The Jump to Othering after the Boston Marathon Bombing

Hearing about the bombings at the Boston Marathon while driving to school early last week felt surreal. It just didn’t make sense. Sometimes it’s simply tiring to even try to make sense of yet another act of violence. I strongly believe that all violence is connected at the root by hatred. I also believe that hatred feeds oppression, which perpetuates violence. That’s why I am annoyed that our culture so quickly jumps to make the people who carried out this violence “others.”

It’s not a new concept. We find ways to separate ourselves from people who do bad things all the time.  For example, we call people who commit child sexual abuse “predators.” What seems to be very common when it comes to acts of mass violence is a racial, ethnic, and/or religious othering. It seems to be part of the process of making sense of the hurt. We need to know that there is something fundamentally different about the person that would make this behavior possible.

I’m going to suggest that it might be this desire to other that makes the violence possible. It’s curious to me that everyone needed to know the religious and ethnic backgrounds of these men right away. Was it the religious identity that made this an act of terrorism? In a fascinating scene from the famed Colbert Report, Stephen laid out the reality of the profile of the men who allegedly bombed Boston. He suggested that the accurate description is a dark-haired, angry Caucasian guy, and he put up a picture of himself. Realistically, we may just be drawing up composites of ourselves when we get right down to the root of the problem.

I don’t condone this violence. I also fear that our natural jump to othering will only make future violence more likely. Let’s be smart enough to know when an approach just isn’t working. Let’s strive to find the human qualities in the people who cause harm. This may be the game changer.