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Everyone Matters: Eliminating Dehumanizing Practices in Physical Education

Brian Culp

joperd cover January 2021

Kirk (2020) has suggested that we are living in a time of social turbulence, where the impact of a host of inequities, events and crises have contributed to a society that is perceived to be spiraling out of control. This observation corresponds with the call for institutions to demonstrate inclusive excellence toward the promotion of diversity, equity and inclusion in communities (Russell, 2019). The field of physical education has long been critiqued for marginalizing those positioned as “different” (Fitzpatrick & Santamaría, 2015). This includes, but is not limited to, the reinforcement of negative stereotypes related to girls’ ability, perceptions of Black and Brown youth as having superhuman physical capacities, and the exclusion of trans, queer or intersex bodies (Azzarito & Solomon, 2005; Devís-Devís et al., 2018; Harrison & Clark, 2016; Hodge, 2014; Landi, 2018; Sykes, 2011). Given the renewed focus on the body over the past few years and the interactions that occur relative to class, race, sexuality, and ability (Blackshear & Culp, 2020; Clark, 2020; Lynch, Sutherland, & Walton-Fisette, 2020), Liberti (2017) challenged professionals to remove preconceived notions of human movement that marginalize certain bodies while normalizing others.

Smith (2011), in studying various periods of history, concluded that individuals under conflict have a propensity to think in terms of hierarchies. This leads to ways of thought that empower persons to complete acts that would be unthinkable under normal circumstances. The demotion of others to a predisposed natural hierarchy is a process of depriving a person or a group of positive human qualities known as dehumanization. Haslam and Loughnan (2014) categorized dehumanization as a violation of our belief in a common humanity that is “blatant, subtle, influenced by hate, indifference, collectively organized, or intensely personal” (p. 401). Further, dehumanization promotes the denial of uniquely human attributes to individuals or groups in a manner that is cruel and often systematic. This article gives an overview of the practice of dehumanization and the implications for learners in our classes and provides strategies to help students succeed.

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