13 May “The Outsider” by Martin Wright
We have all experienced being on the outside at some point in our lives, being made to feel as if we were the ‘outsider’ or being on the ‘fringes of the group’. This must be increasingly pronounced for people coming into this country and competing for employment, housing or acceptance.
Having just seen a recent production of Othello during this year’s 400th anniversary following Shakespeare’s death, I believe the implications of the play are as relevant now as they were when it was written.
Contrary to belief, the play is not about love. One assumes that it is Othello’s overwhelming infatuation with Desdemona that forms the basis of the play. However, when you look deeper, you find that she ‘loves him for his otherness’ and he only loves her because she loves him. A doomed scenario from the onset.
The play isn’t about race either. Desdemona is as much seduced by his outsider status as by him as a person. It would be just as relevant if he were Jewish in a Muslim society, a Korean in China, or an immigrant coming into a British town or city. The play is all about fitting in and dealing with people’s jealousy and insecurity. We see Iago (initially his friend and Second in Command) who is riddled with jealousy bring about Othello’s death by sowing seeds of manipulation, lies and continually asking him the question “Are you sure she likes you?”
The state of being an outsider is something every individual can relate to: labelled as the new student in class, the new employee at a job or the new person in an exercise class or on a football team. It’s hard being new. Sometimes you can shake off that label very quickly. You knuckle under, keep your head down, you learn your job, you find your place on the team, you fit in.
However, there will always be an Othello, someone who is considered ‘different from the norm’, facing challenges in our ‘perfect’ world and they will always have to contend with the stigma attached to it. It will take them much longer to make new friends and comrades who become blind to their difference. (After all, that is what attracted Desdemona to him – he was different from the other men!)
But despite people’s education, sexual orientation or genetic abilities they will always be vulnerable, just as Othello with his military background. It only takes a dig from an Iago who has his own agenda, or a careless remark to an ‘outsider’, who already feels isolated, to light their fuse. It only takes one person to say to the other “Are you sure they like you?” or “Are you sure that you are capable of that?” to plant that seed of doubt which can bring down that person’s whole world.
In this day and age it is alarming that according to the publication Working Life, Chinese or Middle Eastern names have to submit 50% times more job applications to receive the same amount of acceptance as Anglo names. The British Social Attitude Survey also found that nearly a third of us admitted to being racist on some level.
The template for the scenario is: “You are different, and that makes you vulnerable.” Let’s all try to ensure that in our safe environment we have time to understand those around us that are different in whatever guise and welcome them and curb our insecurities.