If you are a Black, Brown, and/or Muslim person who has been following the news lately of the murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling by the police and the increased aggression and attacks targeted towards Muslims and Brown people across the country following the Orlando shootings, then you've probably regrettably listened in on the various talking points made by white people and media pundits meant to absolve the offending officers and Islamophobes from any responsibility. You've also probably found yourself struggling to understand the realities of anti-Black racism (the distinction I'm making of anti-black racism to general racism is important for the following discussion) and Islamophobia.
To fully comprehend anti-Black racism and Islamophobia, it is necessary to understand their link with dehumanization. Dehumanization is a well documented phenomenon in the field of psychology and it negatively impacts many groups of people. Dehumanization is to perceive an individual or group of people as being less than human by denying them emotions or feelings that generally separate humans from animals (such as empathy and grief). Essentially, it is a denial of the humanness of an out-group (a group of people that an individual does not believe they share an identity with). Dehumanization distinguishes itself from prejudice in that dehumanization enables the in-group to sanction extreme violence against the dehumanized group, such as the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide and slavery.
For example, prejudice would be to dislike a group of people because you believe they are all inherently better at a certain school subject than you are and thus you treat them disrespectfully and maliciously (which would be wrong and oppressive); dehumanization would necessitate that you'd either directly participate in, or turn a blind eye to/make excuses for, or approve of violence done against this group of people as a result of your prejudice. This distinction needs to be internalized because although many groups of people in America do experience prejudice and racism, not all of them are being dehumanized.
An example of the subtle ways in which White America dehumanizes Black people
Often times the process of dehumanization begins by associating the out-group with an animal or a faceless monster that lacks any human-like qualities, much in the same way that Jews were caricatured as rats by the Nazis, Black people historically characterized as being apelike in America, and Muslims repeatedly being depicted as bloodthirsty brutes in the media. When people outwardly express their belief that the dehumanized group is less than human, this is called blatant dehumanization. In a study done by a team of researchers in Northwestern University, it was found that Blacks, Arabs, and Muslims were all blatantly dehumanized by Americans. They tested for blatant dehumanization by using an evolutionary scale (known as the Ascent of Man) that illustrated the evolution of man, from ape to modern human being, and requested participants to place each racial group on the scale in accordance with how evolved they perceived them. Consistently, Arabs, Muslims, and Black people were placed closer to the ape side than the human side, indicating that people perceived these groups as being less than human. In other words, the contention by many Black and Brown people that Americans seem to care more about the death of a lion or gorilla than they do the deaths of black and brown people has a scientific basis to it.
Ascent of Man graphic that researchers used to test for Blatant Dehumanization
Even scarier than people legitimately believing that black and brown people are less evolved than extinct bi-pedaled species, is the effects such dehumanization has on the perceptions of the dehumanized group. In another study done to examine the effects of dehumanization on the perception of black children, researchers found that black children were afforded less protections given to children of other races by Americans. Black children were also seen as less innocent than children of other races beginning at the age of 10. In other words, black children after the age of 10 were being given less excuses and higher standards for responsibility over their actions than any other child. The researchers even noted that the perceived innocence of black children between the ages of 14-17 was equivalent to that of non black adults at the ages of 18-21. The implications of such a result are horrifying considering that children are largely considered a class of people who are generally innocent and require protection.
However, the dismal reality for black people doesn't end there. In a follow-up study the researchers asked a second group of participants questions regarding the culpability of black children in criminal justice contexts (where a child is suspected of committing a crime) where it was found that once again black children were held to higher standards and thought to be more culpable of their actions than children of other races. Furthermore, when suspected of a crime, black children were perceived as being 4.5 years older than their actual age after the age of 10. In essence, a 13 year old would be viewed the same as an adult in the context of criminal justice.
They went on to extend the study to test whether police officers had the same biases and perceptions. What they found confirms what many black people have been saying for a very long time. Police officers are just as overestimate black children's ages by 4.5 years while not exhibiting the same shortcomings with other races. These results correlated with the dehumanization of black people by the participants. The researchers noted that this perception of black children was unique to black children as opposed to other out-groups, such as Latinos, due to the overall dehumanization of black people and the stereotypical linking of the black population to criminal and violent behavior (think Hillary Clinton's Super Predator comments).
This should come to no surprise to anyone who has had the displeasure of engaging in conversation with many closeted bigots regarding the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and Michael Brown. The most common arguments you'll likely hear from these people is that all of these boys were older than they looked due to their height and/or body build and thus the increased aggression shown by their murderers was justified. It's almost unheard of to these people that a 12 year old boy in Tamir Rice could be 5'7 tall, as if they had never had classmates in the 7th or 8th grade that were just as tall and as if height has anything to do with maturity and culpability. They justify his death by claiming that although he was a 12 year old boy playing with a toy gun, he looked older than his age and thus the police officers who killed him reacted appropriately because they perceived that he was older than he was (see where I'm going with this?). Mike Brown was described in dehumanizing terms "like a demon" that "grunts" and "bulking up to run through (gun)shots" by his murderer, Darren Wilson, as if Brown were a battle hardened super-villain and not an 18 year old teen.
From Left to Right: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice, remember their names.
The narrative is so common and predictable that Darren Wilson and George Zimmerman described their victims in nearly the exact same way. It's not far-fetched considering the scientific evidence, to say that the dehumanization of these black teenagers contributed directly to the their deaths at the hands of violent man who over-exaggerated the sequence of events and over-estimated the threat to their lives these teens posed as a result of their biased and dehumanizing perceptions of them. It is difficult to find any instance of a 17 or 18 year old white boy described in the same manner that Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown were by their aggressors, even in cases of violent confrontations. Those are descriptors usually reserved for serial killers and extremely violent individuals, none of which Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin were.
What Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, and Tamir Rice shared in common was that their deaths were directly tied to a presumption that they were engaged in a crime prior to their encounters with their aggressors. The dehumanization of them as black adolescents manifested in this way due to the association of blackness with crime. Likewise, Islamophobia is directly linked to terrorism and the misconception that terrorism is uniquely linked to Islam and Muslims. In the previously mentioned Northwestern University study, researchers found that blatant dehumanization of Muslims correlated with less compassion for Arabs that experienced an injustice, less money donated to an Arab versus an American cause, and less support for Arab immigration. Americans were also more likely to support drone strikes, torture programs, and policies that negatively impacted Muslims following instances that increased blatant dehumanization of Muslims (such as a recent report of a terror attack). All of these outcomes are directly contingent on the linkage of Arabs and Muslims with terrorism.
Arabs that experience an injustice are not treated with compassion because they are seen as aggressors and portrayed as being inhumane, impassioned, and womanizing due to the stereotypical portrayal of Arabs as war-mongering terrorists willing to die for 72 virgins, and thus Arabs are merely reaping what they've sown when they are victimized. A recent example of this is a case of a violent assault that took place in Brooklyn involving an MMA fighter and a 16 and 17 year old boy. Many eye-witnesses and the victims have asserted that the assaulter aggressively approached and beat on the victims with no feasible cause while they were standing outside of a mosque while shouting "terrorists" , yet the NYPD has repeatedly stated that they would not investigate this instance as a hate crime. Instead of siding with the story of the victims, many media outlets and the NYPD have instead decided to align with the alleged story of the assaulter, which claims that the two boys were hitting on his girlfriend for 30 minutes straight.
One can immediately draw parallels to the case of Emmett Till, wherein he was lynched a mob of white men because he allegedly whistled at a white woman. Although the outcome was nowhere near as severe, the implications of the story are all too indicative of the reluctance of the media and the police to give the victims their due rights and instead they'd rather engage in character assassination and subtle victim blaming for the occurrence (such as this passive aggressive article published by the Daily News).
In similar fashion to cases of victimized Arabs, Arab causes receive less money in donations from Americans due to the demonetization of Arabs as a collective people have leading many to view any instance of Arab progression or self-determination as threatening or unsavory. The struggle for the liberation of Palestine is an obvious example of how this manifests. The very real oppression the Palestinians undergo on a daily basis is belittled by the constant conflation of Palestinians with barbaric terrorists and the categorization of Hamas as a terrorist organization as opposed to the democratically elected government entity that it is, which happens to engage in arguably violent behavior. As a result, supporting such a cause would be seen as antithetical to America's interests in the context of the War on Terror, where America is at war with "terrorism" (read: Muslims and Arabs).
Palestinian and Black solidarity
Arab immigration is also something that has been directly implicated with terrorism; Syrian refugees have been repeatedly scapegoated by both Europeans and Americans as being exporters of terrorism following any ISIS inspired attack. Although the issue is more pertinent in the EU and UK, one need not look further than comments made by Donald Trump, to recognize that this is a problem not restricted outside of America's borders.
These studies merely scratch the surface of the impacts that dehumanization has on the dehumanized group. Unfortunately, most research that has been done on the topic has been focused on the dehumanizing group and why they perpetuate the dehumanization of another group. Only recently have there been more studies dedicated to understanding the effects such attitudes have on the dehumanized groups.
Nonetheless, the science behind this topic is important. Attaining access to quantifiable data that justifies the anger of every single black and brown voice and ally that cries out the names of Philandro Castile, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice and chants Free Palestine, justice for Abdulrahman al Awlaki, an end to the war of Iraq, and the closing of Guantanamo Bay etc. is not only empowering, but relieving as well. It allows for those recruiting others to the movement to weed out the potential allies from the bigoted contrarians. Never again can a person claim that they refuse to believe your lived experiences because there is no statistical or scientific basis to actualize them. The intellectual fluff that many would hide behind is no longer a feasible strategy. Eventually the racism that is well hidden amongst the American population won't have any space left to remain concealed, cognitive dissonance too has its limits.
Unfortunately, being dehumanized doesn't allow for one to wait for things to get better. Proactive resistance is integral for survival when dehumanization insinuates that at some point in time those perpetuating your non-humanness will engage in public campaigns to call for the death of your people. It is because of this dark impending timeline that all doubts must be abandoned. Now is not the time to retreat due to a lack of conviction.
There is video proof, there is scientific proof, there is a unified voice saying "Our lives don't matter to you." Now is the time to liberate yourself from doubt, that thought we all get when we're making our voices heard and become discouraged when it feels like you're looked at as a crazy or unintelligible person; "maybe I'm wrong." You're not wrong, and you never were.