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.
It seems that when you are born in an area stricken by poverty or an area with a high concentration of low income workers, there is an unspoken contract that you consent to. It states that if you are fortunate enough to move beyond the status quo, you have an obligation to assist others in their journey out of poverty. In other words, if you are one of the proverbial plants who manage to grow out of concrete, you do not simply stretch your roots out and enjoy the sun; instead, once you have made a hole or crack in the seemingly impenetrable barricade that is poverty, you move to the side and let others attempt to come through your hole in order to grasp at some sunshine for themselves.
I say that it is unspoken, but that is not true. It will be spoken of if you do not abide by this contract. Some people will be bold enough to come out and say that you should help them because you made it and it is the right thing to do, while others will insist you owe them something because they “knew you when.” Some will mask their endeavors towards riding your coattails in phrases such as: “you are not the same ” or they lament how much you have changed.
I do not agree with these notions. I believe that if you make it into a better position and life and choose to use that position to give back to others, then that makes you a wonderful person. If you choose to donate to hospitals, schools, your local outreach program, etc., that is great. You are putting money, effort, and/or time into a system that you existed in for quite some time. However, you do not owe a job to “Joe Blow” down the street because he gave you a birthday card when you were eight.
People who are in no way qualified or people who will be a detriment to what you have made for yourself will not care that they are these things. “Joe Blow” could not keep a job at McDonald’s, he/she was always late and unnecessarily took days off. Now he/she wants employment at your place of business. What do you do? Armed with an understanding of their conditions and how difficult it would be for them to transition to where you are without your help, do you give in? Do you just “give them a chance”? I mean “come on mane, everybody needs a chance.” “Some one had to give you one, right?”
To tie this into what we have covered in class with the film Hustle & Flow, I do not believe that Skinny Black owed it to DJay (spell it right) to listen to his cassette. I know many people see it as just a listen, but that is looking at it with rose colored glasses. DJay was invited to the party for other business and tried to pimp Skinny Black. He sat down at his table after convincing himself that they were in some way friends because he had heard of him. He played up this imagined friendship not out of admiration, but because he wanted something from Skinny Black. Skinny Black owes him no listen and could have felt slighted by the move. Think about it. You sit down and begin to converse with what you think is someone who likes you for who you are and not what you have and then they reveal their ulterior motives.
Did DJay support Skinny Black by buying his mixtape? Yes, but so did a thousand other people, hence his fame. Does he owe something to each and every one of them? No? Then why does he have to give anything to DJay specifically? He is not his brother’s keeper, nor is he the keeper of some guy down the street who saw him in the hallway of the local high school sometimes.