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The 5 Steps of Dehumanization

The psychology of racism and discrimination.

Today's guest blogger is my daughter, Clara Riggio.

In our day and age, shootings, hate crimes, and violence have become normalized, everyday occurrences. While some of these violent acts have no obvious motive, many are attributable to racism, anti-Semitism, and prejudice. Although the targets of this hatred may change over the years, there seems to always be some sort of mass prejudice against minorities held by majorities. One tactic that has been used throughout history is dehumanization, or the process of depriving an individual of human qualities.

1. Hinting at the subpar intelligence or morality of a group
In order for a minority group to become ostracized, the ego of the majority has to be assured of its own greatness. The majority needs to confirm that every other group is inferior. One way is to make the group seem less “evolved.” In a study by Kteily, Waytz, Cotterill, and Bruneau (2015), participants were given the picture of “The Ascent of Man” and were instructed to show, using a slider, how evolved each group was. While it would seem common knowledge that every individual on Earth is representative of the “fully evolved” man, many Americans placed groups like Arabs and Muslims multiple points lower than themselves.

2. The use of infestation analogies
The majority group must be made to feel like this minority is a threat to their health or safety in some way. A prime example of this is Trump’s language used when discussing illegal immigrants (specifically from Mexico). “Democrats are the problem. They don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our country, like MS-13.” The use of “infest” and “pour into” make the American people feel unsafe and make them feel as though a large number of these gang members are attempting to invade the country.

3. References and comparisons to animals
This is a well-known tactic that was used primarily in the Holocaust. Jews were often compared to rats in various forms of propaganda, including art pieces, posters, films (The Eternal Jew), and in speeches from prominent Nazis throughout the Third Reich. This, again, makes the majority group feel like the minority is sub-human and inferior, allowing them to become more disposable.

4. Threats of violence
This is where the dehumanization turns from a prejudicial issue to a precursor for violence and danger. When a group is encouraged by a leader or fellow group member to become violent with the dehumanized group, they will often follow blindly. Because they have been primed with the idea that these individuals are inhuman, there seems to be little regard for morality and consequence. This type of incitement is seen through another Trump quote while discussing the gang MS-13. Trump stated, ”When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just seen them thrown in, rough. I said, 'Please don’t be too nice.’” This quote, directed at the law enforcement of the U.S., shows that violence against these individuals is totally OK. In fact, it is endorsed by our president.

5. The removal of the group from society
Last but not least is the most drastic step in the process. This step can be carried out in various ways including deportation, the use of camps, or the development of ghettos (seen historically throughout Poland and other European countries during the Third Reich). This step simply verifies to the majority that these group members are dangerous and subhuman and that they deserve to be confined or removed.

Our planet has undergone many changes throughout the past century and since the Holocaust, but our instinct to separate ourselves from other groups is still wildly apparent, especially in the United States. While this country continues to fight for a diverse and accepting nation of equality, we are far from that reality.

Clara Riggio is a first-year student at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington and a recent graduate of Claremont High School in Claremont, California. She hopes to continue her studies in psychology and one day hopes to work in a field in which she is able to help improve the lives of marginalized children around the world.

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