A Travellerspoint blog

#5: Exclusion

Keeping the other out...

An instrument used to measure human skulls

A book used to record and compare hair, eye, and skin colors

ex•clude [ik-sklood]
verb: to shut or keep out; prevent the entrance of.

There is an exhibit in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., which timelines the Nazi’s attempt to expel Jews from Europe. Towards the beginning of the exhibit is a section that looks at the biological data that German scientists collected on various ethnicities. Their goal, stemming from the theory of Darwinian evolution, was to prove that the Aryan race was superior to all others. By measuring head size, taking hair samples, and comparing eye colors, scientists believed that they could determine who was of the highest physical value in order to breed and build a better Germany. As a result, those deemed “less evolved,” such as people with disabilities, gypsies, and Jews, were to be prevented from raising families, either by forced sterilization or by death.

When I went to visit Museé du Quai Branley a Parisian museum featuring exhibits on Africa, American, Asian, and Pacific culture, I saw similar objects to the ones I saw in DC. I saw a book of color samples, used to compare skin, hair, and eyes. I saw an instrument used to measure the size of human skulls. The contraption looked more like a torture implement to me. These were in an exhibit called, “The Making of the Human Savage.” Essentially, it discussed the human fear of and fascination with things which are different. The exhibit carried paintings and sketches done of people with grotesque physical maladies. It then described how these individuals were put into side shows. Later, people from different ethnic backgrounds were featured in these human zoos. The biological differences between a European and a non-European were deemed so great that the non-European was dehumanized to the point that he was featured in a traveling exhibit. The intent of these exhibits was to shock and entertain. They also served the purpose of solidifying Darwinian values in the minds of the attendees.

When we dehumanize someone, we exclude them. Lest we begin to claim our innocence, let me give some examples of how we do this. We sigh when we have to build ramps and elevators in able to accommodate people bound to walkers or wheelchairs. We resist the notion of affirmative action, deeming it “reverse racism,” and no, we’re not racists; in this we prevent minority scholars from moving forward in their education. We refuse to look into the eyes of people on the street holding cardboard signs and a cup of coins. We think that if we look, we have to give, and that sparing a quarter, a meal, or just a minute to talk will rob us of our pleasure.

In a previous post I discussed the notion of “embrace.” This is the idea of including “the other.’’ This is the idea of esteeming every human life as worthy of love, acceptance, and acknowledgement. It means making sacrifices in order to keep to these values. For example, making a mountain-top monastery handicap-accessible takes time and money and may not seem like a worthwhile pursuit, but it dignifies the one who could otherwise not visit.

Posted by klewis91 04:52

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