Letters to the Canary: family courts, English dystopia, and ‘otherism’

Letters to the Canary
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This week’s letters

This week we have people’s thoughts on family courts, whether England is living through a dystopian nightmare, and ‘otherism’. 

Family courts: broken beyond repair?

Can you please help to promote my petition for reform of the family court. The secrecy of the family court prevents scrutiny and challenge of this institution. In a democracy every institution should be held to account.

Please sign this petition to shine a light on the family court and SHARE, SHARE SHARE, EVERYWHERE.


My own experiences lead me to conclude that significant reform is urgent.

Read on...

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Many thanks

Anonymous, via email

ED: We’re more than happy to help promote this. You can read the Canary‘s three-part series on social services, the forced removal of children, and family courts, here. The above petition can be found here

A dystopian English nightmare incoming?

The people of England need to stand up for their rights in the alleged democratic society that is their country. Otherwise, they are going to wake up one morning and discover the government of the time (Tory or New Labour there is no difference between the two of them) have, without prior warning, started arresting people who have spoken out against the party via the internet. Every citizen will have to attend a hospital to have a chip put into their neck for social control and tracking. And the police will have been given powers to arrest anyone on the street after 9pm unless they can prove they are coming or going from/to work. Resistance shall not be tolerated, and any person doing so will be shot.

This is what every nation that does not stand up for decency ends up with: a dystopian, intolerant state. Germany 1936; Russia 1916; Cuba 1948, etc. My dear English friends, you are all sleepwalking into a dystopian nightmare.

Wake the fuck up or it will be too late.

Patrick Mcqueenie, via email

“Otherism”, the negative interpretation of difference

Otherness and otherism are not a necessity, but difference and diversity are. Difference is positive, life affirming, otherness is its pejorative opposite.

When some four years ago I first published my thoughts about “otherism”, I was trying to make sense of what being ‘different’ really meant, and what racism and homophobia and other aspects of discrimination were really about. Why were people intolerant of difference? Was it just racism or homophobia? Which other aspects provoked negative reaction? To my surprise there was literally no word which accurately conveyed and described what I was trying to say. So I chose “otherism”.

But let’s start at the beginning.

A French person is obviously different from a German, an English person from a Portuguese – yet all are white.

I am Dutch, became British by marrying, have now lived in the UK for 60+ years and am still classified and treated (however subtly) as a foreigner, almost on a daily basis, yet we are all white.

White on white racism? No. What’s in play here, I believe, is “otherism”. “Otherism” relates to ‘other’ like racism relates to race.

‘Otherism’ can be large or small in scale: you are seen (and portrayed or characterised) as African, European, British, English, working class, ex-Etonian, living in London, in the West-end, the Shankhill Road, or indeed wearing trainers. That makes you an ‘other’ to many. Talking about “other” often starts a sentence with “Ah well… and ends with “after all…”:

‘Ah well, she is Dutch, after all…’

That obviously explains it. But clearly that is not racism, that’s “otherism”.

Otherism however subtle is divisive and alienating. Otherism is like racism: same structure, often same effect, but it isn’t just racism, it includes it. Otherism we could define as the negative interpretation of difference, of diversity.

Otherism is multi-facetted and can include a different religion, colour, a different class, or ginger hair. It can be different politics, different status, different sexuality. Any aspect of diversity, of difference, is equally important to the people concerned. The concept also raises other questions, like, how far was our own Brexit a case of otherism, of our belief that we, the British, are somehow different and superior?

Otherism is very old, is extremely widespread, and yet we never use it in analysis, or in everyday talk, even though it is there for everyone to see on a daily basis. But not using it in analysis is misleading and very dangerous as a basis for decision making. Of course, at the basis of otherism-type thinking is egocentrism. Subconsciously we think of “us” as the centre of ‘our’ universe.

Otherness has a richness which is totally obscured by otherism, just like fascinating aspects of ethnic diversity are sullied by racism. The potential for progress on countering otherism is in us, in our perception, in our willingness to think of people as people – full stop, without the “ah well… after all”.

We need to think imaginatively and collectively about appropriate solutions. We must consider how we can help each other to think properly, to support each other, to look for positives, to call out negatives, to do everything we can to make sure that we develop into the best world ever. It must be a world where discovering otherness is a positive and interesting delight. And one where we can begin to work out jointly what a real working society could look like.

Jenny Backwell, via email

ED: Jenny, and others, might be interested to read more about “othering” as originated by postcolonial scholar Gayatri Spivak both here and here.

Want to get involved? Email membership(at)thecanary.co and we’ll publish your letters, too! Terms and conditions of publication apply.

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