You’ve probably encountered this type of mealy mouthed watered down “activism” before: We’re all human! Oppressors and oppressed, victims and abusers, prisoners and wardens, we’re all human! *cue sitcom Christmas episode level cheesy music* It’s a message that betrays a naive wish to skip all the hard work of justice, right to the peace and comfort of unity. It may be consciously well intended, but it is detrimental to real healing and real equity.
“We’re all human” is erasure, in several ways. It erases the ways we’re not all treated human. Like a white person defiantly “correcting” a Black Lives Matter” activist by shouting “ALL lives matter!”, this statement pretends away the life and death consequences of bigotry. It sweeps under the proverbial rug varied life expectancies and lifetime risks of violence, homelessness, and incarceration. It ignores our struggles. “We’re all human” obfuscates the problem that a cultural archetype of a default “human” already exists, and we don’t all look like it.
This seemingly ecumenical phrase also hides our sins. Homophobia, racism, sexism, xenophobia, trans antagonism, classism, ableism – these are systems of violence we inflict on one another; these are the ways we say “All humans are equal, but some humans are more equal than others.” When we declare our common humanity, too often it is because we don’t want to consider our parts in dehumanizing and degrading others.
“We’re all human” erases our triumphs. Slave rebellions, prison riots, marches, protests, civil rights won and lives lost in the battle, all that any oppressed minority has won or salvaged is dismissed with this short sentence. It ignores how much farther some have had to come.
“We’re all human” erases how far some of us still have to go. It ignores disparities in infant health, maternal mortality, and access to nutrition and family planning. It pretends away the suffering of garment workers, migrant farmers, and the people who build our consumer goods. It erases quality of life discrepancies, singing “la la la” with fingers in ears.
“We’re all human” erases identities and dismisses the importance of being able to define yourself. It strips autonomy from labeled people, labels they may have fought for and deeply love. And it does so in a way that suggests my labels are inhuman. It says on some level that I can’t be a woman and a person, gay and a person, disabled and a person. That’s not actually inclusion; it’s the opposite.
Are we all human? Yes and no. We’re not all treated as human. We don’t all resemble our culture’s default concept of human. After being treated like monsters for our deviation from that concept, some of us don’t feel very human. Humans are not treated as equals by other humans. “We’re all human” erases that.