Social work is far reaching and incredibly diverse. The following words are just a snippet…
Four Facts You Need to Know About Genocide
What do you think of when you hear the word genocide?
Rwanda? The Holocaust? Mass killings?
At its most basic, genocide is the physical destruction of a group of people, most often completed through mass killings.
Why is this important for *right now*?
Because babies are being taken away from their families for political gain. Because young African American boys are being shot without thought. Because these atrocities are being fought over in order to protect our own egos and social status instead of fixing the problems together as a people united.
Because hate for others is seeping deep into the world…right now.
Digging into the Definition
In 1946, the UN developed a much more complex definition of the term genocide (this was also the first time genocide was actually defined).
For an act to be considered genocide, it must be shown that there was an intention to destroy a particular group of people.
That means that a mass killing doesn’t even have to happen for genocide to occur. The UN has determined that causing serious bodily or mental harm, creating life conditions that will lead to destruction, preventing births within a group, or moving children within the group to a different group are all considered genocide.
What’s the common theme between each of these acts?
Deliberately attempting to destroy a group of people.
The methods vary slightly, but the goal remains the same.
As I mentioned earlier, some of the most well-known genocides include Rwanda, the Holocaust, Cambodia, and Darfur.
Each genocide may be different in region, people group, or motive…
But so many factors are the same.
1. It Starts With Labels
Separating the group of people from the rest of the community as a whole is the very first step of genocide.
This first step involves creating an “us vs. them” mentality. It is changing how the group of people is viewed by others.
This group might be considered “different” because of reasons such as skin tone, religion, or cultural practice.
But it’s more than just identifying differences.
It’s beginning to disassociate with the people group. Interactions may become infrequent. Strong opinions begin to form (ex: that people group doesn’t “deserve” similar job opportunities or that people group shouldn’t have access to the same resources as everyone else).
There are a total of ten steps within genocide:
I highly recommend clicking here to read about all ten.
2. Dehumanization is Critical
Without dehumanization, I am convinced that any movement toward genocide would fail.
Individuals conducting any mass destruction have to have first convinced themselves that the targeted people group is inferior, lesser than, and/or not human.
In Rwanda, some of this manifested in calling Tutsis “cockroaches.” Yes. Human beings were called cockroaches.
Dehumanization can be a slow process.
Brené Brown writes in her book Braving the Wilderness that
“Dehumanizing others is the process by which we become accepting of violations against human nature, the human spirit, and, for many of us, violations against the central tenets of our faith.”
Humans are naturally inclined to protect other humans. So, in order for atrocities like genocide to occur, a people group cannot be considered “human.” Which is why dehumanization is so critical to the genocide process.
It’s also why it is so important to recognize when dehumanization is happening. So we can call it what it is and stop it from continuing.
Brené Brown says it like this:
“We can’t pretend that every citizen who participated in or was a bystander to human atrocities was a violent psychopath…we are all vulnerable to the slow and insidious practice of dehumanizing, therefore we are all responsible for recognizing it and stopping it.”
3. Ordinary Humans Participate
Let me say that again.
Ordinary, every day human beings become mass murderers during genocide.
Moving through the stages of genocide can be a slow process. One that allows for slow changes in belief or mindset. Changes that we don’t notice happening until it’s too late.
In Rwanda, neighbors killed neighbors. Hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children died at the hands at those they loved.
You aren’t exempt from this. Nor am I. We are ALL capable of mass destruction. Of senseless, brutish, horrific murders.
That’s such a terrifying concept. So much so, it makes sense that we don’t want to acknowledge it.
But when we acknowledge our susceptibility to be a participant in such deep rooted hate, we are taking steps to prevent genocide from occurring. We are allowing ourselves to become aware of the impact of our actions and the impact of the messages we receive from others.
Through our own discomfort, we are able to promote reconciliation, the dignity and worth of all humans, and the extension of peace, grace, and love.
4. Your Nation is Not Exempt
Genocide isn’t something that just happens “over there.”
It isn’t just some tragic historical event that humans have learned from.
I wish we had.
But we haven’t.
We are all susceptible to fall somewhere within the ten stages of genocide.
And as long as innocent African American boys are being shot without thought, as long as babies are being stripped from their families at the border, as long as hate speech runs rampant…we are at risk for moving further through the stages of genocide.
So much of this can be prevented.
By stopping it before it starts. By being honest with ourselves and calling each other out. By not separating others. By reminding ourselves of the beautiful, messy, world of human diversity.
By taking action in our local communities.
With honesty, awareness, and action.
Ask Yourself These Questions.
1. What group(s) of people in my community are separate from the community as a whole?
2. Who has been labeled as different?
3. What group(s) of people have been treated poorly? Is their humanity being stripped from them?
4. How am I (as an individual) interacting with other groups of people? Do I tend to separate/label a group of people? Do I tend to dehumanize a certain group of people?
5. How do I treat individuals with whom I don’t agree? (Be sure to consider controversial issues, sensitive topics, etc.)
6. How can I promote the dignity and humanity for the separated/marginalized group of people?
7. How can my community promote the dignity and humanity for the marginalized people group?