Cognition, categories and oppression


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I remember when I was a child and my only label was “white male”…sigh.


Dammit; missed by one.

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Conscious oppression is something we should strive to avoid. It is something we should even fight. Casual oppression, being the result of common social structures, seems to exist outside the conscious. The author seemingly conflates the two and makes a few statements that may need proof and they seem to consist of little more than projection

If someone is not an able neurotypical not-fat not-poor straight cis white anglophone American Christian man, it will generally take people longer to categorize them as human.

Here we have a statement that focuses on the unconscious categorization of people (casual oppression) by people and asserts that we take longer to place the image of a non-prototypical person in to the category of human. While there is casual oppression in the way we group types of people, what do we have to support the claim that some people take longer to be recognized as a human than others?

Then we have this example.

Here we have conscious and decisive oppression. The actor is making the decision to not include some as human. This intentional choice is in no way related the the authors thesis and the central theme of oppression by casual taxonomy.

An old aphorism comes to mind “A fight against nature always ends with nature’s victory"
If it is within our nature to classify and if that classification tends to center on the ideal of any group then the marginalization of things outside that group seems a natural result of human nature. Are we to fight that for which we have no control? Are we to feel shame at being a member of society? What would the author have us do? At the end of the article we find what may be the answer and it confounds me.

Understanding this helps us understand the mechanics of derailing, and the mechanics of marginalization/exclusion done by not-central members to even-more-non-central members, as well as the mechanics that central members use against us all.

So, we now better understand. That’s a wonderful goal and a great take away… until the author asserts that central members are using these mechanics against us. How can that be? Didn’t the author previously state that such classification is normal human behavior which is reinforced by the society in which we all live. Why does the author choose to end divisively by stating that the central members are consciously using human nature against us?

Perhaps this grouping towards the center or ideal is what allows us to discern, to judge, to choose the berry that is most ripe. To run from the image of eyes and teeth instead of trying to figure out if its a tiger in the bush or just another face is natural and a big part of why we are sill here. We do this unconsciously every time we make a choice. Be aware of yourself. Just don’t fear the other or imagine they are out to get you, for that way lies madness.

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As long as your singular difference isn’t distinguishable by casual observation, you will probably get treated as a full human most of the time.


I was just being silly but to be perfectly honest, I quite often get treated better than most people treated as “full humans”. (and, yeah, no one can tell that I’m not christian.)

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What we have is . . . science!

“A Superhumanization Bias in Whites’ Perceptions of Blacks,” published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, examines the idea that black people have been historically dehumanized, “from constitutional denial of full legal personhood to enslavement.”

But while psychological research on dehumanization has focused largely on subhuman representation of others, the phenomenon of “superhumanization,” defined in the study as “the representation of others as possessing mental and physical qualities that are supernatural,” has remained largely unexamined as a means by which others are cast as nonhuman.


That is not the conclusion drawn by the article. It does not say that white people take longer to classify black people as human. In fact, classification as subhuman is still classification as human just as it is with superhuman. One does not see a person and think cat.

Conflation with magical negro trope?

Edit to add:

The propensity for LEOs to attribute magical, superhuman levels of threat to black males is well established, despite the lack of scientific studies on the topic.

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“Real American” … “True Scotsman” … whatever it takes.


While this is a useful piece, I am wary of psychologizing of oppression. Doing so has the tendency to pathologize social problems as individual failings. “Real American” is also a social category that confers concrete material benefits to members, at the expense of everyone who isn’t a member. Seeing “Real American” as primarily a cognitive category robs us of historical perspective as to how the category exists in the first place, and why we would have a bias for it. Privilege isn’t a state of mind, it’s a piece of property.


I think American and Christian are two of the labels that aren’t really universal. Or at least, other Anglophone nationalities are almost as prototypical and American should read Yankee. Similarly, the Christian label carries a lot of weight in a Christian environment, but elsewhere a more general western culture is more standard. Influenced by Christianity, certainly, but going to church every Sunday doesn’t make you more prototypical in most European countries or other areas where that isn’t the culture anyway.

I think one element that’s missing is ‘college educated’.

An understanding of the psychology at play does help for understanding the dialectic between individual and collective behavior.


I think what we have here is one of the fundamental problems that anyone discussing oppression runs into: racism (and xenophobia, sexism, homophobia - pretty much any form of prejudice or discrimination, really) is often framed as if it’s a single, monolithic problem, but it’s really a whole category of problems. Conscious animus (fear, hatred, disdain, etc.), unconscious cognitive biases, and various forms of structural and institutional oppression all have the effect of marginalizing people, but they have different root causes and therefore need to be addressed separately. But it’s hard to discuss them separately, because they’re also all interconnected - each form of oppression reinforces the others. So you start out talking about one aspect of oppression and wind up talking about something else, because it all bleeds together.


Hmmm… Maybe one and a half for me. Atheist. Fat? Well, not skinny for sure.

Man, that is a list of modifiers. And it’s not even complete (what about not-adult?) or true in every case (you say not-fat, but then you have things like Jamie Oliver getting shit for nutrition plans because it’s not American to be healthy apparently).

I think it may be more useful to not try and precisely define the bounds of what “people” think of when they think of a Real American. It’s individualized to a pretty exceptional degree, and it’s a lot like genre definitions - the borders are really, really fuzzy.

More useful, I think, is the concept of your social sphere. “Real Americans” for any given individual include themselves and the people in their lives that they care about as human beings (“Real American” being proxy for “Positive”), as well as people outside that immediate social sphere that remind them of people in it, and people they see in media.

Thus, that list o’ qualities human being simply reflects the commonality of those traits in combination, and the way the way people with those traits control portrayals in media.

Which is why the most powerful weapon in this fight is diversity. If you know a gay person, you’re more likely to accept gay people. If you know an ex-con, you’re more likely to accept ex-cons. If you know a black person, you’re more likely to accept black people. And on and on.

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Property is itself a state of mind, as is territory.

Ain’t that the truth!


Missed by two. But I’m treated exceptionally well.

I actually have asked zoo attendants things like, “which is the best monkey?” since it’s fun to see them try to parse the question.