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A Chat with Children on Dehumanizing Language

I ended up with three small children for a short period of time -- never mind how, these things happen when you’re out and about in Boston. “Can you find the rehumanizing idea in that?” I asked, grasping for something as they started to hare off into the street. (Because they were Mulan, Moana, and a Pokemon looking for treasure.)

All of them about four, the oldest stopped. “Re-hoo?” she said.

The other two came back. Moms were in deep conference about broken transportation, and tourism. I hiked my laptop higher on my shoulder, and dropped my bag full of outreach signs behind my heel.

“What is it?” said the other girl.

“It’s something in a story, or in life, that … hm. Think of it like this: When someone treats you like something you’re not, or calls you by a name that’s not true, what should you do?”

“Tell them the truth!” bellowed the smallest.

“Say NO.”

“Why would they do that?”

Good question. But that’s not what I said, “Good answers -- so if your name is --”

“It’s Galina,”

“What if someone called you Sam?”

She made a face.

“What if someone called you cockroach?”

The smallest was the loudest, again. “SLUG ‘EM!” she bellowed. (She was also playing the Pokemon in the previous game.)

Yes, and No, I told her -- I agreed that the injustice was a deep one, and that slugging could be used in defense if she were physically attacked. But obviously cockroach struck all of them as a very dehumanizing epithet.

So we started looking for parts in their favourite stories where people were called bad things, untrue things, or got restored and saved by someone calling them by what they really were.

The bad guys in Pokemon (Team Rocket) call Ash a “twerp”. (“But he’s a friend. And a boy.”) It was a bit of a stretch for them, but I brought up that Mulan was pretty much called a “dishonor” ...and we remembered that her father and the Emperor then honor her, calling her “daughter” and “hero”. In Moana, the evil monster is, well, called a monster. “But it was really an owie!!!!” shouted the smallest one -- I never got her name.

“Charlie Brown,” Galina added. “The tree and Charlie Brown.”

How? I asked her, puzzled. She sort of floored me by saying they were both wilty and called stupid, but they just needed love.

“That’s it!” I high-fived her. “Rehumanized. And tree-ized.”

“I,” said the little one again, “AM NOT A COCKROACH.”

“Exactly,” I said, “You’re a human, and a girl, and rehumanizing is callin