Part 1: “Othering”
For the first part of our semester we have studied writings that examine different cultures and the segregation they have suffered through before, on their way and after arriving in America. When reading these poems, stories and speeches you are able to easily identify two parties in each. The majority in these essays tend to treat the minorities differently than themselves. While we, as Americans, have evolved to treat others better and be more accepting, othering still continues in the present day and will continue into the future as long as humans continue to be different than one another. We can however study othering and the effects it has had on our past in order to make for a better future.
Othering is a term used to describe someone, or any group of people, that you feel is different than yourself. It is a condition American people suffer from that sailed across the seas with our ancestors and was unknowingly stirred into the melting pot that made up America. We may not know othering is within us until it surfaces and causes a reaction that causes us to treat someone differently than we would treat someone like us. Our country has struggled since its founding to do away with this act of discrimination and yet it continues to show its ugly face. Even now many of us cannot accept differences and even when we do it can be disrupted by the smallest event, causing our acceptance of one thing to change how we accept others in the future.
Upon reading Frederick Douglass’s “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” speech I find myself contemplating how othering was used to help Douglass persuade his readers to understand his meaning. He has been separated from his audience by how they view him and he also separates himself from them. At this point in time how Douglass uses his separation from his audience is a key part of his speech and helps to enunciate his main points. The Ladies Anti-Slavery Society in Rochester, New York had asked him to speak in front of them for their Fourth of July celebration. Douglass does not feel that this celebration was his own and while he is there on that day “in a matter of astonishment as well as of gratitude” (461); he cannot celebrate their day of independence with them.
The othering Douglass uses throughout his speech in order to separate himself from the white Americans is quite simple. He uses statements such as “carries your minds” (461), “[y]our fathers” (463), and “what do I have to do with your national independence” (465). By separating himself from his audience he gives them the ability to see how he and his fellow black Americans and slaves were being treated by their fellow countrymen.
Segregation and racism were not only pushed against the African Americans in our country, but towards anyone who could be considered different. Ellis Island on the east coast in New York was an immigration hub that allowed more than 16 million immigrants into the United States in a 32 year time frame. Mary Gordon speaks of her visit to Ellis Island she wrote in 1987 and oh how she walked in the “deathlike expansiveness of the room’s disuse” where “approximately 250,000 [immigrants] were rejected” (433).
At first immigrants coming into Ellis Island were accepted more willingly and quickly into the country. It wasn’t until the economy turned downhill and the First World War started that the immigrants coming in truly began to be held back from entering the country. They were interrogated and inspected medically upon their arrival, and if anything were to be found wrong they would be turned away to go home to a play they were trying to flee.
Gloria Anzaldúa writes of the many languages she spoke growing up in the American Southwest in her essay “How to Tame a Wild Tongue”. Of the seven languages/variations of English and Spanish spoken by different groups in the area she lived she finds she is pushed away from speaking the two that she feels are hers by her teachers and her mother in order to rid her of her Chicano accent. She practiced separating herself in her essay from both the white Americans and the Mexicans in order to identify her group of people. Of the Chicanos she writes “we did not know we were a people until 1965” and “with that recognition, we became a distinct people” (527). In 1987 when Anzaldúa wrote this piece she writes how her race was still in the “struggle of identities… the struggle of borders” and “one day the inner struggle will cease and a true integration will take place”(527) for them.
More recently we have found othering surfacing more publically. Barrack Obama made a speech in 2008 that discussed the issue of racism in the United States. At the time Obama was a presidential candidate, and the first in the United States who was not a white American, but an African American. He acknowledges the importance of race and declares that it “is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now” (479). Obama’s speech is and will always be an important one in our history. It states how imperfect our country is in the overcoming racism and if we are unable to overcome that issue we will not be able to fix the important things in our country in order to improve our nation’s economy, public education and health care programs.
Obama’s speech rings true to this day (a mere 6 years after it was first given to world). We still are faced with the trials of triumphing over racism whether it is towards African Americans, Asians, the English, Mexicans, and any other assortment of people that live in America. In order to overcome them we must look beyond ourselves and examine the greater issues so we can be brought together.
Part 2: Rhetorical Analysis
Frederick Douglass wrote his speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” in 1852 when the discussion of slavery was at its hottest. He was approaching a subject that was on the tips of everyone’s tongues, but only a select few were brave enough to speak of: abolishing slavery. On this Fourth of July Douglass wanted his audience to understand why he and his people were unable to celebrate the freedom granted to the majority. At the time it was discrimination at its darkest and deepest. The thought humans were allowed to own other humans and treat them any way they liked, beating them, working them to the bone and then selling them off to the highest bidder to bring in a new man or woman to destroy in the same way disgusts me.
Shortly before Douglass made this speech the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was enacted. This law imposed a fine upon any law enforcement official who did not bring in a man or woman who looked liked they might be a slave on the run. It was a law that was meant to bind free men of color and rewarded the men who brought them in.
In the second part of his speech Douglass confronts this law directly, stating that “the Fugitive Slave Law makes MERCY TO THEM, A CRIME; and bribes the judge who tries them” giving them “TEN DOLLARS FOR EVERY VICTIM HE CONSIGNS to slavery, and five, when he fails to do so” (469).
I bring up this law and its treatment of black Americans as it was so wrongly against the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
Douglass describes the Constitution as being a “GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT” (473) and uses it in the closing section of his speech to argue that not once does it mention slavery. He uses this to close and reiterate that the United States were not meant to be founded upon binding one man in chains and forcing him to do the work. He knows that any man who attempts to make others believe the Constitution consents to slavery then “it is a slander upon their memory, at least, so I believe” (473).
Anzaldúa, Gloria. “How to Tame a Wild Tongue. Pages 521-528.
Douglass, Frederick. “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” Pages 460-475.
Gordon, Mary. “More than Just a Shrine.” Pages 431-434.
Obama, Barack. “A More Perfect Union.” Pages 476-483.