We’re not going into a tirade here about your grammar. Or the difference between “their,” “there” and “they’re”. There is something that rankles us, though, and we do believe creates an important distinction:
People are WHOs – not WHATs
“BFD,” you say. No. Seriously. It’s important, and here’s why:
Throughout history, groups of people have seen fit to view other groups as somehow threatening to their way of life. In civilized societies, though, there are norms and taboos that deter acting on the sense that “otherness” justifies eradication. So a process of dehumanization or subhumanization is put into place, so that it seems that the “other” is inconsequential and undeserving of humane treatment. Once the “other” is no longer seen as quite human, or has been objectified, the taboos no longer apply. The “other” can be subjugated, enslaved, tortured, murdered or an entire class of “others” can be targeted for genocide.
Who versus What is a tiny, insidious means of subhumanization. “What” refers to a thing – a thing you can point to and say “that”. So, unless you only receive robocalls, you probably would never say “What’s on the phone?” because the answer likely isn’t “That’s on the phone”. There is an assumption that a human (the only question being which out of 7 billion) has dialed with the intention of speaking with you. You acknowledge a full-fledged person is likely at the other end of the call. By contrast, asking “What’s for dinner?” pretty much rules out that you’re a cannibal.
By falling into the linguistic trap of saying “A person that…” we objectify one another. We fail to acknowledge a person’s humanity. Maybe that’s why the Powers-That-Be have felt quite comfortable paying those pesky, subhuman servers $2.13/hr for over 20 years. Maybe this is why they off-shore jobs to unseen subhumans elsewhere “that” they can pay even less. Maybe it’s the reason there has to be a Fight for $15 – because Workers must gain recognition of their humanity to wrest from the Powers a sustainable wage worthy of people.
We admire and respect Robert Reich, whose webpage we used to illustrate our point. Inequality for All is a well-done and fact-full film, and we urge you to see it. However, even in this screen grab, the linguistic trap was baited and taken.
Let’s commit to changing our lexicon, recognizing that we’re all people, and referring to one another as WHOs, not WHATs.
© 2014 Poligags