Dealing with the Devastating Results of Dehumanizing Others

            In spite of my best efforts, I frequently find myself going back to the story of Ruby Bridges, the little Black girl who integrated the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans on November 14, 1960.

            She was six years old. 

            In her account of that day, she said she remembers the shouting and yelling as the federal marshals ushered her through the crowd. They were so noisy, she recounts, that she thought they were celebrating Mardi Gras because that was the only place she had heard such noise.

            But it wasn’t Mardi Gras they were celebrating. They were protesting against integration and screaming hateful, racist epithets at this one little girl. (

            She was the only student in her class. She was also the only child in the entire school. On the day that was to be her first, she and her mother sat in the principal’s office for the entire day, waiting to be assigned to a class, but as they sat there, they saw parents coming into the school and leaving with their children. By the second day, there were no students in Frantz Elementary other than Ruby. All the white students had been removed.

            For one entire year, Ruby was the only student in her classroom. Every day, she would go into that classroom, where she was taught by a white teacher who had come from the Northeast United States to be her teacher. It is said that the situation so depressed her that months into the school year, school janitors, wondering why roaches were being seen in that classroom and discovered that she had stuffed her lunches into file cabinets and other closed spaces. 

            She was so sad that she could not and would not eat her lunch.

            Every time I think about this story, little Ruby Bridges and how she sat in that classroom by herself for a year, it brings tears to my eyes. And I ask myself, “How can anyone – especially anyone calling herself a mother or one who is “pro-life” be OK with what happened? How can anyone be OK with treating this little girl like this?”

            And the answer comes back to me: They could do it, did do it, and many still do it – because they have dehumanized Black people. Black lives have never mattered in this country. Actually, a fair number of other individuals and groups have been dehumanized by people in power who are apparently so insecure with their own status that the only way they feel all right is to dehumanize others and treat them as objects.

            In addition to Black people, Indigenous Americans, women, members of the LGBTQIA community, trans individuals, Jews, Muslims, the elderly, and the differently-abled – all have been reduced to a sub-human category; all have been objectified. People who have been objectified are in fact not considered human and therefore believed to be incapable of feeling pain or any other human emotions, nor are they believed to be worthy of American citizenship, rights, and humane treatment.

            The dehumanization of Indigenous Americans, for example, prevented officials of this government, who were driving them off their own land to feel like they were doing anything wrong as they made them literally walk the Trail of Tears. They did so under the Indian Removal Act, passed during the presidency of Andrew Jackson. While white men rode horses and white women rode in carriages, the Native Americans walked. From Alabama, Georgia, and other Southern states to Oklahoma. Native Americans walked a distance of over 1,000 miles – through cold, snow, rain, and extreme heat – and those who made them walk apparently felt nothing was wrong with it. Many of them who made these souls walk, by the way, called themselves Christian. (

            How can anyone, especially anyone who claims belief in God – think this was OK?

            Dr. Koritha Mitchell, in her book From Slave Cabins to the White House: Homemade Citizenship in African American Culture writes about the effect of dominant culture attacks on African Americans, and writes that “In slavery, white people categorically declared it impossible for a black woman to be raped because her body did not belong to her…These dehumanizing practices emerged because there was so much evidence that black captives were human. If their humanity had any chance of being denied, it had to be brutalized out of them.” (p. 9).

            It seems hardly a stretch to conclude that the rash of laws being passed severely limiting a woman’s reproductive rights is evidence that the dominant power structure still regards the lives, health, and rights of and for women as unimportant; women are yet being treated as objects. And the dehumanization seems to be spreading to children, as in some states, laws are being made that make child labor legal. I am wondering if, in this plantation economy, children are being looked at not as precious gifts but rather as assets and/or tools to keep profits growing. If parents in this post-pandemic world are refusing to go to workplaces, children might be forced to do so. (

            How can anyone who professes to love children be OK with this?

            There are other laws being passed that seem to be sanctioning sexual relations between old men with very young girls – with no “out” if the young girl becomes pregnant. A female Ohio lawmaker said that 13-year-old girls made pregnant as the result of rape – should consider it an “opportunity.” (


            Those who dehumanize others seem to have lost the capacity to be human themselves. How would they feel if they were made to walk 1000 miles – herded off their own land and displaced far from home? How would they feel if, in that walk, they were forced to watch friends and family members get sick and die and be thrown into mass graves like they didn’t matter? How would they feel if their 12-year-old daughter was raped and made to carry the baby to term, or how would they feel if their men were forced to stand aside and watch their wife or daughter be raped and not be able to do or say anything? 

            How would they feel if their child was forced to sit in a classroom by him/herself for a year because it had been determined that their child was less human than their own children and therefore unable to feel the pain their own children would feel if treated the same way?

            Is anyone who has dehumanized another human being capable of feeling?

            I go back to Ruby Bridges. She was a little girl. Six years old. Wearing a dress, anklets, and buckle-up Mary Jane shoes. She was a baby, unable to harm or hurt anyone, and yet, white people, including white mothers – screamed hate-filled words at her and might have attacked her had she not been accompanied by federal agents.

            It seems that these hateful actions are carried out not because those doing them really think the objects of their hatred are inhuman, but rather because they are very human, and their humanness presents a threat to the power structure that many want to remain as is. 

            It is ludicrous to think, for instance, that white mothers, who historically let or demanded that Black enslaved women nurse their children, would have let that happen if they believed the one who was nursing was not a human being with the same capacity to care and love as did they. (

            White domination has shown and continues to show that there is no such thing as white “supremacy.” One cannot be “supreme” and not care about other human beings. Neither can one be “supreme” and pass laws and policies that make life painfully dreadful for others. America, said Dr. William Barber, the voice of the Poor People’s Campaign,” said “America needs a heart transplant.” I agree. America’s vital organs, her heart, and her soul, are failing. To be “supreme” is to be the best, but the practice of dehumanization of other human beings has caused a poison to be released in the country that is not being filtered out. That poison will continue to erode America’s soul until people in power realize that their practices are not only harming masses of people but will eventually harm and compromise their bottom line. Unless and until people matter more than money, the dehumanizing will continue and all of us will suffer.