Volume 9, Issue 2, Spring 2019
Brian J. Buckley
Racism and the Denial of Personhood
One of the worst aspects of racism is the damage inflicted on the human person by evoking feelings of separateness and inferiority. In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King meant to capture that impact by referring to a “degenerating sense of nobodiness.” This essay invokes King’s reference to “nobodiness” and connects it explicitly with the negative effects on three particular elements of the human person. Those are having a unique and expressive voice, living a narrative life, and being a Thou. Each is part of a distinctive, unrepeatable personhood. Racism, however, with its categorizing and generalizing tendencies, denies the recognition of those attributes and thereby accords a status of “nobody” to the victim. His or her point of view, personal story, and capacity to stand with integrity as a Thou are set aside. Rendered a “nobody” by racism, his or her personhood has been denied.