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)?