Strength of the Outsider

It might sound strange to say this but be thankful you’re an outsider: a woman in a man’s world, a negro in America, the black sheep of the family, a freak, an alien. I don’t mean to be insensitive and it’s certainly not intended to provoke. All I want to say is: there is strength in being the outsider.

See the white heterosexual male. See him cruise through life, oblivious to his privilege, blissfully ignorant of all notions of harassment, discrimination, struggle. Sure he has it all, sure he’s insured, sure he’s happy,[1] but aren’t you not-even-so-secretly glad you’re not him? Because just as the best art blooms out of suffering, so oppression challenges our creativity, our morality, our resolve, and gives us something to fight for. As Ta-Nehisi Coates writes to his son in Between the World and Me: ‘I am sorry that I cannot make it okay. I am sorry that I cannot save you–but not that sorry. Part of me thinks that your very vulnerability brings you closer to the meaning of life…’

Only being outside the system, can we truly see the system. While others are blinded by their denial of its flaws, we are able to recognise the problems, because our worldview is not at stake.[2] As outsiders we are free(r) from the myths of normalcy and the pressures to conform. We can think differently and act differently. If the system works for you, why would you want to change it?

But the strength of the outsider is also a negative strength, by which I mean the strength not only to be our best, but the strength not to be our worst.[3] The poor, become rich, lose their charity.[4] The oppressed, become powerful, lose their humility. History festers with revolutionaries who become dictators, who never wanted a fairer world; they just wanted to be on top.[5] And ultimately, it was only their lack of power protecting them, and us, from their own brutal humanity.

So, yes, if you’re an outsider, though it can be lonely, difficult, dangerous, be thankful–I am–for it’s here that we can do the most good (and the least ill).


[1] Except they’re not happy, not really, because ennui’s a bitch, and just like the Matrix 1.0, they’re lives are spiritually void and socially bland, which is why so many of them now jones for conspiracy theories and red caps to feel alive and relevant.
[2] Paradoxically, though, outsiders by definition exist apart from the real power to change things. Like Cassandra, we see but are not heard.
[3] This does not mean outsiders cannot indulge in the suffering of others, only that they can be much worse. Also, the same person can be an outsider in one context and not in another. Think: an oppressed minority in society vs a ‘leader’ within that minority, or a cyclist harried on main roads vs same cyclist on the sidewalk; basically, little fish in a big pond vs big fish in little pond.
[4] As Orwell observed, rich people are are just poor people with money.
[5] Or perhaps they did want a fairer world but stopped wanting it when the caviar was served.



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