Dehumanization of people of color is so common that we don’t even realize when it happens most of the time.
I remember in the eighth grade
a month after the 2004 earthquake and tsunami that killed over 230,000 in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Maldives, African countries….
we were learning about something or other with plate tectonics, marine biology, or whatever. And to learn about it, our teacher made us watch like an hour and a half of various recorded footage of the tsunami.
The footage consisted of people on trains when the tsunami hit
people on the beaches when the tsunami hit
people going about their lives when the tsunami hit
And it just hit me the other day—eight years after the fact—that our teacher turned thousands of people of color dying into an educational moment. That footage that we were watching was horrific enough that our teacher told us we could leave the room if we wanted.
We sat there and watched people die.
We watched thousands of PoC’s lives ending.
The entire time I was watching, all I could think about was how the people on that train must’ve felt, how the people on that beach felt. How the woman, screaming because her daughter got caught in a current, must have felt, if she ever found her daughter, if they were alright… I wanted to leave, but was scared to. I was so shaken and dazed by the end of that class period, and the footage really bothered me, but I never figured out what was wrong, along with watching people die.
Our teacher took footage of people dying, and made it about “Now, how did this mudslide happen?” “What was happening underground to cause that wave that just hit that train right there?”
People were DYING on our screen
and somehow not one of us saw the people, but the water.
Our teacher taught us how to dehumanize.
Actually, that skill was already there. It must have been. Because nobody walked out of that classroom. Not a single person was uncomfortable. The lights came back on, and everybody went back to their conversations, laughing, chatting it up, joking around.
I forgot all about that incident, but it came back and hit me out of nowhere the other day while I was taking a shower, and I was almost sick.
Devaluation of PoC lives. Dehumanization of PoC. Making PoC invisible to the point where you don’t even register their deaths even when you’re watching them die. These are the skills that we get equipped with in our schools, and nobody even thinks to question it.
We are taught how to dehumanize people of color, and nobody even realizes that that’s what we’re being taught.
And then people wonder why people don’t see our lives as being as valuable as a white person’s.
We could’ve watched some nation geographic documentary on the ocean, or the planet.
But instead, we watched footage of people dying
to learn about fucking water.
This happened during my first week at a predominantly white school in a predominantly white town, and it left me unsettled, but not enough to think too hard about it. We were in the eighth grade, only fourteen years old. If I knew then what I know now, I probably would’ve thrown up in that classroom, because it would be another couple of years before I would learn the degrees to which racism is embedded in our systems beyond the blatant ignorance.
But thinking about it now…
We’re considered to be so worthless that our deaths can be put on a big silver screen, and people will see the background before they see us, even when we’re dying en masse before their fucking eyes.
Just the little things that make us not human in the eyes of everyone.