Monday, October 25, 2010


Now readers, you might be thinking that otherize isn’t a “real” word according to Merriam Webster’s or the Oxford English Dictionary, but otherize is a very valid word when dealing with conflicts.

In history class we got a recap of the genocide in Rwanda to prepare for a guest speaker (Carl Wilkens, the only American witness of the genocide, for those curious people out there). The discussion mainly focused on the conflict between Hutu and Tutsi, two ethnic/racial groups in Rwanda. We got to talking about Belgians preferencing the Tutsi during the Rwandan colonial period. The Belgians provided education and jobs for the Tutsi while largely ignoring the needs of the Hutu, who actually made up the majority of the population. By placing the Tutsi in power, the Belgians divided a naturally integrated ethnic community. Long story short, Rwanda gained its independence in 1962 and the Hutu’s, making up the majority of the population, win the elections. The Hutus then worked to eliminate the Tutsi from Rwanda.

The word otherize first came up in the lecture when the Tutsi were given power from the Belgians. The Hutu were resentful of the Tutsi who had once been their equal. The Hutu claimed the Tutsi were not Rwandan but more Nilotic (from the Nile River Basin) and therefore didn’t deserve to rule. Otherize was a word that my teacher used to describe the attempt at alienating the Tutsi. The Hutu created an “us and them” situation.

Being a little hesitant since otherize isn’t in the dictionary, I was wondering what other words could be used to replace otherize but keep the same meaning. I was immediately drawn to words like segregation, classification, and distinguish. While these words share the same negative connotation as otherize, they don’t encompass a meaning of taking something familiar and making it foreign or turning something into an enemy. These three words embody division, but not the process of alienation. For me, the best synonym from “otherize” is dissociate. The only issue with dissociate is that it doesn’t imply one group is estranging another group.

Some questions to think about: Is otherization present in all genocides? Can otherize ever have a positive connotation? How does the media use the word otherize (see this article about otherizing Obama based on religion and race during the 2008 election)?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


As an activity in English last week the class elected important words from the book The Poisonwood Bible. We spent the latter half of class narrowing down the list to the ten most pertinent words to the book. Father was the first word selected. There was much debate over which word was more encompassing: Father or Fatherly. In the end we chose Father. It was argued that the word Father is more exemplary of the themes in the Poisonwood Bible. Father alludes to religion in the book because the main characters are on an Evangelical Baptist mission trip to the Congo. Father also evokes a notion of patriarchy which is very central to The Poisonwood Bible because a main character Nathan is very strict and sometimes cruel towards his wife, daughters, and even the Congolese.

With all this talk about fathers, I began to think about how a father affects the upbringing of his children. What can a father teach? What happens when a father isn’t around or doesn’t invest time in his children’s lives. In Poisonwood Bible, Nathan is so focused on converting the Congolese to Christianity that he often ignores his daughters.

Come Sunday, I got a different perspective on the role of fathers and parents. I went to a local seminar type event to see a few Lost Boys of Sudan talk. If you are unfamiliar with the history of the Lost Boys, click here. Anyways, one of the speakers, Kuek Garang, told the story of his relocation to Chicago. Until recently, he hadn’t seen his parents in 22 years. The resolution to Garang’s story was his trip back to the Sudan to visit with his parents. First Garang reunited with his mother. Garang’s experiences fleeing Sudan forced him to grow up rather quickly. He mentioned feeling like a kid again for the first time since the civil war in Sudan.

For me, the most compelling part of the story was Garang’s view of his father. He said that he could not become a full child again until he reconnected with his Father. Garang said that most people take for granted how lucky they are to live with both of their parents in safety. He really valued the life lessons that his parents taught him. Garang’s final statement was that in the absence of parents, education is the most important “role model” for a child. He was so thankful for his opportunities to go to school in the U.S..

Although I realized that parents have a huge influence on their kids, I never thought about the alternatives to parents. Kuek Garang’s story opened my mind to the importance of parents and how children, like the daughters in Poisonwood Bible can be severely damaged by dismissive parents or a lack of parents.

If you are interested in Garang’s story, he has produced a documentary of his trip home entitle “22 Years from Home.” The Lost Boys of Sudan that I saw were a part of CALBOS the Chicago Association for the Lost Boys of Sudan, a group of Sudanese refugees that were resettled in the Chicago land area.

Monday, October 4, 2010


Recently I’ve stumbled upon the word exceptional several times in literature and in current events. From my former knowledge I defined exceptional as superior, better than average. However, according to Merriam Webster, exceptional can alternatively mean having above or below average intelligence. Even more interesting, it can mean physically disabled. Oddly enough, physical disability and exceptionalism relate very closely a book I’m reading in my senior English class: The Poisonwood Bible written by Barbara Kingsolver. The story follows a family of Americans from Georgia on a missionary trip in the Congo (for a complete summary visit here). Briefly in class we discussed the American view of white supremacy over the Congolese or even the “white man’s burden” to bring salvation and Christianity to Africa (keep in mind the story takes place in 1959). It turns out the Congolese didn’t even want to adopt Christianity.

Although cultural superiority is a worthwhile discussion, I wanted to focus on the less prevalent definition of exceptionalism. The Poisonwood Bible is written as series of “books” separated into sections narrated by four daughters and the mother in the story. Adah, one of the daughters and more importantly a twin, suffers from hemiplegia. She is exceptional in the fact that she is disabled. She doesn’t talk but she is a very eloquent, quirky writer. Adah narrates a scene about her mother’s view of education as she explains,

“She is especially beset by Leah’s and my status as exceptional children. When we entered the first grade, we were examined by the spinster principal of Bethlehem Elementary, Miss Leep, who announced that we were gifted: Leah, on account of her nonchalant dazzling scores on reading comprehension tests, and myself by association, as I am presumed to have the same brain insofar as the intact parts go” (Kingsolver 56).

After finding the different definitions of exceptional I began to think that maybe the twins are different in more ways than what’s written on the page. Adah seems to view herself as exceptional in the negative, handicapped sense. Even though Adah is physically disabled, it has changed her view of the world. Of all the siblings I feel that she is most skeptical of missionary work and she is very perceptive in sensory ways. Adah learned from her handicap and ended up becoming a very insightful and independent young adult, whose opinions aren’t only those of her parents (like Leah who will believe anything their father says). Adah’s physical exception allows her to become more exceptional in school and she now has a clearer perspective of the Congo.

So readers, be forewarned when using the term exceptional. Even supposedly righteous causes like missionary work can be exceptional in a negative way from the perspective of the people being forced to convert. Don’t be too discouraged, sometimes we come across truly exceptional people like Adah who defy norms and overcome their physical ailments.