Dehumanizing the Negro

Dehumanization is the act of removing humanness from individuals by denying them things such as individuality, compassion, and civility. Part of the process involves instilling a sense of otherness and animalistic tendencies. For example, starving your subjects to the point where they gorge on sustenance once they receive it. Doing so in a public display allows you to point out their barbaric ways and let others bear witness.  A pivotal scene in the modern film Django Unchained allows us a glimpse into the minds of those that tried to justify the enslavement of fellow human beings. Leonardo DiCaprio used a ball pein hammer to crack a skull and point out the ridges in it that indicated African Americans were predisposed to submission. Phrenology and other pseudosciences gave way to an era of scientific racism and a general effort to prove through hard facts that not only were blacks inferior, but those of European ancestry were superior to every race. It was believed that other races did not feel pain as Europeans did and it was used to justify the harsh treatments of natives during British imperialism.

The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment is one of the most well documented cases of such efforts. Scientists recruited the already infected  and newly infected some African American men. They were told they were receiving free health care and being treated for bad blood (another name for anemia at the time). The scientists even made efforts to prevent them from receiving treatment from other health facilities so that they could study the full effects o the disease. Although the men were not notified of their infected status, doctors used the information gained from the study to say that African Americans were so hyper-sexual, that they readily slept with diseased individuals. They allowed the men to freely pass on the disease to their wives and in turn their children. Each fact poised by scientists helped to further justify the mistreatment of African Americans and ignore their needs for a society in which they are not only equal, but human.

In the book “Dying in the City of Blues,” sickle cell anemia is ignored and passed off as a black disease or a consequence of living on the river. It is often referred to as “the shakes,” “the ager,” or “the fever.”  People were pushed into tight communities in order to contain it’s spread. It’s not until the disease can be profited from and the looming threat of integration, that it receives the attention it deserves. For a long time, African Americans had become accustomed to suffering in silence and had a learned distrust of the U.S. healthcare system. Sickle Cell Anemia becomes synonymous with the ignoring of the plight and struggles of Black Americans.  Pain and diseases were allowed to ravage the black community because they weren’t worth the effort to treat. They were a dirty thing that would continue to spread diseases amongst one another. The dehumanization of Black Americans has served an important role in the rationalization of their treatment and mistreatment.

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