Positive Alterity

Recently, my writings have been racially charged. From the Trayvon Martin case to the subsequent comments after the arrival of college letters, my frustrations with being the other in the United States have spilled out onto this canvas blog. Sharing myself in this fashion, especially this past week, has been emotionally draining. Coupled with work, family, and life, I crashed last night. I was in bed and fast asleep by 9:30pm. Judge me if you must, but my body needed the rest. Yesterday’s post did not receive much traffic yesterday, and while I do not know what was going on in my reader’s life, I took the low numbers as a sign that all of this discussion of race was difficult for my readers. Maybe my onslaught of racially motivated posts was too much, too overwhelming, too challenging.  Yesterday’s post was very direct and required readers to think about their action, particularly their comments, surrounding race. I hope that my writing continues to challenge you all and creates discussions in your heart and your communities.

Today, I want to share a new term that I recently learned, positive alterity. This term was coined by Jan Weissman in her discussion of multiracial, interracial identity formation, but I find the term to be powerful and applicable for all. Weissman suggests that those who feel otherized, which can be seen in so many different ways–we all are otherized in some fashion,  can claim their sense of other as a sense of power. In this fashioning of “other than other,” one is able to claim rights and privileges of one’s own definition. Consequently, one is able to find joy in your identity even though the dominant culture may try to make one feel, as a result of your otherized identity,  insufficient or inadequate. The term allows for you to be you regardless of what society may try to impose on you.

While at the White Privilege Conference this past week in New Mexico, a group of facilitators presented a meaningful exercise. They wrote down the challenges that are present with working with white people within a white dominant setting (i.e. our workplaces, the United States). The words included shame, frustration, hurt, amongst others. More importantly, as a group we discussed the words that represented our cultures and identities. Some of the words were liberation, tradition, language, and love. We then wrote those words on colored paper and taped it over the negative, toxic words. Thus, creating a beautiful collage of words that physically illustrated the strength of our racially otherized communities. That picture, which I share with you all, has provided me with comfort and support during this time.  It is also an example of positive alterity, reclaiming one’s power even though one is otherized.

If you are focusing on my attendance at the White Privilege Conference or the fact that there were negative words associated with living in White culture, I challenge you to move past it. I push you to resist the strong temptation to deflect the issue, and instead focus your energy on the power of the activity, the power of positive alterity.

Reclaim your otherized sense and enjoy its power.

We are all deserving and worthy of love and respect, regardless of what the country may force feed us about us.




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