There’s a Dark Political History to Language That Strips People of Their Dignity

Residents of Baltimore, Maryland, seen here, were the object of dehumanizing language from President Trump.  REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

Residents of Baltimore, Maryland, seen here, were the object of dehumanizing language from President Trump. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

Dehumanizing language often precedes genocide.

One tragic example: Extreme dehumanizing language was a strong contributor to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. As I have written, the Hutu majority used a popular radio station to continually refer to Tutsi tribal members, a minority in Rwanda, as “cockroaches.”

As support for this characterization grew among Hutus, it essentially stripped away any moral obligation to see Tutsis as fellow humans. They were just vermin that needed to be eradicated.

Students of 20th century history will also recognize this pattern of dehumanizing language in the lead-up to the genocide committed by the Turks against Armenians, where Armenians were “dangerous microbes.” During the the Holocaust, Germans described Jews as “Untermenschen,” or subhumans.

On July 27, President Trump tweeted that Baltimore was a “"disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” and “No human being would want to live there.”

The Baltimore Sun charged back with an editorial headlined “Better to have a few rats than to be one.”

I’m a scholar of conflict management. This back-and-forth got me reflecting on how extreme, dehumanizing exchanges like this can escalate into destructive outcomes.

President Donald Trump.  AP/Carolyn Kaster

President Donald Trump. AP/Carolyn Kaster

Insults and conflict

The goal of my research in hostage negotiation and divorce mediation is to help police negotiators and court mediators shift out of a charged situation into problem solving.

Generally, when people respect one another they have a fairly easy time problem solving. But when one person challenges the other’s identity with personal insults, both parties forget about the problem-solving task and focus only on what I call “identity restoration,” which means trying to save face and restore personal dignity.

This shift pushes them into a charged conflict that can quickly escalate.

After all, many studies over the last several decades have reinforced the finding that a human being’s group identity is their most prized possession. People craft their identities to fit into a core group – as a member of a family, a profession or a tribe, for example – that is vital to our social standing. In some cases, such as adopting the identity of a U.S. Marine, for example, group belonging may be necessary to personal survival.

Most of the time identity challenges are fairly minor and easily ignored so that problem solving doesn’t get off track too quickly. A boss might say at a meeting, “Weren’t you supposed to have that report ready today?” A quick defense of one’s identity as a competent professional for that company and the matter is dropped and we’re back to work.

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Conflict and Escalation

When the challenges are more severe, the identity defense becomes fiercer. Voices get raised, emotions swell and people become locked in a spiraling conflict, which is characterized by a sustained attack-and-defend cycle.

Hostage negotiators and divorce mediators are trained to shift dialogue away from identity threats and into problem solving by isolating divisive issues and coming up with specific proposals to address them.

Unfortunately, if there are no controls over language escalation, and parties start making references that can be interpreted in extreme, dehumanizing terms, they may come to believe that the only way to restore their identities is by physical domination.

Words no longer work. When parties cross over this very thin line, they fall into an identity trap with little hope of escape until the violence ends.

While I don’t expect the conflict between the president and Baltimore to escalate into actual violence, these kinds of exchanges can make it more acceptable for followers to use this kind of language.

When the President encourages crowds to chant, “Lock her up,” and “Send her back” at rallies, or describes a city as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” where “no human being” would want to live, it sets a climate in which using lethal, dehumanizing language seems normal. That is simply dangerous.

WILLIAM A. DONOHUE is a distinguished Professor of Communication at Michigan State University.


Blue Out on Insta

Sudan Flag Sticker on a Car. pjbury. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Sudan Flag Sticker on a Car. pjbury. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Blue Out on Instagram: Support for Sudan through Social Media Awareness

Recently, a specific shade of blue has been popping up around Instagram in the form of profile pictures. This Blue Out was started by Instagram influencer Shahd (@hadyouatsalaam). She is a Sudanese-born, New York City-based activist—or how she likes to identify herself, “a political scientist by degree and a social media influencer by interest”, according to her recent Insta post, introducing herself to her new followers. 

Shahd created this movement for the sole purpose of raising awareness to what is currently going on in Sudan. Protests in Sudan began in December of last year, when there was a price-spike in basic commodities (i.e. bread). It was not until April 11th, after a mass, multi-day sit-in, that the Sudanese people did see the change they wished for. The current President, a man named Omar al-Bashir, and his party were being jailed or put on house arrest. The protestors believed this to be a victory. They were wrong. General Awad Ibn Auf, the Vice President, soon gave a televised statement explaining the new governmental system that was going to be put in place—one run by three separate military factions called the Transitional Military Council (TMC). He stated that they intended to remain in power for two years until the country could elect a new President, also claiming a three-month state of emergency and curfew. The people did not accept these conditions and in under 24 hours, Ibn Auf resigned and General Abdelfattah al-Burhaan become the new chairman.

Since General Abdelfattah al-Burhaan’s new appointment, negotiations between the people and the TMC have been chaotic. Once again being fed up, the Sudaneese people, with the people of the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), organized a mass strike from the 28th of May to the 29th. These strikes immediately became violent and the TMC used these mass demonstrations to portray the SPA in a vicious light. On June 3rd, government forces began shooting at the protestors which, reportedly, left 118 dead and many more injured. Since then, an Internet black out has been in place and thus sparked social media outcry.

But why should this matter to us? The answer is simple: because we have the power and the privilege of accessing the Internet with the capable means of shouting loud enough that somebody will listen. Over the past two weeks, because of the uproar on social media, there have been an influx of articles written about what is going on, how long it has been going on, what is the important information that we need to know about the revolution in Sudan. One Instagram user, Rachek Cargle (@rachel,cargle), with the help of “an incredible group of activists” has even composed a masterlist of articles ranging from immediate updates to fundraising efforts, according to her post that calls for any more information to add. 

Unfortunately, with the uproar, there have also been people who cruelly want to capitalize on the movement for clout reasons. Just last week, a post went viral that claimed for every re-post to a page or story, the originators of the account would donate meals to the Sudanese people. Very soon, the page was labeled as a hoax given curious peoples’ inquiries into how they would provide the food, where is the funding coming from, and other questions which the page either did not answer or gave vague responses to. From these instances, it is important to remember that when trying to get information out, there needs to be a more thorough and conscious effort on the part of other social media users to not just mindlessly click-and-post, but rather, do a quick search about what the post is, and then determine whether or not it is legitimate. 

Using the privilege we have—whether it be from simply having the means to repost an article or getting in contact with local government officials so they can talk about what is going on—is a butterfly-effect that will change how the Sudanese revolution will go. Being complacent or a bystander is just as harmful as supporting the violence because inaction is not action, inaction does not bring about change but lets things remain as they are, because they are not directly affecting us. I encourage those of you reading this article to look at the Instagram influencers I have mentioned as well as the hashtag #Iamsudanrevolution. There you will find countless posts, articles, links, and organizations that can inform you, help you, and guide you on how you can help. For immediate action, check out Cargle’s post which is a picture of protestors with SUDAN in bold, blue letters and the subtitle of Information & Support Round Up. There you will find the link to the master document which will provide the beginning of any information you want to know. 

I must repeat—acting as a bystander perpetuates the actions that are harming individuals because it is neglecting them the action they need. Use your privilege for something productive. 

OLIVIA HAMMOND is an undergraduate at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. She studies Creative Writing, with minors in Sociology/Anthropology and Marketing. She has travelled to seven different countries, most recently studying abroad this past summer in the Netherlands. She has a passion for words, traveling, and learning in any form. 


Vietnamese Climate Activist Jailed for “Anti-State” Facebook Posts

Nguyen Ngoc Anh was recently sentenced to six years in prison for “anti-state” Facebook posts. 10% of Vietnam’s political prisoners gained their sentences through social media, says Amnesty International. William Iven. CC0.

Nguyen Ngoc Anh was recently sentenced to six years in prison for “anti-state” Facebook posts. 10% of Vietnam’s political prisoners gained their sentences through social media, says Amnesty International. William Iven. CC0.

Vietnamese shrimp farmer and activist Nguyen Ngoc Anh was sentenced June 6 to six years in prison and five of house arrest for a series of 2018 Facebook posts that criticized the Communist government, and were therefore deemed “anti-state”.

Anh was arrested in August 2018 in Ben Tre province on charges (according to Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code) of storing, making, spreading, and declaring information and documents to combat Vietnam’s government. The indictment also stated that Anh created private Facebook groups to discuss and call for protests.

The specific content of his social media isn’t known, but Human Rights Watch noted that the environmental activist also participated in protests in 2016 against the steel company Formosa, whose toxic waste dumping killed marine life off Vietnam’s central coast.

According to RFA’s Vietnamese service, Anh’s wife, Nguyen Thi Chau, said her husband isn’t guilty, and that he was set up. Chau described it as a “staged trial”. Chau said Anh acknowledged broadcasting 74 live videos about political and social issues, but did not admit his guilt.

The Tuesday before the verdict, HWR called for the Vietnamese government to immediately release Anh. This was followed by a call from the European Union the Thursday of the verdict, which cited the freedom of opinion as a form of social justice. The EU also asked for the Vietnamese government to release everyone imprisoned for fighting for human rights, especially since they had been expressing their views peacefully.

According to Amnesty International, Vietnam has at least 128 political prisoners, with 10% jailed for social media posts. The EU noted this sentence to be part of a crackdown on critical voices and dissent.

At the same time, the Vietnamese government is considering new laws for social media content, especially in terms of filtering content. “They have realized that Facebook was one of the last safe spaces where people could peacefully speak their mind, spread news, hold debates — everything the authorities are afraid of,” said Nguyen Truong Son, Amnesty International’s Vietnam campaigner, according to the NY Post.

This past January, a new cybersecurity law was approved by legislators, requiring technology companies who operated in Vietnam to store user data there, as well as set up local offices. This sent technology and human rights groups into a frenzy as they questioned the law, especially as to how safe users’ company information was. In the same month, the Vietnamese government accused Facebook of allowing people to post anti-government information. Facebook said that in the last half of 2018 it increased the amount of blocked content to Vietnamese users by over 500 percent.

U.S. lawmakers also called for the curbing of arrests of bloggers and journalists in the name of freedom of expression. The government is punishing people who are peaceably expressing their opinions, stated Amnesty International. For example, blogger and activist Tran Thi Nga is currently serving nine years for spreading propaganda against the Vietnamese state. Other political prisoners have been moved to different prisons, where family members are told they are being disciplined.

Unfortunately, even with other governments and human rights groups urging otherwise, it is unlikely that anything will change soon about the one-party Vietnamese government’s policy towards political prisoners. Another element of the recent cybersecurity law concerns posted information; if companies receive takedown notices for perceived offensive content, they must comply within 24 hours, or risk breaking the law. There is no date as to when the new law will be put into effect.

NOEMI ARELLANO-SUMMER is a journalist and writer living in Boston, MA. She is a voracious reader and has a fondness for history and art. She is currently at work on her first novel and wants to eventually take a trip across Europe.


Women Take the Mic on Nsawya FM

Saudi feminists are giving voice to obstacles against women’s rights in their new radio show.

Illustration depicting the impact of restricted women’s rights because of male guardianship.  (Source: Human Rights Watch. Saudi Arabia: ‘Unofficial Guardianship Rules Banned. © 2016 by Human Rights Watch

Illustration depicting the impact of restricted women’s rights because of male guardianship.

(Source: Human Rights Watch. Saudi Arabia: ‘Unofficial Guardianship Rules Banned. © 2016 by Human Rights Watch

On July 27th, eleven women gave life to Nsawya FM, or Feminism FM, with a simple tweet stating their aim to be the “voice of the silent majority.” Since then, their radio broadcasts have detailed stories of women’s rights abuse with just a laptop, editing software (to disguise the voices of the women sharing the stories), and a microphone. According to Ashtar, a pseudonym for one of the women involved, “the voice of women is revolution.”

And women have been raising their voices. Of the 6.3 million Saudis on Twitter in 2016, 40% were women as found in a study by the Rutgers’s Center for Women’s Global Leadership Report. The same study supported the importance of Twitter in Saudi society by stating that it was the “most effective and influential social network.” This is in part because political leaders monitor Twitter, making political activity more likely to be seen on the social media platform.

Still the potential to be blocked by the government on Twitter—which Nsawya FM states happened temporarily—is why they have chosen the radio: they do not want to risk losing the “archive of [their] thoughts.”

Nsawya FM’s archive consists of submissions by Saudi women of their stories, opinions, and criticisms on women’s rights, such as domestic abuse. The first stories told were of Hanan Shahri and Sara. Both stories highlight the effects of male guardianship: a system where a women’s crucial decisions—including travel, marriage, and studying abroad—are made by a male figure. These guardians can be fathers, husbands, brothers, or sons.

Shahri’s story was widely reported in 2013 after she killed herself following a beating by her brother and uncle and their refusal to allow her to marry her fiancé. Then there is Sara, a university student whose dream to marry her fiancé from Yemen, following approval from her parents, was ended when her brother shot her.

So it is no surprise that women began turning to Twitter to push back against guardianship. In 2016 they coined #AbolishGuardianship to highlight abuse and rally support against it. Within two months, 14,000 signatures had been collected for an online petition against guardianship. Although gradual changes have occurred for women, most notably the ability to drive, male guardianship is grounded in religion and cuts across all socio-economic classes.

But to these 11 women producers and their 2500 audience members there is hope that civilian law might one day replace the Islamic law. They are bringing the stories traditionally protected under male guardianship to light and public criticism.

“Of course [they] are scared,” as Ashtar has also been quoted saying. But their fear is driven by a determination for equal rights. For them it begins with placing the women’s narrative before the public’s eyes: Nsawya FM is making a statement on behalf of Saudi women to the world that they exist.



TERESA NOWALK is a student at the University of Virginia studying anthropology and history. In her free time she loves traveling, volunteering in the Charlottesville community, and listening to other people’s stories. She does not know where her studies will take her, but is certain writing will be a part of whatever the future has in store.

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How to Enjoy Travel Without Social Media


DID YOU KNOW that if a tree falls in the woods and you don’t post the video to your Instagram story, it still actually happened? I’m aware of the irony of writing about a topic like this on a popular travel website, where, if all goes well, it will be retweeted, shared on Facebook, and maybe even receive a video response on YouTube (please?), but there are ways to enjoy traveling without social media.

Low-tech travel is still an option

Some travelers get the idea that getting offline also means completely cutting themselves off from technology, when in fact a simple reduction will do. Leaving your phone at home and using a calling card to stay in touch may be annoying, but isn’t it worth removing the temptation of snapping a selfie? Just because we no longer live in a world where Polaroid cameras are ubiquitous doesn’t mean they aren’t out there to capture memories. If you use your blog primarily as an outlet for your creativity and not as a form of income, you can try jotting your experiences down on paper. Travel like it’s 1999.

Time goes further without technology

You may not be able to look back on what happened one day ten years ago in Thailand without some digital photographic evidence, but if you spent that time bathing elephants and getting drunk with expats you’re going to remember the experience better without wasting time documenting everything as it’s happening. My weekends in Japan usually fly by when I’m traveling solo and stop to write on my Macbook or scroll through IG on my phone, but when two Couchsurfers came to visit and we spent the whole day talking and exploring, I couldn’t help but appreciate how much longer the days seemed to last. Being mindful during your travels means taking the minute between when your food is served not to find the perfect angle for a picture, but instead reflect on how fortunate you are to have this nourishment in this foreign country with good friends.

Live your life without online feedback

Social media has fundamentally changed how we communicate in many ways, but probably none more than allowing snapshots of our lives to receive immediate feedback from the whole world. We’ve probably all taken a picture of a scene like a sunset over the ocean with the intention of wanting to know want other people think about it, without taking the time to wonder whether we actually like it in the first place.

Your travel experiences have value even if no else sees your picture and gives it a like. Seeing someone’s expression in person and understanding their reaction to your temple stay and spiritual awakening (even if it’s an eye roll) are going to mean more to you than someone writing a cliché comment with an emoji.

Think about where you travel, and why

I had a falling out with a friend last year after – having discussed the issue of the treatment of elephants at length – she chose to ride on one in Asia in a stereotypical tourist fashion. When I quite angrily asked what the hell she was thinking, knowing full well she was aware of how these animals were tortured, she casually replied “Yeah, well, I wanted a selfie with one.”

Think about your motivation in traveling to a place like Macchu Picchu or posing with a tiger… is it something you genuinely want to do, or just something you think would look pretty sweet on Instagram? Take away that incentive, and would you still go there, or do that?

Traveling without social media forces you to focus on why you travel, knowing that people may still hear about the story ex post facto, but you completely control the narrative. Why work yourself to death squeezing in another attraction before sunset to make sure it’s posted during prime viewing time if no one is going to see it? Avoiding social media generally gives you quality over quantity.




Turner Wright is a marathon runner first, an adventurer second, and a writer through it all. Apparently, he has a thing for island nations, having lived in Japan, and soon to be headed for New Zealand. Check out his adventures at Once a Traveler.

Instravel - A Photogenic Mass Tourism Experience

Oliver Kmia came up with this idea last year while traveling in Roma. He describes his film and the backstory: "I wanted to take a look at the popular Trevi Fountain but never managed to get close to it. The place was assaulted by hundreds of tourists, some of them formed a huge line to get a spot in front of the Fountain. Needless to say that I was very pissed by this sight and left for the not less crowded Pantheon.

I was shocked by the mass of people walking all around the city, yet I was one of them, not better or worst. Like all these tourists, I burned hundred of gallons of fuel to get there, rushed to visit the city in a few days and stayed in a hotel downtown. Then, I remembered a video I watched a few months earlier from the artist Hiérophante ( I decided to make this kind of sarcastic video but with the focus on travel and mass tourism. Hiérophante admitted that his video was "cliché" and that he got inspired by other videos. So I'm basically making fun of something I'm part of. The irony is strong."

You can find a more in-depth article here about the idea behind the video and its creation.