Words Have Power

Jul 12, 2018

Hitler called the Jews subhuman disease-carrying rats.

Words like these have been used throughout history to dehumanize groups and to make it acceptable to treat them like animals  --  to eliminate them, to perform experiments on them, to kill them. Dehumanizing words are part of a demagogue’s tool chest. The goal is to convince the public it is OK to mistreat those other, lesser people.

It’s tempting to look at the enormity of the Nazi holocaust, with the huge scale of the killing, as a one-time madness that infected Germany and was cured.

But Germany was far from unique. The Hutus called Tutsis cockroaches during the genocide in Rwanda. Indigenous populations are commonly referred to as savages. People involved in the US slave trade called the enslaved people chattel; the children were often taken from their mothers by the age of one, farmed out to enslaved women too old to work. Enslavers separated families as casually as they sold cattle.

And now we have a president who described Central Americans entering the country illegally as infesting our country, like rats or cockroaches. What followed was an unthinkable government action. Children were taken from their parents at the border and put into detention centers, often hundreds of miles away. No matter how hard I try, I find it impossible to imagine the pain, anger, and fear of these people.

I’m Deborah Booth and that’s my perspective.