The Evil of Dehumanization

Reading Dispatches from the Race War by Tim Wise and RCL Pr23A

I am reading Tim Wise’s book, Dispatches from the Race War (City Lights Books, 2020.) Cornel West calls Wise “a vanilla brother in the tradition of (abolitionist) John Brown.” I think that qualifies him as a “white ally.”

Dispatches is a collection of short essays.  “Killing One Monster, Unleashing Another” is a meditation on the revelry and partying which followed the announcement that Osama bin Laden had been killed. Wise agreed that killing bin Laden was necessary, but he was disturbed by the raucous, beer-fueled, nationalistic celebrations which followed. Wise says that killing is always a somber deed, even when it seems to be necessary or justified.

Last Tuesday, President Biden spoke about the Hamas massacre. He said:

[T]here are moments in this life — and I mean this literally — when the pure, unadulterated evil is unleashed on this world. The people of Israel lived through one such moment this weekend.  The bloody hands of the terrorist organization Hamas — a group whose stated purpose for being is to kill Jews.  This was an act of sheer evil.

Remarks by President Biden on the Terrorist Attacks in Israel, October 10, 2023.

He said that acts were evil.  Not people. Evil is in the dehumanization that enables one person to humiliate, terrorize, torture or kill another. It is essential to racism and genocide, and it begins with language: Accusations, name-calling, scapegoating and mockery. The language of Hamas dehumanizes Jews.

We need to take care that our language does not dehumanize, which is why Biden also called on Israel to abide by the rules of war. The rules of war insist on the humanity of all civilians and even enemy combatants.

I can remember hearing this week’s gospel reading years ago when I was a little girl. I was bothered because my mother said I always had to wear a dress to church. I didn’t like dressing up. I did not like this Bible story because it seemed to say that a good Christian should be wearing Sunday clothes ALL THE TIME.

Of course, the story is not about clothes. It is about our values and whether we are willing to be faithful to them all the time. It’s about not laughing at the racist joke even though we are among white friends. It’s about not packing a picnic lunch for a lynching just because everyone else on the block does. And it is about not giving in to the understandable temptation to demonize an entire people for the reprehensible and evil acts of a few.

Photo by Mike Labrum on Unsplash