From the moment of birth, people are bombarded with images and instructions on how they should grow up to be. Adults, mainly parents and teachers, as well as the media, discipline young children on how to behave to comply with the social norms. Whatever fits the social norms is considered to be natural and should be treated as being “human”. However, once an individual’s presupposition of what it means to be human is challenged, the individual’s sense of justice is skewed. This distorted perspective often leads to dehumanization of marginalized people and, ultimately, violence against them.
One of the many emerging problems of today’s society includes violence against transgender women, especially against trans women of colour. In western society, the binary gender system, which views gender with two rigid options of male and female, both of which are grounded in a person’s physical anatomy, has deeply rooted into its culture (Gender Spectrum). When such preconceived notion is questioned, for example by transgenders, individuals do not consider transgenders to be fit for society, justifying their violence against them.
Laverne Cox, who is best known for her role in the Netflix television series Orange is the New Black, shares her unjust experiences as being a Black trans woman in the United States.
“… these found me attractive, because I’m a woman. Then they realized that I was trans and it became something else.” (Cox)
The black and the Latin men expected to see a woman, but when they realized that Laverne was trans, their reaction immediately changed. It is not to say that catcalling is appropriate even if Laverne were not a transgender. However, when their expectation is overthrown by the fact that Laverne is transgender, they have dehumanized her into either the “b word” or the “n word”. Laverne is no longer considered a respectable human being, but rather a target for sexual harassment, which could have easily turned into physical violence.
It is also important to be aware that dehumanization occurs not only to transgenders, but also to all minorities, such as women, people of colour, including indigenous peoples, and disabled people.
Objectification of women is widely found in mass media and is deeply embedded in men’s socialization to value women less than men. Women are treated as properties, thus dehumanizing them, which creates an environment prone to violence, such as domestic violence (Porter).
Similarly, the European settlers’ definition of being human is being white and Christian. By using the term ‘savages’ to categorize First Nations, they dehumanize the indigenous people and attempt to justify treating them as less than human (Newcomb). Residential schools and mass murder of indigenous women are the results of such legitimization of violence.
Furthermore, social construction that privileges able bodies creates a contrast with the disabled people and illustrates them to be inferior. The disabled bodies or minds are depicted as being flawed and in need of repair. Such perspective further dehumanizes them and normalizes unjust treatments against them, which can at times be in forms of violence.
Unfortunately, none of the violence mentioned above stand alone in reality. Focusing on Laverne Cox’s speech again, this is what she describes her street harassment as:
“That moment when I was called the b or the n word, it was a moment where misogyny was intersecting with trans-phobia, was intersecting with some racist stuff.” (Cox)
Even though it is violence against one person, the underlying motive for such animosity targets Laverne’s various labels she carries as a black trans woman. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the intersecting nature and the overlapping root cause of violence against marginalized people.
It is easy to dismiss violence and oppression as few extreme cases. However, those positioned higher in the social hierarchy are systemically made unaware of their privileges (McIntosh). By disregarding these brutalities can contribute to the social norms that further condone such dehumanizing outlook on marginalized people.
For those reasons, acknowledgement and action from the privileged are crucial in preventing violence against marginalized people. However, this proposal is far from suggesting that the marginalized have no accountability. There are far more people who do not fall under the “perfect model” that society creates. If they can relate their experience as a marginalized person to certain privileges they may also possess, they can better understand the process of how their distorted perspective on marginalized people affects their behaviour towards them.
As Dr. Cornel West once said,
“…justice is what love looks like in public.” (West)
In order to bring justice, every person needs to deconstruct and reformulate the social norms, in a loving manner, so that they encompass and embody marginalized characteristics as simply being human.
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Cox, Laverne. “Laverne Cox Explains the Intersection of Transphobia, Racism, and Misogyny (And What to Do About It).” 7 December 2014. Everyday Feminism. 8th March 2015. <http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/12/laverne-cox-intersection-what-to-do/>.
Gender Spectrum. “Understanding Gender.” n.d. Gender Spectrum. 8 March 2015. <https://www.genderspectrum.org/quick-links/understanding-gender/>.
McIntosh, Peggy. “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack.” 1989. PDF. 11 March 2015. <https://www.isr.umich.edu/home/diversity/resources/white-privilege.pdf>.
Newcomb, Steven. On Historical Narratives and Dehumanization. 20 6 2012. 10 March 2015. <http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2012/06/20/historical-narratives-and-dehumanization>.
Porter, Anthony. National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence (NCDSV). 11 8 2014. PDF. 9th March 2015. <http://www.ncdsv.org/images/EndingDV–ACalltoMen.pdf>.
West, Cornel. “PRESIDENT’S FORUM Dr. Cornel West.” September 2009. Hobart and William Smith College. Webpage. 11 March 2015. <http://www.hws.edu/about/presidentsforum/west_speech.aspx>.