribes, there was no concept of whiteness. And people weren't organized from whiteness, they're organized around proximity. And race as we know it is relatively new, a few hundred years old. And then the capacity to actually define someone as an ingroup is a sociological process, it’s not in a build on a psychological tendency. For example, there are over 1 billion Christians, they'll never see each other. They have different languages, they have different race, but in some sense, they think of themselves as a group. They identify as a group. There's 340 million Americans and so why is that a group? That sounds nothing to do in a deep sense with 50 people, right? This is a very broad process. And so it's not that I see a person who has a different race than me, and then I have a whole bunch of things happen is that I've actually been constituted in such a way, not on my own behalf, and not on my own efforts entirely. In fact, a lot of this is pre-given. So for example, prejudice can only really exist when there's already a structure in the language and a grammar for prejudice that’s not the individual. So there's a little tension between the way psychologists approach it and the way sociologists and others approach it.Jen 8:39Yeah, for sure. And one thing I wanted to pick up in what you said was that we sort of assume that these are essentialist categories that I one thing or I’m another thing, and actually, we create these categories, right? I mean, I'm thinking about the immigration of Irish people who were not initially considered white in the US when they first came over. And so what are some of the other ways that you see this? You know, we think these are essentialist categories, but actually, they're not in any way, essentialist.Dr. Powell 9:07Right. And so interesting question, I've been a little bit about this so as you suggest essentialist sort of will locate something in the person who's just it’s in your biology, it’s in your nature and change, we have largely moved to anti-essentialist posture, in the sense that there are very few, if any essential categories and even if they were essential, the meaning is not essential. So when I was growing up, initially, race was considered essential. And you read stuff from the 1950s and 60s and races talk about us being biological and essential. And then some people would take that biological understanding of race and then attribute certain characteristics to it. As that started to melt away or become contested, people shift it as that okay race is an essential or biological, it’s sociological. But gender, aha, that is different. And they’re only, you know, a man or woman, you know.Jen 10:01Yeah.Dr. Powell 10:02And some people early on, so that's not quite true, you can be more. And now of course, people don't think of gender, or gender roles as essential at all. And there's no clear human biology associated with it, you have transgender. And so, again, in terms of the Academy, people question if there's anything that's essential. Now, the mistake that people make with that is that they then assume, because we're not essential, and if these categories are sociological and creative, can we step outside of these categories, and live in some way in which there are no categories? And that seems pretty wrong. And the categories don't have to be as rigid, and they can be multiple and they can be fluid and we can influence them. But the way the mind works and the way we work as people, we're always in relationship. And we need some categories to actually negotiate the world. We seem to be taking too much information. And another are saying that is that all of my interactions are mediated. We have no direct interaction with the world or with each other or even with ourselves. It's sort of interesting, my experience and when they say that, they assume they're talking about some unmediated, unfiltered phenomenon. Most people who look at this carefully would say, there's no such thing, that the very concept of reception is already structured. But it's not essential. So it can't restructure. And there are things we can do to shift it. But we can't simply step outside and have God's eye view and just see the world as it is.Jen 11:42Yeah. And so when we start to think about things that we could do that are different from othering, one potential way we could think about it is well, I've seen it referred to as saming, you know, we could just say, well, we're going to treat everybody equally. Why is that a bad idea?Dr. Powell 11:57Well, first of all, it doesn't work. In some ways, it's basically saying, in order for me to treat you as a full human being, you have to become some version of me. And that's better than saying, you’re categorically different. And I can never understand you. And therefore, I can do all these terrible things to you. It's like, so I have this thing, it's like, because we are both the same and different, dialogue is necessary and possible. And what it means by that, if we were just the same, dialogue wouldn't be necessary. I don't need to talk to you on the same thing. I don’t need to ask you how you feel.Jen 12:35You already know.Dr. Powell 12:36You know, it's like, what would I feel? A gentle exactly is out here because she's an extension of me. And the other is that because it were totally different, the infinite other as Hegel talks about, that I couldn't understand. And so his life is a little bit more messy. The other things that are interesting, I find very fascinating, is that the process of suppressible saming some ways an erasure, you know, it's like, it's actually kind of the liberal response to the categorical differences that we made in the past like, blacks are women, it's like, no, we're all the same. And that all the same, the person speaking, generally is the dominant group. And so then, in order to be a member of society, it means I have to adhere to whatever the dominant group considers to be the necessary thing. And so if you think about something like a Bill Clinton, Don't Ask, Don't Tell, right? Like you can join the military and kill people just like anybody else, but we don't want to hear about your sexual exploits. But from heterosexual, a heterosexual man, I can brag about my sexual exploits. So even in that formulation, you're saying one group can show up and be messed up on the chest for how many sexual exploits I have, but if you're homosexual, shhh, no one would talk about that.Jen 14:00Yeah.Dr. Powell 14:01It’s different. So the goal is not to be treated as the same. In fact, the idea of equality exit from the western concept come from Aristotle. And Aristotle understood that there were two different forms of equality when he calls arithmetic and what he calls geometric. And arithmetic is when we people are situated the same. And he says basically treat people who were situated the same as fare or treat people who are situated differently is unfair, but when people are not situated the same, to treat them as if they were the same, doesn’t make any sense. We got half of Aristotle's insights and not the other half.Jen 14:40Yeah. And it seems as though a lot of what you're speaking to is sort of getting at the idea of denying people agency and I think I see that a fair bit in the parenting world, you know, I'm obviously white and a lot of people who are talking about parenting are white, and schools I think you're very much geared for the success of middle class white children, and you know, in the parenting spirits, it's really common to hear about children needing protection. And often there are specific groups of parents, they're usually, you know, black or brown, low socio economic status. And these parents don't care about their children's education in some way. And in doing that, we're kind of removing, we're constructing a narrative where we really remove agency from these individuals. And we say, well, the school knows best or the state knows best. And if only you parented, like middle class white parents did, then your children would be so much better off and so much better able to succeed in the world. How do you relate what we've been talking about so far to parenting and the parenting world?Dr. Powell 15:36Well, it's actually interesting on a number of levels. I mean, even the construction of the family, right? It's a relatively new phenomenon.Jen 15:43Mm-hmm.Dr. Powell 15:44And, you know, the idea of a nuclear family, just a few thousand years