We Can’t Accept Global “Otherness” Until We Accept Our Own

The first step to achieving mutual recognition with a global “other” is to stop seeing them as an “other.”

Even when helping other countries or refugees, there has almost always been an ulterior motive or a dissenting party. A country may help an “other” during a war, only to expect payment back. A country may take in refugees for a period of time, but then stop when someone with a different view takes power. America broke the frontier of science by landing on the moon, only to prove that Americans were better than Russians. We broke the boundary between Earth and space just to place a stronger boundary between us and Russia.

Of course, lots of us do set down boundaries. We help refugees, we do things for the sake of goodness, we aid other countries, we go to space for the sake of discovery and for humanity. But far too many people are so tied up in their belief of clinging to artificial boundaries, that it’s unrealistic for humanity, at this point, to exist as just humanity. For now, we are fragments of humanity.

Hopefully, someday, we will be able to defeat the idea of an “other” entirely.

But for now, as an American, even just looking at our country, we can see it riddled with “otherness.” How can the entire world come together when a singular nation can’t? America isn’t the only one like this either. Across the globe, we’re not only divided by continent and by country, but by race, religion, gender, sexuality, and economic status. So how can Americans embrace the British, Russians, Indians, Pakistanis, the Japanese, etc. if Americans can’t even embrace Americans?

Exit West: Shattering Gender and Cultural Stereotypes

In his novel Exit West, Mohsin Hamid uproots the stereotypical roles women and men play in relationships as well as stereotypical cultural expectations. This can be seen through the description of Saeed’s parents’ relationship. When talking about this relationship, Hamid highlights the sexual desires of Saeed’s mother rather than his father’s. He states when talking about Saeed’s mother that “She was also more keen, and so she insisted on repeating the act twice more before dawn. For many years, their balance remained thus” (13). This is a sharp contrast from a book we previously read, The Stranger By Albert Camus. In his novel, Camus highlights the sexual desires and advances of the male character Meursault, enforcing the stereotype that men command the physical aspects of the relationship and women oblige. Hamid completely flips this expectation of gender roles when he says “Generally speaking, she was voracious in bed. Generally speaking, he was obliging” (13). The breaking of the stereotype that men command the physicality of the relationship can also be seen in Nadia and Saeed’s relationship. Nadia is primarily the one making sexual advances, and when Nadia initiates, Saeed responds by saying “I don’t think we should have sex until we’re married” (55). Typically, a woman would make this decision, but in this case, the gender norms were again flipped, portraying the man as more sensitive than the woman.

I don’t think I can write about breaking gender norms in Exit West without talking about Nadia and her black robe. I think it ‘s very telling that Saeed assumes Nadia is religious and prays because of her conservative clothing. Once again, Hamid totally turns your predictions upside down with Nadia’s response to Saeed questioning why she wears the conservative clothing: “So men don’t f*** with me” (17). Beginning this book, I honestly didn’t expect there to be a huge theme of women being individual and female empowerment overall. However, I think that although this arguably isn’t the main theme of the novel, it is one that really stood out to me. I love how individual and empowering Nadia’s character is, and I think it’s a good example to have in literature such as this.

If We Are All Others, Is There Such Thing as an Other?

In the novel Exit West, Mohsin Hamid writes towards the end of the story with the last words, “We are all migrants through time”(209). After reading this, I reflected on this statement and tried to grasp the meaning of it. However, pondering this sentence only left me with this question…

If we are all others(migrants), is there such thing as an other?

My definition and what I have come to terms with is that “an other” is classified as — not a majority and alienated from the rest of the group. As I became more reflective, I realized that I still consider myself an other as a person of color in a predominantly white community because Asians make up about 5% of the population in Oak Park. When looking globally, I am a part of the majority race. There are more Asians in the world than any other ethnicity.

The same thought process can be put into terms with migration. Oftentimes, people look down upon people migrating from one part of the world to another especially when not done legally in fear of the people bringing more chaos into the United States. But, people move from one part of the country to another all the time. Understandably, the migrators are doing it without proper documentation, but in the bigger picture, they overall are the same.

Going back to Hamid’s sentence, I’ve realized that when expanding the lenses of an other, there is always going to be an opportunity to be “an other” but when taking a step back and approaching, a very simple, but complicated thought, we can all be categorized as “an other” in something. Even further, we can all be “an other” and take part in the same thing as Hamid said–with time.

Progression

Throughout Exit West Nadia and Saeed go through doors to escape, but when they get to the next world they realize their problems haven’t been solved as another replaces it. Additionally as they are running the reader sees the pair start too loosing their connection, as each decisions they makesthem realize they want more or something diffrent. This is especially prevalent in the last door they go throught to get to the California sea side town. They left the house they where in to find each other and be happier but they didn’t realize that they where already being pushes apart as migration and these major life decisions split their relationship in half.

Further this book comes full circle as they start as friends Nadia happy and independent, Saeed curious and happy with his family. Throughout the book as they enter the first 2 doors they learn about being a foreigner and the unrest that can come from the people who see you as freeloaders/invaders of their land. After they realize in London they are un happy they go through the door to California and there Saeed prays multiple times a day, as that is when he feels closest to his parents. As he tries to hold onto the reality he had, and the childhood he once had that has a mother and father. Likewise their realtionship soon turned to a friendship and the war or violence hadn’t come to the town. Their enviornment was someone safe and peaceful such as that of their home town before the fighting. As all the elements of this final town coencide with that of their hometown happiness, as the war had made them scared of loosing one another but in the peace they realized they wanted diffrent things. Nadia needed freedom and she went to live in the supply office at work, and Saeed moved on with another girl who brought out the version of himself that was hopeful and curious.

Throughout this story we see the want to come back to the happiness that came while they where in their hometown. Additionally that the war was the one who brought the couple together and bonded them, and that in freedom they had realized their ideas of freedom and life moving on was diffrent. Thus Tragedy creates a great divide while also bringing diffrent people and cultures together.

Exit West: The Migration Station

Throughout the novel Exit West, Saeed and Nadia travel constantly and move from open border to open border. Exit West puts the philosophical theory of immigration within America into a perspective, as many other people around the world such as Dubai, etc portray liberalism, granting freedom universally. Many other countries recognize migration, extending beyond the narrow ethnic or political group of citizens who stay in that country as a resident. In the sense of migration, we flip the script and tell the exact opposite of what countries with open border tell, as our president (Trump) tended not to respect the freedoms of those who needed to enter America to benefit their lives. As an immigrant one can not choose politics for self benefit, as they are moving so frequently just to seek improvement on normalized casualties of life. Unlike most places, we as Americans tend to tell a different story. As a wealthier country we tend to get more senseless about our surroundings and our equity is placed through laws that are made within our social justice system. Essentially this portrays America as an executive whole as communitarian towards migration and immigration. As a war is taking place in the novel, migration is eye open to an American like myself as if freedom to migrate in need of benefit was practically the reason why Nadia and Saeed survived. If they didn’t migrate from place to place they probably died to warfare which is why I believe Europe and Asia seem to almost globalize migration. They unify themselves to exemplify that each individual even surrounding their country in most places in these areas respects and sets equal freedoms to the next country over. As Exit West had me note the generosity that comes from migration, I believe America should be more open to migration too.

A Reflection of “Global Others”

The idea of certain groups of people being “others” seems like an outdated concept. In Exit West, every time Nadia and Saeed traveled to another place they entered feeling as outsiders. They would then often meet other migrants who’s feelings reflected their own. This communal awkward feeling is unnecessary and benefits no one. Even at the end of the novel, when the old woman was reflecting on her life that she had spent in one house she decided, “We are all migrants through time” (Hamid 209). A woman, who watched the block around her change throughout her life, knew that although the people who lived there were from other parts of the world, they were no different than her. As all people are technically “global others” to each other there is no need for this distinction as it only creates separation. While it is important that maintaining a distinction between groups of people is important for various reasons, the negative connotation that is associated with the word “other” creates a harmful hierarchical separation between those who are viewed as “native” versus “other”. All people, at one point or another will be considered as “others” and experience this outdated hierarchy. Although a distinction between people should be made, it should be based on feelings of pride and security, not fear or hate.

The “Global Others” Conundrum

In Exit West, Saeed and Nadia become immigrants, leaving their war-torn country. In other words, they become “global others”. These “global others” are often seen as the unwanted members of society, and many don’t see them as people at all. The irony behind this is that there isn’t much separating them from everyone else. What makes someone a “global other”, as opposed to someone else, is simply where they were born and the conditions they were subjected to. Discriminating against and ostracizing the “global others” is not only harmful to the victims of that treatment, but also to the perpetrators of it. Those that treat “global others” negatively limit their worldview and also set a precedent for how to treat all future “global others, maybe including themselves. Who can say what the next war-torn or hunger stricken nation will be? Who can say who the next “global others” will be?

Not to get political, but with our current President, the next “global others” could have easily been us Americans, the same Americans that make up a nation doing its best to keep “global others” out. If we keep others out when they need help, who is going to let us in when we need help? Many Americans would and have denied this as a possibility, claiming to be a superior nation. They would say that “global others” exist because their nations were poorer (spoiler: the United States owes a lot of money), or that their nations were not as sophisticated as our own. Exit West does a good job of displaying just how incorrect this is throughout the novel. When introducing Nadia’s character, it described her “sitting at her desk at the insurance company, on an afternoon of handling executive auto policy renewals by phone, when she received an instant message from Saeed asking if she would like to meet” (23). Nadia lived a normal life, one that any American woman might live, working a modern-day desk job and texting a crush on her cellphone; she had all the resources and capabilities we would consider important to lead a successful life in the United States, only she was not born in the United States, she was not raised in the United States, and unlike those of us that were born and raised in the United States, she was forced to flee a war zone.