The other day I was cleaning chicken and stopped cold when I realized there were still feathers on the piece I was handling. It hit me that this piece of flesh had at one time been a live animal. It had been killed – for people to eat, yes, but also to help someone make money. This had been a live being, but I considered it a thing, put here to help feed me and make me comfortable.
I put the piece of chicken down.
It hit me that the way I looked at that piece of flesh was the way many people look at people of color. People of color are dehumanized; we are looked upon as objects, not subjects; we are “it” and not “thou.” We are dispensable. We are nothing in the eyes of people in power.
I thought of those few agonized moments when I learned that the jury in the trial of Philando Castile had acquitted the police officer who killed him in cold blood. To that officer, Castile was not a man, a human being with feelings and emotions. Castile was not someone of worth. He was an object, and objects cannot feel and do not matter in the scheme of things. Objects are put here to satisfy human beings. Period.
It didn’t matter that Castile had done nothing wrong, except, perhaps, offer a slight challenge to a police officer. It didn’t matter that he had a gun legally and told the police officer that he had it. It didn’t matter. The police officer looked at Castile as an object which threatened his life and shot him dead in front of his girlfriend and a child.
If Castile and his girlfriend and the child in the car had been considered to be human, the reaction to this incident would have been different. How heinous is it that a police officer overreacts and kills a man in front of a child? Had Castile been considered to be a human being, as well as his girlfriend and children, the incident would have been considered to be barbaric.
But when a person is considered to be an object, barbarism is transferred to the victim of the hatred and bigotry leveled against him or her. Objects do not matter.
Those who consider certain people to be objects are ill; they cannot empathize or connect with those whom society has classified as “object.” Objects are like the chickens that are raised and slaughtered for the pleasure of the subjects who raise them. Objects have a purpose: to attend to the needs and desires of the subjects.
Objects, i.e., black people, are not allowed to do what the subjects do. Young boys like Tamir Rice cannot have toy guns; they will be shot down. People who have possession of legal firearms, like Philando Castile, are still considered to be in violation of the law and worthy to be afraid of. Young men who live in gated communities, coming home after buying something from a convenience store, are not allowed the luxury of doing that; they can be shot down and killed, and a jury will side with the killer.
Objects are not human. They deserve anything they get.
I could not eat the chicken that I fixed that day. I kept thinking about how I had come face to face with what dehumanization is. The chicken was not human, no, but it had been living and now it was dead, killed by “subjects” for their own pleasure.
Rudyard Kipling wrote “The White Man’s Burden” as a means of describing the “burden” of dealing with people of color as this nation continued its imperialistic trajectory. He called people of color “half-devil and half-child.” It was the white man’s burden to deal with the dross of society, but he was clear: these people of color were not human, but were some subhuman species which had to be “dealt with,” not respected and listened to. These people of color, objects, were in the way of American imperialism.
There is a realization here: people of color are not the burden. It is those who dehumanize others who are the burden, a burden which is destroying the very fabric of this world.