I find that people often treat the line between othering and acknowledging difference as a fine one. It’s not.
I’ve had the experience, particularly as a non-white women when among white women, of mentioning race issues, to be met with pregnant silence, and then a flood of questions. They care, they want to include one, they want to show a polite interest, they do. They’re just not sure how to do that without making one shrink into the role of a sentient encyclopedia. That’s where it tips over from acknowledging difference into othering.
I favour, well, treating people like people: complete human beings rather than information mines on a particular, socially marginalised aspect of who they are. And that approach to wholeness is key to, rather than mere inclusion, integration. Because we have whole lives and are whole people, and that’s how our conversations should run.
So, in my ideal conversation, when a person brings up something relevant to their marginalised existence when with people who (mostly) do not share it, they are not met with lots of questions or awkward silence. They are met with a continued flow of conversation that acknowledges and integrates what they’ve said and who they are even as it moves past the moment.
I’ve had far too much of ‘your culture is fascinating’ and ‘what happens to you with your disability?’. When someone shares something of their life with you, that is a kindness, and not something to be met with head pats or intrusion. And it’s not a time to position difference as lying with that individual person, making them uncomfortable, rather than in the space between people. Making people welcome and included means making people welcome and included, not shoving in a sidebar about a particular part of them.
And that’s why, when acknowledging difference on a broader scale, it needs to be about integrating people as whole people, not slotting in lip service to difference. You can’t do women’s issues and then non-white people’s issues, say, because you’re fundamentally misunderstanding that non-white women embody more than one thing at one time. You’re seeing slices, issues, and you’re doing it incompletely. Acknowledging difference means recognising the need to acknowledge it before it becomes painfully apparent, and recognising the need to treat othered people as people rather than fact sheets or awkward protuberances.
Othered lives and people are as full and complex as anyone else(‘s), after all.