On Dehumanization

I’ve been thinking a lot about the violence of dehumanization lately. About the ways in which I have experienced it and do experience it almost everyday.

How it is one of the most formative and foundational experiences I have known, And how because of that, I have allowed it and I have perpetuated it against myself, never really knowing any other kind of existence until now.

I’ve been thinking about how I have participated in the dehumanization of others. How white supremacy and patriarchy and capitalism require it.

And how insidious it is. And how few people see it, most especially those of us who benefit from it. And mostly it’s a willful refusing to see.

And how it can hide in plain sight. And how we call it things like healthcare and all manner of “help” and prison and police and school and adoption and so we are dehumanized and we dehumanize without without our consent and without always being aware.


I’ve been thinking about how for me it started in childhood.

How years of severe abuse and neglect and having parents who couldn’t see me as separate from themselves, as human and fully-formed and belonging to myself, likely because they had never known themselves as human, made me less likely to notice when others followed suit.

How being fat and not conventionally attractive now means being invisible, except when I’m not; means going unseen, except when I don’t.

Except when it means becoming a target for judgement for assumptions, for unsolicited, unwanted and unhelpful commentary, for open, unchecked hostility and contempt.

There are times when I see it, the realization, come across some people’s faces, when I am talking, that i might actually be an intelligent human being. I can literally see it..their shock and surprise give them away.

And it sometimes makes them want to connect, but then I hate them. I resent them, for having had to convince them of my humanity, for being so transparent.

And I imagine this is how people of color feel about white people.

People who see me right off the bat are rare. The most rare treasures. And so I make sure to say thank you. Because if I don’t, they might stop.


I keep thinking about how it wasn’t the experience of being dehumanized that made me see it so clearly now. No, it was the opposite. Having more recent experiences of being humanized and believed and heard and seen have awakened me more fully to the ways in which I have not.

I have been thinking about how being humanized can, at once, feel like such a relief and feel validating and comforting


provoke the deepest grief for all of the time and the ways in which I haven’t been seen as nor known myself to be human.


And I wonder if it’s possible to create a world where ALL are seen and heard and believed and therefore assumed to be human before they are not.

I wonder if it’s possible to create a world where each person’s humanity is the default position from which we approach.

I wonder if it’s possible to create a world where no one has to convince another of their own humanity


[Photo by Jean Skeels @jmskeels]

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