Otto Warmbier, Philando Castile, and the out-group derogation of men

Otto Warmbier

Typically, when a human being dies, no matter how despicable, their families are awarded the ability to grieve, and the departed is granted some dignity. (See: Death and Funeral of Richard Nixon) This however, is not true when we believe the departed or their family to be subhuman. People we believe we are superior to are known to social scientists as an out-group.

Out-group members (a.k.a. “them”) when viewed by in-group members (a.k.a. “us”) are not perceived as individuals, but as part of a subhuman group. All humans are subject to in-group/out-group dynamics. All out-groups are perceived as non-individual, subhuman examples of their group’s stereotype.

When bad things happen to out-group members, including death, in-group members justify the suffering and claim that the group is the cause of their own misfortune. Usually, this will be justified by alluding to the behaviors of the stereotype.

For example, the New York Post reported that 62 year-old Professor Dettwyler, an Anthropologist from Delaware, apparently did not recognize Otto Warmbier, the young American who’d died days before, as part of her in-group.  Her comments regarding the young man’s death (after stealing a N. Korean New Year’s Eve Poster) are a perfect example of in-group behavior.  According to the article, she suggested that the young man, “Got exactly what he deserved”.

She went on to discuss how he was not an individual, but a representation of the stereotype. She said, “These are the same kids who cry about their grades because they didn’t think they’d really have to read and study the material to get a good grade“.

She then, in nearly textbook fashion, lays the blame on his parents for his indiscretion. She warns others, “His parents ultimately are to blame for his growing up thinking he could get away with whatever he wanted,” she continued.

Perhaps, in the most surprising twist, she conflates his death with actions she attributes to his out-group, “Maybe in the US, where young, white, rich, clueless white males routinely get away with raping women. Not so much in North Korea.” She further admonishes the parents for their poor parenting and clarifies that they also deserve what they get,  “And of course, it’s Otto’s parents who will pay the price for the rest of their lives.”.

All of these comments are what is known to social scientists as out-group derogation.  Derogation is subtracting, removing, debasing, and/or dehumanizing by applying a group stereotype. This is often done without prejudice.


Philando Castile

In the US, when a black man is shot by police, the local media usually runs the highest quality, most easily accessible image. More often than not, this is conveniently supplied by the government. One reason the media might run that image versus a social media image is that seeing a mugshot makes some people more comfortable that the system is working just fine and that the world is a just place to live in.

In other words, when they see a black man’s mug shot, they rationalize that the stereotyped person deserved whatever they got because “all of them” are like that. It’s considered bad or racist to think of a black man as deserving to die, but it’s less disturbing to think that about a black “criminal.”  Black criminals are an out-group, and as such are perceived implicitly or explicitly by the majority of Americans as subhuman.

In the case of Philando Castile, there was no mug shot available from the government.  Philando Castile had never been arrested, ever, for anything. Philando Castile was a model citizen. Philando Castile beat the odds of a system that was stacked against him from the beginning. Philando Castile was a hard working union member. Philando Castile remembered the food allergies of the kids he served lunch at a St. Paul Public School. Philando Castile supported his girlfriend, and loved her little girl as if she were his own.

Philando Castile was an awesome man, by all accounts, one that any community would be happy to call their own. This all ended in 2016, because a police officer became frightened because “the car he pulled over smelled like pot.” Philando Castile was shot and killed while surrendering a legal, licensed firearm in the course of the classic government shakedown technique known as a Routine Traffic Stop.

His entire family was destroyed on Facebook Live when a St. Anthony Police Officer misjudged his attempt to reveal and surrender his legal and licensed firearm as a threat.  Philando Castile was killed over a misunderstanding, based on a stereotype.

If you think Philando Castile “got what he had coming” or if you believe Philando Castile “acted like a stereotypical black man” and that was probably the reason he was shot, YOU ARE AN IGNORANT RACIST WHO CAN NOT SEE PAST YOUR OWN OUT-GROUP BIAS TO RECOGNIZE INDIVIDUAL HUMANITY. YOU SUCK.

It’s easy to understand why ignorant racists might think these types of thoughts, or post them to social media. They’re ignorant and they’re racists. Racists are proud of being a certain type of stupid.

Prof. Dettwyler’s statements, however, unveil a surprising insight; Even a social scientist with a sophisticated understanding of  in-group dynamics and out-group derogation can fall victim to the all-too-human trappings of social bias.  If an Anthropology Professor could fall into such a textbook case of out-group derogation, should it be surprising that mainstream media outlets echoed her sentiments?

What could the impacts be for law enforcement, the court systems, or even social work and education?

In a series of articles for A Voice for Men we’ll explore the remarkable science of grossness, (parasite and pathogen stress) and explore its role in human group dynamics. We’ll also explore how men, as a group, may be at greater risk of out-group derogation.


Warning: While there are gross topics covered in these articles, nothing is more disturbing than the deaths these two men faced or the bigoted responses their deaths elicited from in-group members.


To read all of the articles in this series:
Article #1 – Otto Warmbier, Philando Castile and the Outgroup Derogation of Men
Article #2 – Grossness as a Human Value Indicator
Article #3 – A Weak Case for the Humanity of Men
Article #4 – Oh Fuck; We’re Doomed and Only Women Can Save the Day
Article #5 – Philando Castile, Justine Damond, and the In-Group Bias Toward Woman

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