Dehumanization is the denial of someone's status as "human" or "person", whether by assimilating them to animals or things, especially of the harmful and disgusting sort, for the purpose of thus denying them the rights and the sympathy that come with "true personhood", and deliberately ignoring the target's individuality (i.e., the creative and interesting aspects of his or her personality).
Dehumanization can occur discursively (e.g., idiomatic language that likens certain human beings to non-human animals, verbal abuse, erasing one's voice from discourse), symbolically (e.g., imagery), or physically (e.g., chattel slavery, physical abuse, refusing eye contact).
Dehumanization may be carried out by a social institution (such as a state, school, or family) or via an individual's sentiments and actions. Dehumanization can be unintentional
, especially on the part of individuals, as with some types of de facto
State-organized dehumanization has historically been directed against perceived racial, ethnic, national, or religious minority groups. Other minoritized and marginalized individuals and groups (based on sexuality, gender, (dis)ability, class, or some other organizing principle) are also susceptible to various forms of dehumanization.
The concept of dehumanization is related to infrahumanization (i.e. calling someone "sub-human"), delegitimization, moral exclusion and objectification. Dehumanization occurs across several domains, is facilitated by status, power, and social connection, and results in behaviors like exclusion, violence, and support for violence against others. Will often lead to a Guilt-Free Extermination War
Related is the practices of stereotyping, which is basically assigning certain traits to certain group of people. It may overlap with dehumanization in some cases, but just as often it doesn't.
- Always Chaotic Evil: A group of people/race is portrayed as always evil so the heroes can beat them up with moral impunity.
- A Million Is a Statistic: Lots of casualties (in a war, disaster, etc) are treated as unimportant especially if there's no recognizable people among them.
- Call a Human a "Meatbag": Um...calling a human a meatbag.
- Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: Often a price of having cybernetic implants is making you less than human.
- Demonization: making something seem despicable like a demon or monster in spite of what it really is.
- Expendable Clone: What's stopping you from making new clones if one died?
- Fantastic Racism: When one race is treated as lower than the other.
- Final Solution: When dehumanization is taken to its logical conclusion, this can be the result.
- Inhumanable Alien Rights: Non-humans wouldn't have the same rights as those of a human. Even if said non-humans are sapient.
- "It" Is Dehumanizing: Calling someone "it" instead of a proper pronoun indicates that that someone is treated as a "thing" and not a person.
- Just a Machine: Robots and AIs are often considered expendable and/or easily rebuilt, unlike humans, so they have less value.
- Mook: A group of grunts whose purpose in the story is to be slain en masse, and they're made to be as unsympathetic as possible.
- Faceless Goons: Their faces are concealed, therefore they're expendable.
- Red Shirt Army: Same thing applied to good guys' army. Downplayed in that they can be sympathized with, but because they lack importance they're still the guys to be killed in place of the real characters.
- What Measure Is a Mook?: Significant bad guys may be treated well enough by the heroes. Not so much for the mooks.
- Nicknaming the Enemy: Calling the enemies with names will prevent you and your allies from hesitating to attack said enemies.
- Not Even Human: Implicitly leans on many of the concepts associated with this trope by making the enemies genuinely non-human in order to justify violence against them. If the bad guys is an alien species, why wouldn't it be okay to kill them without any moral issues?
- Of the People: When a group call themselves "the people" and people outside of said group "not-people".
- One-Winged Angel: monstrous and inhuman forms in general are easier to kill from an emotional point of view.
- Son of an Ape: Comparing humans to less advanced primates, like apes and monkeys, is a common way to imply that the humans in question are primitive and inferior.
- We Have Reserves: There's more where they came from, so who cares what happens to 'em.
- What Measure Is A Nonhuman: A group of sapient species is treated not as human because they're not technically humans.
- You're Insane! and You Monster!: if your enemy is beyond reason and/or redemption, you don't need to hold back anymore.
- Van Helsing Hate Crimes: The monsters are shown to be just minding their own business, or (potentially) outright kind, and a human commits hate crimes on them.
Compare and contrast Death of Personality
(rendering someone as "dead" by making them lose their humanity).
Anime and Manga
- In the film Casshern, the concept of "True Humans" appears; some ancestral race of superior beings who are entitled to treat baseline humans as disposable.
- In Suisei no Gargantia this is the Galactic Alliance's rationale for their galactic war with The Hideauze (intelligent, space-dwelling squid-like creatures), and their harsh living conditions and governing of the human race. It turns out later that the Galactic Alliance knew the Hideauze were once humans who changed themselves with genetic engineering to be able to live in the harsh conditions of space. This was hidden from lower ranking soldiers like Ledo. It's justified again later because the Hideauze are so far gone, and dangerous that they threaten the humans with extinction. If they don't fight it would be impossible to survive and still maintain their humanity, and society.
- In One Piece, the Hoof of the Soaring Dragon imprinted by the Celestial Dragons marks one "less than human".
- Both radical factions in Gundam SEED and Gundam SEED Destiny do this. The Coordinator extremists hold themselves as a Superior Species, meant to lord it over the rest of humanity, while Blue Cosmos insists that the Coordinators are an abomination that needs to be exterminated to preserve "our blue and pure world." Most of the series' Heel Face Turns occur when a Natural or a Coordinator is given the chance to view the other side as human beings.
- Cross Ange: A baby that rejects magic is an aberration, subject to forcible removal from society, a "Norma", not "human." This distinction is so well-taught to the aspiring heiress to the throne, she even clings to it for some time after, ahem, an abrupt career change.
- Attack on Titan: A young Eren Jaeger makes a statement like this after he helps kill some slavers who were trying to abduct Mikasa: "I didn't kill people. I just killed animals who happened to look like people." The kid was ten.
- A famous quote by Alfred Hitchcock:
"I was once quoted as saying that actors are cattle. My actor friends know I would never be capable of such a thoughtless, rude and unfeeling remark, that I would never call them cattle. What I probably said was that actors should be treated like cattle."note
- This is the entire point of the anti-Semitic movie The Eternal Jew (1940). It was created by the Nazis in order to justify the Final Solution to the German public.
- In Minority Report, Anderton says of the three Pre-Cogs "It's better if you don't think of them as human."
- In The Prince of Egypt, Moses spends the majority of his childhood ignoring the plight of the Hebrews who slave for Egypt. However, when he discovers that he himself is actually Hebrew, and that his father the Pharaoh ordered the wide-scale death of Hebrew children, he can no longer ignore his morals.
Pharaoh Seti: Moses, sometimes for the greater good, sacrifices must be made.
Pharaoh Seti: Oh, my son...they were only slaves.
- The Producers
Leo Bloom: Actors are not animals! They're human beings!
Max Bialystock: They are? Have you ever eaten with one?
- In Silence of the Lambs, Buffalo Bill refers to his victims as "it".
- In Fate/Zero, a serial killer of women and children finds that their "art" was incinerated and demolished by a third party, and cries to the heavens "Who could do this and still call themselves human?!" There are other places where this pops up.
- In Monstrous Regiment, this topic is discussed repeatedly. The protagonist makes a particularly vivid reflection that the literal straw men they stab in training do not serve the purpose of training them in combat (they are soft, and don't fight back) but in making them forget that, unlike them, a human, when stabbed, will bleed, and cry, and more than straw might fall from their wounds.
- Snuff Lampshades this idea using the goblins, a sentient human race, as exemplar for Fantastic Racism. The goblins are viewed as animals and vermin, and it takes a real shift in attitudes to get them recognised as a sentient race deserving the same rights that are accorded to men, dwarfs and trolls. But any indignity can be inflicted on them, including torture and slavery.
- In The Forever War, the soldiers are mentally conditioned to view the enemy Taurans as sub-human, by invoking false memories of Taurans burning cities, eating children, and raping women. The soldiers know the images are fake, as no one has even seen a Tauran before their battle, but they still work to send them into a bloodthirsty frenzy, to the point that their mission to capture a Tauran fails because the soldiers slaughter them all.
- Played with in Halo: Hunters in the Dark: During the expedition several of Captain Richards's soldiers are lost. She realizes she hadn't even bothered to learn their names and quickly scans the nametags of the others, but finds it's easier to keep relaying battle orders if she doesn't register them as human. That said, Richards does genuinely care about her subordinates (on the other hand, she doesn't care much for her Sangheili allies, but she's professional enough to not let it interfere with the mission).
- A great literary classic by Osamu Dazai is titled No Longer Human.
- In Salammb˘, the priests of Baal-Moloch make throwing Carthaginian children to be burned alive as Human Sacrifice easier by getting the crowd to yell with them "They are not men but oxen!".
- The Deryni are often spoken of this way by their human foes.
- In Deryni Checkmate, Archbishop Loris asks Warin de Grey, "You would kill Morgan without chance to repent his sins?" Warin replies, "I doubt there is hope in the Hereafter for the likes of him, Excellency. The Deryni were the spawn of Satan from the Creation. I do not think salvation is within their grasp." Warin later tells Morgan much the same thing to his face, admitting that Morgan will be granted time to confess his sins before he is killed against Warin's "better judgement": "Personally, I feel that such is a waste of time for your kind; but Archbishop Loris disagrees."
- Years later, in The King's Justice, Loris tells Duncan McLain, "I do have a care for your soul though—if Deryni even have souls, of course."
- In The Sorceress's Orc, orcs are treated this way. People think of them as a sort of slightly more intelligent animal, even though they hire them as mercenaries. The moment when the protagonist decides to invite her orc bodyguard into her home because it is raining outside is a turning point in the story; she half expects him to vandalize her furniture, instead he asks intelligent questions about the security of the apartment.
- Done intentionally in The Turner Diaries. The novel is centered around a group of Neo Nazi terrorists trying to start a race war.
- In Ancillary Justice, the captured enemies whose bodies are taken over by a spaceships AI are referred to as "units". The protagonist, who is such an AI, is also treated as nonhuman, and seems to be okay with this; though it's hard to tell whether she's just resigned. She does show a preference for people who treat her like a person.
- In Battlestar Galactica (Classic) the Cylons were originally supposed to be aliens. They were changed because executives thought that "killing sentient robots" was more child-friendly than "killing aliens." Basically trading one issue of dehumanizing with another.
- In 24: Redemption a bunch of Child Soldiers are being trained to kill by presenting them with a trussed up enemy and denying his humanity, calling him a "cockroach" and having them chant "Kill the cockroach!"
- The Reavers in Firefly are a race of insane people who have been poisoned during an experiment on live human subjects. In effect they are the sci-fi equivalent of undead beings and the reason they are dehumanized is because they are in fact physically dehumanized.
- Several episodes of The Outer Limits (1995) played this straight, but the episode "Hearts and Minds" subverts it by having the "bugs" turn out to be humans from a rival corporation; the soldiers had been drugged to see the enemy as disgusting aliens so that they would feel fewer qualms about killing them. The soldiers from the rival corporation were similarly drugged.
- In the Doctor Who serial "The Savages", this is how the Elders of the city view the savages native to their world. They regard the savages as sub-human and have no qualms about using them in machines that drain them of their life energy and nearly kill them to keep their own society going.
- Orange Is the New Black. Caputo, trying to toughen up Fischer, tells her to not think of the prisoners as human beings in one episode.
- Discussed occasionally on Bones where either someone is upset with Brennan for treating remains as anthropological curiosities instead of as former people, or conversely Brennan giving advice to think of the former people as remains in order to suppress the emotions of (for example) autopsying a friend.
- Warhammer 40,000
- Imperials and Chaos have the same view of each other: blind fools clinging to false gods and weaklings only good for extermination. Some Space Marine chapters have this view of normal humans, whether allied or fallen to Chaos.
- Tangentially used by the Imperial Guardman's Uplifting Primer. Of course their foes aren't human, but it still makes them out to be inferior to the basic human, and doesn't hesitate to make up "facts" like Tau being descended from bovines and stampeding at loud noises and orks being easy to defeat in close combat. An updated edition features Tau sympathizers which it claims are easily recognizeable as degenerate subhumans (other than a tendency to wear braids and sometimes paint themselves blue, they're no less healthy that the regular humans), reminiscent of Nazi sub-racial distinctions.
- In Bioshock, citizens of the laissez-faire capitalist gulch of Rapture are taught that the poor and lower classes are "parasites".
- In Spec Ops: The Line, Walker gets less dehumanizing as the story progresses. He starts with neutral, technical, professional expressions, distancing himself from what he's doing and making it seem like something simple and clean. "Target confirmed." "Tango down." By the end of the story, he's relying on moral condemnation and sheer spite to keep him going: "GOT THE FUCKER!" "AND STAY DOWN!". He's not removing targets anymore, he's killing people.
- Xenoblade has a true Big Bad who considers the people of Bionis merely part of the cycle of life and death, a vehicle for his continued existence as a god.
- South Park
- In the Japanese dub, "You killed Kenny! You bastards!" is rendered as "You killed Kenny! You aren't human!"
- One memorable Cartman quote from the episode "Die Hippie Die" was "Hey! They are not people, they're hippies!" and later uses a Drill Tank on them. The entire episode treats hippies like an exponentially-growing termite invasion
- Steven Universe
- Savage Opress in Star Wars: The Clone Wars is almost exclusively referred to as a beast, monster, or other terms that don't indicate he is an actual person.