A Different Path To Common Ground
"It is amazing how many of us are ‘OtherDumb’ or ‘OtherDim,’" writes author Dick Martin in his book, OtherWise. "Whether it stems from fear, anger or sheer laziness, whether the product of our upbringing, our schooling, or our experience, whether reflecting our religious, political, or social beliefs, or simply the vestige of some evolutionary adaptation that lost its usefulness long ago, few people would argue that we Americans are OtherWise."
Martin doesn’t believe that Americans are better or worse than people from other countries, although he does believe that "our founding documents held us to a higher standard, even if actual practice fell woefully short before the ink on the Declaration of Independence had dried." He also recognizes that America has made "zigzag progress toward a more OtherWise society," although few would disagree, he notes, that it has a long way to go.
OtherWise is not written as a political manifesto for diversity or tolerance, but more of an exploration of where the American nation stands now — and why. Martin begins by explaining the use of the term "Other." "Not every stranger is Other with a capital O," he writes. "The truly Other are people we consider so different from ourselves that we have trouble seeing beyond those differences to what we have in common." These are people, he continues, that "are being excluded through no fault of their own, not because of anything they did, but simply because of who they are." The Other includes not only minorities, gays or women, but also "Native Americans, the elderly, the disabled, fat people, mentally challenged people, militant atheists, and little people, to name just a few."
Martin also notes that anyone is capable of "otherizing." African-Americans, for example, have long been the targets of bigotry, yet some African-Americans displayed the same bigotry toward the South Korean grocers moving into their neighborhoods.
The antidote for prejudice against the Other, Martin believes, is to become knowledgeable, or "wise," about the people we target. That is the core purpose of the book, which Martin accomplishes with quiet grace by leading the reader around the country, meeting a wide range of people — from those at the forefront of fighting prejudice to scholars studying prejudice in society to people, such as Esther Silver-Parker, who simply live with prejudice. Silver-Parker, a successful African-American businesswoman and consultant who has held executive positions in both AT&T and Wal-Mart, tells Martin that as she was sending her son off to college, she "felt it necessary to remind him that he was black, and that some people would be suspicious of him — or even rude toward him — because of it."
Balanced and Thoughtful
Martin himself is not a long-time activist for diversity. A former executive vice president of public relations for AT&T, his previous book, Tough Calls, was a corporate tale of a troubled AT&T in the late 1990s. Martin also considers himself in the middle when it comes to politics and believes many activists in both parties are fighting old wars instead of dealing responsibly with today’s problems. As a result of the author’s perspective, OtherWise is not a diatribe against "ignorant bigots," but, instead a thoughtful, balanced and extensively researched exploration of American diversity. OtherWise deserves a wide circulation — much wider than the screeching political rants that unfortunately grace our best-seller lists today.