Forms of Dehumanization

When one thinks of the meaning of dehumanization, you’re likely to think of the demonizing of other races. A quick search on google comes up with the definition of a process that “ a person or group of .” Wikipedia defines it as the “ in others and the that accompanies it,” or “viewing and treating other persons as though they .” If those are the definitions, then the other forms of dehumanization I have encountered are valid. However, positive as in the first definition and mental capacities in the third becomes a matter of perspective. On Beyond Intractability, in the very first line about Dehumanization, it’s “a psychological process whereby opponents view each other as and thus .”

As you may have noticed, in every definition, I underlined certain words. It’s because these words resound with an experience where others would not have thought of what was being done to me or how I was being considered as dehumanizing. The reason being that these activities and situations were a matter of unconscious bonding. In my mind, dehumanizing a person or people is very common. The most subtle and perhaps recognizable form in every day life is to call another person a thing. When one dark-skinned woman was hanging out in the laundry room at a homeless shelter, a fair-skinned woman came out to staff and complained that this thing was sitting there and she didn’t like it. It seemed she believed this woman might steal her things and claimed it had happened before.

Another form of dehumanization, far more common and much less associated with the act or process of dehumanization, is to generalize a person’s identity, so in the above example, it was a dark-skinned woman and a fair-skinned woman. This is not seen as dehumanization, however, it’s seen as description of relevant facts, but that’s the first step in dehumanization, just like when the “Jews” were identified by Hitler or the “N*s” by Ku Klux Klan members. One form of dehumanization is to categorize and generalize a person, no longer seeing them as an individual, but as representation of a group. It’s not the same if the individual claims the classification, such as a person saying they’re a homosexual or black. Classifications, or labels of identity, allow people to bond not by interest but by common experience and orientation. But to call someone a homosexual or black, even if that is part of their identity, is an act of dehumanization.

Other forms of dehumanization are far more unconscious, one of them being the turn one’s self into or treat one’s self as they would perceive an object to be used or treated. For example, when a person says “I’m a toy to you!” People, not only women, have called themselves stepping stones, tools, sex toys, entertainment and trophies. I, myself, have used such wording to describe how I have been treated. However, this form of dehumanization is far more covert and widespread than one might suspect. When it’s abusive or cruel in nature, it’s obvious. When it’s done out of admiration, it’s not.

Fans don’t realize that their idolization of idols can also be seen as dehumanizing. A proud parent or loving aunts and uncles may participate in such dehumanization, but they wouldn’t think of it like that. The line here is so thin that it’s near incomprehensible when it has been crossed.

Before I continue, I should mention that I have C-PTSD, complex or childhood post-traumatic stress disorder. Part of the reason I have it was that I used to be hugged against my will because someone to see if it was true that I would hold my breath until they let go or that I would scream at the top of my lungs like I was being murdered. I was passed around at parties and touched with unconscious stroking on my arms, legs and shoulders, but I couldn’t complain or show any disapproving face. If I did, I was scolded and shamed. At these same parties, I would be scrutinized for my proportions, the curve of my shoulders, the whiteness of my skin, the shape of my ears and arch of my brows, the length and shape of my nose, my fingers, legs, the width of my hips, my figure, the circumference of my wrists and ankles. I sang, stood and sat for the interest and amusement of others. In my family’s culture, it was seen as a given that children entertain and if I had been allowed to play with my cousins, rather than having to memorize who was okay to play with, who was okay to talk with and who was okay to sit with, I might have appreciated the festive atmosphere and festivities of the parties. But I couldn’t.

By the time I was in high school, I had this understanding, looking in the eyes of the adults and fellow children and youth. My opinion was either too weird and dismissed or unwanted. As I often asked the most awkward and uncomfortable or the seemingly most obvious questions, not even my questions were welcome, except to teachers who could accept having no answer. What I came to understand was that everyone around me was seeing their own concept of me, which was only fueled by the fact that my manner changed according to subconsciously perceived expectations and needs. I both willingly and unwillingly became everyone’s show pony, changing voices, changing mannerisms and gestures, even my interests and preferences. Perhaps it was my fault, but no one saw me. As one psychiatrist called it, I became a victim of projective identity, where one person sees me as an extension or mirror of themselves. I became a concept, a blank object.

This form of dehumanization is one of the more nefarious forms because rather than hate as in demonization and thus torture and elimination of a people or group, this form of dehumanization is based on love and adoration. It’s seen as good or well-intended. It’s the classic case of good intentions making things worse, and growing up, looking this adoration and love in the face, it’s absolutely terrifying. The person will not comprehend the deprivation of dignity and self-respect it inflicts on the person in front of them. In the most extreme case, it’s like having the adoration of a creep. Who wants to be stalked, harassed or scared of someone who can’t see them, forcing their affections on them?

For many people, this form of dehumanization is only recognized in the case of a stalker. I saw it all the time in the eyes of classmates and family members. Their feelings and sentiments were so strong, I was so scared that I allowed them to say and do whatever they wanted. There was no point in telling them upfront because they would vehemently deny it. I’ve seen people who love, care and adore me turn on me. I’ve experienced how the need to protect has resulted in explosive rage, or how the need to be good and prove one’s self has resulted in denying my humanity or self-worth. Love so easily turns into hate and among children, by other children and adults, retaliation means hurting, humiliating, guilting or abandoning them. In their minds, even if they’re not aware, this person is thinking something along the lines of “How can my love and adoration be wrong, if I’m thinking in your best interests, or if I would follow your every command?” They were all so blind, and that blindness justified their actions.

But do you know what actually justifies this behavior and allows it to slip by unnoticed? For someone who is not scared or scarred by adverse experiences, such love and adoration are usually endearing because the dehumanized individual loves or likes the person dehumanizing them. It becomes a trade-off and it’s not dehumanizing because they’re even. It’s annoying, nosy but ever lovable so-and-so, and you do it to me, I do it to you. That’s how we love each other. It becomes permissible and so can be overlooked. It’s only noticed once the dehumanized individual realizes that they don’t like the things being bought for them or that the things being said to them have nothing to do with them.

Why warn and threaten a teenage girl against pregnancy if she only attends school and has no relationships once classes end?

Why yell at a teenage boy for slacking off, being stupid and having no future, if all he does is study and his grades are five percent off perfect?

The most easily dehumanized individuals are usually the most vulnerable, namely children, the disabled or homeless. Rather than physically hurt them or get rid of them, they are ridiculed, shamed and treated as different, whether that’s to accommodate them or ostracize them. There was one cartoon I remember seeing where a man was fixing the stairs, rather than the ramp. When a boy in a wheelchair asked him to fix the ramp, the man said he had to fix the stairs so the other children could get by. The boy in the wheelchair pointed out that if he fixed the ramp, then everyone could get by. The same can actually be seen in the way parents think of parenting. They must protect the child and ensure a happy, safe childhood. So when can the child think and speak for themselves? Some mothers will argue that their daughter or son will always be their child or baby. Depending on the mother’s execution of that thought, it can remove their child’s sense of self and their capacity for independence. Just considering this last example, it’s easy to see how easily it becomes so murky and how crossing the line can be incomprehensible, especially for the one who thinks that way. Now, need I mention how the mental process of dehumanization works against the homeless?

Last, there is another form of dehumanization, which is the conception of the Other. This form of dehumanization is most often seen between different cultures, languages, religions and orientations. An individual may be inclined to generalize their observations and understanding to the whole group. This is much as generalizing a person’s identity. However, it’s different as it manifests in sensitivity with one extreme being hypersensitive, or vigilant, to lacking any sensitivity, or indifferent. Warriors of justice can be accused of this kind of dehumanization when they go too far for the sake of equality or respect of other people’s beliefs. They speak up, impose or oppose rules based on their limited understanding of what it actually means to accommodate people of a different culture, language, religion or orientation. Assuming these people can’t speak for themselves at all, because they have been silenced or cannot be understood, warriors of justice take the helm to ensure everyone is treated fairly. However, standardization and averages are policies and beliefs that serve and respect no one. There is no average or normal among people, only a generalized perception, and so between different cultures, languages, religions and orientations, this is even more so the case. There are innumerable examples where social justice has resulted in division and resentment, not of the warriors of justice but of the people they were fighting for.

Regarding the racial divide in the US, it’s interchangeably the first and last forms mentioned here, when a person is generalized and when a person is regarded as the Other. In the fight for better treatment and fair chances for African Americans, though the movement claims that it’s for all people of color, there are those among colored people who resent either the movement or African Americans because of what’s happening and who the country is not changing for. While watching the news and listening to the discussions both in media and around me, I personally find myself shaking my head. Everything is so broad and generalized. Changing a country and its full legal system is, by its nature, a process that involves mass generalization at levels of governance for the nation, state, county and city. This said, I don’t know how not to generalize every facet of this issue, and it’s a sensitive topic to be addressing. All I know is that there is no ideal that can encompass the reality. For the general state and welfare for people of color to drastically improve, it really will take a designing a system that acknowledges each and every individual, just as our current system dehumanizes each and every individual in the whole of this country, even the privileged, more likely to be rich or to get a better paying job among so-called whites.

Many things we as humans have setup and designed have the inherent aspect of turning generalization into dehumanization, and I have no solution or thoughts about that at the moment. For now, these are only some ways that people dehumanize others in their daily lives. Just as I don’t have answers, I doubt I’ve seen all the ways a person could be considered or treated as less than human, or considered or treated less than themselves.

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Sm Kou

Since this is a bio, I was born, I’m living and I’m going to die. Perhaps one day, I’ll think of something more optimistic but today, I’m a little tired.