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It’s Time We Talked About Animalization of Black People and Its Severe Repercussions

Throughout history, whiteness created and perpetrated the animalization of black and brown peoples, or the act of attributing animal-like characteristics to others as a way of distinguishing them as inferior or cruel for lacking typical human qualities. In White America, one of the earliest forms of animalizing began with the enslavement of black bodies, where systems of whiteness were quickly faced with the obstacle of how to effectively rationalize the racist, inhumane treatment enslavement utilized – and what better way to do so than by disparaging black people’s humanity and aligning them with the very nature of animals, making their mistreatment all the more justifiable. This makes sense – subordinate the existence of the black body to that of an inferior makes it all the more easier for systems of whiteness to gain support for their need to maintain supremacy.

And their efforts to animalize black people succeeded; over the decades through mainstream media, White America stripped blacks of their human dignity all throughout slavery and the Jim Crow era. Even today, racist comparisons of black people to animals still exist. Just this past December, First Lady Michelle Obama was referred to as an “ape in heels” by a director of a nonprofit group from West Virginia. Such references were made all throughout the family’s two terms in the White House. All you have to do is enter “Obama family monkeys,” in Google search bar, and you’ll be met with enough images and links from the past 8 years to make you – literally – go bananas.

However, the animalization of black bodies engendered much more severe societal effects than people are aware of, because it isn’t always as blatant as calling a black person a monkey. In 2008, a series of six studies was conducted by Jennifer Eberhardt and Phillip Atiba Goff, assistant professors at Stanford and Pennsylvania State University respectively. The studies were based on the theory that white people subconsciously perceive black peoples as ape-like, arriving at multiple conclusions, and proving the existence of a link between the discrimination black people face and their degradation.

The series of studies consisted of 121 males – 60 white and the remaining participants from other races. The first study concluded that there is indeed an association between those of African descent and ape-like creatures in American culture.

The results of the fifth study conducted:

The sixth study’s results:

The fifth and final studies’ results highlight the life-threatening effects of animalization: violence and fatalities. Subconsciously disregarding the humanity of black people by perceiving them as socially inferior due to racist ideologies endangers their livelihood, often seen in police brutality and other forms of systemic violence. Countless times, videos of police brutality have blazed through social media, receiving widespread attention. And countless times, black bodies are met with immediate vilification and victim blaming by White America, the excessive force used against them always justified, seen numerous times with the killings of victims like Michael Brown and Eric Garner. But when the victim is white, all of a sudden White America seems to care about the law enforcement’s use of unnecessarily excessive or deadly force. Here is also where we see the media going out of its way to humanize the victim, a privilege hardly afforded to black victims unless they adhere to respectability politics.

Another instance of regarding black lives as disposable takes place in Flint, Michigan, where the predominantly black community has been deprived of clean drinking and bathing water for the past three years. Studies have even been conducted about how whites think black people feel less pain than others, where doctors prescribe insufficient pain medication for black patients compared to their white counterparts with similar health issues, resulting in sometimes fatal outcomes.

The various types of brutality against black people, whether it be through police beatings or assumptions of us having a superhuman insensitivity to pain, highlights the severity of animalization’s effects: a societal indifference towards physical and systemic violence against black bodies.

Being cognizant of the history of animalization and the repercussions it has on black people in contemporary society is the only way to continue towards dismantling the systems that keep trying to dehumanize black bodies. We feel the same amount of pain as you, yet we’re afforded lesser amounts of humanity. Just as we weren’t beasts of burden then, we aren’t superhuman beings now. The only thing that remains true is that our lives matter just as much.

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