Editors’ Introduction, Issue Three
A child cannot, thank Heaven, know how vast and how merciless is the nature of power, with what unbelievable cruelty people treat each other. —James Baldwin
Children are not born knowing the nature of power or the cruelty with which we often treat one another, but in the world we have made a great many children come much too early to that knowledge. At the time of this writing a furor has erupted in the United States about the morality, ethics, and political and social consequences of the Trump administration’s “family separation” policy, a policy that in just seven weeks saw more than 2,300 immigrant children taken from their caregivers at the US-Mexico border. These traumatized children, many of them infants and toddlers, may be the most public faces of othering in the US today.
Tragically, these immigrant children have plenty of company in their innocence and suffering. Around the world, children feature prominently among our most vulnerable populations, whether Rohingya and Syrian refugees, people with disabilities in Afghanistan or Sudan, people living in extreme poverty, or any of the other groups we could name. Children also have a range of roles in this issue of Othering & Belonging—as wards in need of protection, yes, but also as witnesses, as accountability partners, as vehicles of empathetic imagination, and as inheritors and re-shapers of the institutions and communities we construct now.
In “Removing Barriers and Building Bridges: How Play Cultivates Integration and Belonging in Refugee Children,” Freya White blends her knowledge of the empirical research literature on child development with her experience in a refugee camp in northern France to argue for the importance of play as a hedge against trauma for refugee children. While the circumstances of immigrant children forcibly separated from their parents and placed in US “tender age shelters” differ in various ways from those of the largely Kurdish refugee children White worked with in France, readers may find the comparison telling. And uncomfortable.
Children are central, again, in “Object to Subject: Three Scholars on Race, Othering, and Bearing Witness.” Here, scholar-activists Erin Kerrison, Wizdom Powell, and Abigail Sewell cast light on the mechanisms and consequences of othering for people of color, and especially for the health of Black boys and men. Their conversation with Othering & Belonging editor Andrew Grant-Thomas concludes with reflections on what the seeds of greater belonging for racially marginalized peoples might be, and with powerful revelations about how these women manage to keep working to meet the very daunting challenges they describe.
Whereas Kerrison, Powell, and Sewell bear witness to racial othering through their activism and research, poet Nina Miriam bears witness by recasting her white interlocutor as the racial “other.” Above all, “What If We Othered Your Child and You?” is a plea for empathy. Her themes include the perils of racial isolation, microaggressions, racial over and under-representation, and their consequences for whites as well as for people of color. Throughout, Miriam’s main concern is for children.
Miriam calls for empathy and understanding across difference. Karen Barkey examines one tangible form accommodation with difference has taken. In a world fragmented by racial, ethnic, social, and geopolitical conflict, Barkey’s “Contemporary Cases of Shared Sacred Sites: Forms of Othering or Belonging?” shines a spotlight on shared religious sites as a partial antidote to the hopelessness many of us feel. Barkey does not romanticize the work these sites do; the belongingness they nurture, she observes, is temporary and less than “full.” Nevertheless, in countries like Macedonia, Tunisia, and Turkey that are marked by interethnic tensions and struggles, their very presence “reflects the possibilities of human coexistence across boundaries.”
From sites of forbearance we move to a site of resistance: the Palestinian village of Battir, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014. That same year, photographer Sama Alshaibi arrived in Battir, accompanied by her husband and two sons. Her observations, insights, research, and photography come together in “Part and Parcel: Cultivating Survival in the Village of Battir.” In Alshaibi’s account, Battir serves as a powerful symbol of Palestinian resistance to the destruction of a people and a culture. Her short essay and accompanying photographs chronicle the tenacity of a place whose very existence has long been under threat, most recently by the wish of the Israeli Ministry of Defense to extend a literal “separation wall” through the territory.
With Romain Vakilitabar’s 360-degree (immersive) film, Strangers, the vulnerability of children, and the obligation we feel to protect and provide for them, again loom large. The film, and Vakilitabar’s accompanying essay about it, “How Technology Could Bridge the Gap of Compassion,” features three women—a Black Lives Matter activist in St. Louis, a farmer in rural Oklahoma, and an Iraqi refugee—who seemingly share little but their feelings and experiences of alienation and their concerns as mothers. All three women understand their struggle as a service to their children, their grandchildren, and future generations.
And finally, Sonali Sangeeta Balajee brings us “An Evolutionary Road Map for Belonging and Co-Liberation,” wherein she also discusses the sacred: the sacred connection of spirit and belonging. Her pioneering attempt is “to map out an emerging DNA of what belonging would look like when tied to health, spirituality, resilience, and well-being.”
The candid but necessary conversations and perspectives featured in this issue speak directly to the lived experiences of those of us struggling to foster a more just and inclusive society. The urgency of this responsibility has rarely seemed more acute. As this journal enters its third year, it feels like a vital forum for mutual support, encouragement, and action or, in the words of Sangeeta Balajee, “becoming … the changes we want to see” as well as for illuminating and revealing.
This issue, in particular, places Othering & Belonging on solid footing in terms of tone, identity, and the extraordinary range of content that such a forum can showcase in pursuit of our vision. The exigency of othering crises enveloping the globe right now must be met by resistance, yes, but also by education, understanding, compassion, love, and belonging. Our world depends upon it.
Yours in Belonging,
PS- Read the full issue in PDF format here.