I can choose from 56 genders on Facebook, but I still can’t choose to identify my race. As America diversifies gender identity options and moves away from the associated binary, we are still expected to be silent on race. Why is self-identity acceptable for one social category and not for another?
In my opinion, transcending social categories (e.g., race, gender, nationality), can only come from an awareness and acknowledgment that different people identify differently and it is these differences that define any superordinate identity. Although it is disingenuous to say or think that these categories are the same, their function in self-categorization and identity are similar, and they are similarly affected by robust discussion. However, time and time again we see that gender and race are treated differently. When describing another person, mentioning their gender is the default and does not indicate sexism, but mentioning their race automatically indicates racism. It is socially acceptable to say that men and women are different, but it is not OK to say that different races are different. When politically correct individuals talk about the “human race,” it is a call for an eradication of racial and ethnic differences, but not the eradication of gender differences.
There are several stories that make these differences in language disturbingly apparent. During the 2008 election, it was common to talk about the effect of Hillary’s “woman-ness” on the office of president, but it was not acceptable to talk about the effect of Obama’s Blackness on his electability. Recently Michele Bachmann stated that Obama was elected because of America’s White Guilt, but that guilt did not work in the favor of women.
We are in a oxymoronic state of self-identity in the US, where it is acceptable to talk about one identity category but not another. I am beginning to question whether or not the American public consciousness can consider more than 1 cause at a time. This is the most frustrating concern for me, because we can dedicate critical thinking to one issue, but we cannot apply this critical thinking strategy to other problems that deserve, and would benefit from, similar thinking.
To end on a positive note, please check out George Carlin’s classic routine on the ridiculous differences in language that we use to talk about race and gender…
Addendum: I originally talked Frenchie Davis’ comments regarding the Davis/Dunn trial, and featured this quote demonstrating the not-so-implicit conflict between the issue of racial identity and gender identity:
I need the gay community to STOP comparing our struggle to the Black Civil Rights Movement. You DON’T get to draw that comparison and then remain SILENT when the civil rights of Black teens are being violated. [READ MORE]
A colleague noted that I was conflating gender identity and sexual orientation. However, upon further reflection, I think that these issues unfortunately conflated the minute the phrase “LGBT(QPIA).” We have conflated gender identity and sexual orientation as a matter of public discourse.