Cognition, categories and oppression

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.


Well, what is the best monkey? Is it Bonobos? I hate Bonobos.

This is why black-bloc un-arresting/de-arrestings at protests consider rescuing transgender people and people of colour a priority.


If I worked at a zoo, I’d answer the question with, “They are all the best monkey except bonobos, those are apes. Well, and also those skull-faced sneezing monkeys, those are completely creepy.” Then I’d be fired.


It’s clearly gibbons though.


Gibbons aren’t monkeys, either. :monkey_face:
But they are better than bonobos.

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Dammit. What are they then? I love them, they are wind-up merchants par excellence. Better than goats, even.

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