During the Holocaust, the Nazis referred to Jews as Untermenschen, meaning “subhuman.” Most people fail to realize that by saying this, they were not implying that Jews were less than them, they were literally saying that Jewish people were created as a lesser race. Using this philosophy made it seem acceptable for the Nazis to persecute the Jews as if they were animals.
The millions of Germans who grew to become Nazis were brainwashed and conditioned into believing this, easing their conscience of guilt, because the Jews were not considered an equal race.
This tactic has recently been used as a form of hatred, and in some cases, as far as conversational humor or even memes on the internet, against minorities.
“Bitch”, “oriental”, “[negro]”; these terms are said carelessly while the person on the receiving end and others wince and become uncomfortable from even hearing it. As unhinging as these terms can be, they are thrown around in everyday conversation in schools, offices, and on the street, as if they mean nothing.
Using these terms to make light of a situation is not only unnecessary, but damaging. Every time one of these words is directed at a minority, they are knocked down a little more, whether they know it or not.
Calling blacks [negro], or Asians “oriental” or women “bitch,” and then oppressing them as people today are doing, is just the first step toward a dark path that America is heading back down fast.
To prevent this from happening, society must truly think before throwing slurs around, even in a humorous sense.
Regarding what has happened recently with DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), confusion is left surrounding the term “illegal immigrants”. Though, just because an action is illegal does not mean the person who committed it is illegal.
The term “illegal immigrant” actually wasn’t used to describe a population of people until World War II when the media began using it to describe the Jewish running to Palestine without authorization.
“You who are so-called illegal aliens must know that no human being is illegal. That is a contradiction in terms. Human beings can be beautiful or more beautiful, they can be fat or skinny, they can be right or wrong, but illegal? How can a human being be illegal?” Noble Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said.
With millions of immigrants living in the United States, politicians wonder what to call them. Republicans lean towards “illegal”, which is dehumanizing, and democrats lean towards “undocumented”, but author of OC Weekly Gustavo Arellano asks, “Why don’t we just call them immigrants? That is what they are, whether they’re undocumented or not.”
“We don’t call pedestrians who cross in the middle of the road illegal pedestrians,” linguist and professor Otto Santa Ana said. “A kid who skips school to go to Disneyland is not an illegal student. And yet that’s a sort of parallel.”
The dehumanizing nature humans have adopted is not limited to any group of minorities.
There are two types of dehumanization used against women. One that has a sex-based connotation, animalistic, and another in which a woman is presented in a beauty-based manner, mechanistic.
In mechanistic dehumanization, there is a denial of the central human aspects like warmth, individuality, and depth, leaving the target to seem cold and superficial. The physical features of the target are “separated” from the target’s mind, and value is only attached to the body, leaving it as something less than a human, because they are “without” a brain.
In animalistic dehumanization, the target is related to an animal. It involves the denial of human traits like logic, morality, maturity, civility, and refinement, while forcing the target to be seen as uncultured, childlike, and instinct-driven. The target is now viewed viewed as lacking in strong intelligence and emotional abilities, transforming it into a “lower life forms”. Once this part of the process is complete, persons will have a trigger reaction of disgust as a direct response to the “animal”. This leads to serious aggression and harassment.
Although these forms of dehumanization happen often, they are not usually intended.
“Dehumanization most commonly occurs on the fringes of consciousness, given that most prejudice forms unconsciously due to the knowledge of stereotypes concerning specific minority groups.” psychologist Phillip Atiba Goff said in his paper, Not Yet Human: Implicit Knowledge, Historical Dehumanization, and Contemporary Consequences.
The process of dehumanization begins with normalized concepts such as sexism and objectification. A man will see a woman on the street and think something about her body, before he can stop himself, but he won’t think anything of it, and might go as far as to mention the woman to a friend later on. He will not think anything of it as he does it, because in this society, it is normal. To have something that starts a process ending in harm and harassment be normal, is simply terrifying, and to live in a world where the citizens do not see the problem that desperately needs to be resolved, is disgusting.