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Thanks to a friend, I was able to get into the Terracotta Exhibit at the Chicago Field Museum last week before it closed. When exiting the exhibit, I struck up a conversation with a black woman named Michelle about the rudeness of many of the people in attendance. 

Michelle told me that a Caucasian woman had asked her the time. When Michelle told her she was sorry but she did not have the time, the woman looked at her and said, “Useless, just useless.”

The woman’s comments hurt Michelle’s feelings.

Would this woman have liked someone making these comments about her? 

I doubt it. 

This scenario made me think of the word “otherliness,” that is, the ability to be aware/considerate of the feelings/presence of others. It also made me recall my childhood Sunday School lesson,“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” 

If you are rich or poor but “white,” many indiscriminately feel you are all right.

If you are documented and “brown,” you may be allowed to stick around. 

If your skin is described as “yellow,” the attitude toward you is now mellow. 

If you are an American aborigine and referred to as “red,” upon your rights the system does tread. 

If you are identified or labeled as “black,” you are still expected to jump (or fall) back. 

I wondered if this woman would have made those comments if Michelle were white. Sadly, racism and all its repercussions are still rampant in this good old U.S. of A.

Jan. 16. is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a day to honor the late Rev. Dr. King Jr., who was a leader in the fight against discrimination in the U.S.A. until he was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

Dr. King said:  “Discrimination is a hellhound that gnaws at Negroes in every waking moment of their lives to remind them that the lie of their inferiority is accepted as truth in the society dominating them. (“Where do we go from here?” speech, Aug. 16, 1967)

“All races have contributed in the past to cultural progress … so they will be capable of advancing the interests of mankind if we are only willing to give them a fair opportunity.” (Franz Boas, July 9, 1858 – Dec. 21, 1942; a German-American anthropologist and a pioneer of modern anthropology who has been called the “Father of American Anthropology”)

“The behavior of a nation is not determined by its biological origin, but by its cultural traditions.”  (Berthold Laufer, (Oct. 11, 1874 – Sept. 13, 1934; an anthropologist and historical geographer)

Otherliness offers a kinder world.

Peggy Tarr

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...