By Ruth Hansen
I’ve spent the last few years reading and thinking and writing a lot about how stigma works in society.
Those excuses you hear about why it’s sad, but “not my problem” that kids at the border are getting locked up? That’s the result of thinking about “those people” — the parents and the children — as less valuable than people you care about. That process gives us a reason to rationalize why it’s okay to treat them differently — they’re not like us, they don’t understand our culture, they didn’t work hard. They’re dangerous. They’re smelly, or unclean, or uncultured.
Those are assumptions, and stereotypes, and might not even be conscious. They could be socially learned and socially reinforced. What they are not is informed by personal experience with individual people. They are assumptions about a group of people based on one attribute.
The assumptions are useful because they help us feel better thinking that “those others” don’t deserve the same treatment. So we can think that their problems aren’t as important as our problems. We can think that their problems might be their own fault, anyway. We can think that if they work hard enough… but I don’t need to confirm that, or help them, because it’s just not important.
That thought process is ultimately denying basic humanity.
Two thousand in two months? From a negligible number? I don’t think the change was in “those people.”
And I’m not into denying basic humanity.
Ruth Hansen lives in the south suburbs of a major Midwestern city with, at various times, her good-looking husband, two above-average daughters, and two ridiculous cats. She has a lot of school behind her, more in front of her, and spends a lot of time thinking about social priorities. Sometimes she sings. She welcomes e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.