Dehumanization Starts By Not Valuing Our Voices


By Phoenix Calida

When a group higher up the social ladder tells a another group what is appropriate to complain about, there’s a something disturbing happening. 

It’s reinforcing the idea that “inferior” groups lack mental acuity and the right to autonomy. It’s reinforcement of the social hierarchy by pretending that all inferior groups cannot be trusted to speak truth, make rational observations, and therefore, must be infantalized and spoken over.

When men tell women what is or isn’t sexist, they’re really saying “I can’t trust your judgement, let me dictate how you should feel about my behavior, because I know best.” This dovetails perfectly with the other misogynistic messages in society- Women are inherently untrustworthy. Women are emotionally frail. Men are rational and strong and need to be the decision makers, because women are incompetent. Hence, we can’t trust women to correctly or truthfully recount storied of sexual harassment or abuse.

When white people try to dictate the terms of racism, they’re really reinforcing the stereotype that people of color are stupid and unable to understand complex social ideas. We people of color are perfectly capable of understanding that police target white people sometimes. BUT our direct life experience- validated by statistics- notes that police are more likely to target us than white people. Yet we can’t be trusted to speak truth on that, and the white saviors must strip our autonomy and save us from ourselves, and convince us we’re post racial.

It happens again and again in regards to the lgtbqia, the poor, the disabled, and the otherwise disenfranchised or marginalized. Those with more privilege speak over us, and in doing so, they reaffirm the social constructs that excluded us from mainstream equality in the first place. Speaking over our experiences isn’t just dismissive, it’s malevolent. Keeping those social heriarchies in place isn’t just mean, it’s murder. We die because these social heriarchies teach people not to value our lives. And that dehumanization starts with n0t valuing our voices and stories.
Think about it.

2 thoughts on “Dehumanization Starts By Not Valuing Our Voices”

  1. The power of a narcissistic voice takes many forms. It is also mirrored here in Kafka’s letter to his father “… you had unbounded confidence in your opinion. That was not yet so dazzling for me as a child as later for the boy growing up. From your armchair you ruled the world. Your opinion was correct, every other was mad, wild, meshugge, not normal. Your self-confidence indeed was so great that you had no need to be consistent at all and yet never ceased to be in the right. It did sometimes happen that you had no opinion whatsoever about a matter and as a result all opinions that were at all possible with respect to the matter were necessarily wrong, without exception. You were capable, for instance, of running down the Czechs, and then the Germans, and then the Jews, and what is more, not only selectively but in every respect, and finally nobody was left except yourself. For me you took on the enigmatic quality that all tyrants have whose rights are based on their person and not on reason.”

  2. It’s interesting, too, to consider how Calida’s main points here bear on less obvious forms of silencing that take place in specific social and professional contexts with other, less obvious social ladders and power differentials in play. What Calida is saying also applies to minority opinion groups of many kinds in various settings. In academe, for example, there is the problem of “career killing” and “credibility killing” inquiries that are kept off the map of respectable open discussion. The phenomenon of topics that are really or at least supposedly “career killing” is present in many professions: in journalism, medicine, the sciences, etc. Persons who openly pursue such topics run the risk of forms of stigmatization that can be truly dehumanizing or infantilizing. The phenomenon tends to be self-perpetuating, even when persons in senior positions of relative power and influence within institutions privately believe that some of the taboo topics merit serious investigation. It’s often hard to tell how much of this is the result of a “spiral of silence” phenomenon and how much of it results from deliberate, conscious policing and enforcement by persons in positions of power within institutions. Each of us (myself included, certainly) should reflect on the possibility that we ourselves may participate in forms of silencing with little or no awareness that we do so.

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