The television news for the last few days has been full of reports about the situation in Calais. What is really disconcerting about it all is the way the reporters, commentators and anchors manage to avoid using a certain word: people.
They always talk about ‘migrants’ doing this, and ‘migrants’ doing that. At no point do they ever refer to the migrants as people. It might seem like splitting hairs, but it feels like a concerted effort to de-humanise an entire group of people, which so often is what we do so that nobody kicks off too much when we do something bad to them.
The same thing happens with people who receive benefits. You won’t see them called ‘people who receive benefits’. They will be, at best, ‘benefit claimants’ but more usually ‘scroungers’, ‘skivers’ or worse. They are defined by one single thing. Even the Krays get better PR than that – they are defined by being a) gangsters and b) good to their mum.
It is a dangerous path to go down. Dehumanising individuals or groups never ends well, and defining people by one single characteristic or attribute to the exclusion of all others is the first step to dehumanising. I always feel a bit uncomfortable when people who inhabit the chatrooms, forums and newspaper comments start describing anybody as ‘animals’. There is always that unsaid, but implied, conclusion that we needn’t worry about due process or any other niceties because you only need to apply that to people.
How are we ever going to solve problems if we are continually being whipped up into a lynch mob mentality?
Even the dentist who shot Cecil the lion is a human being. Not a very nice one, obviously, and not deserving of any sympathy, but nevertheless still a human being.
Even Tories are human. There, I said it.