Constructing an understanding of social constructs

Throughout the discussions on gender that have been sweeping through our circles of late, there’s been one particularly maddening dichotomy in thought that’s been thrown into sharp relief for me — that people having this conversation evidently have competing ideas of what a “social construct” actually is. Will has a great post on the gender discussions proper over at Skepchick, which has a passage that I think highlights exactly why people are getting it wrong in our communities:

It is no coincidence that many people within the atheoskeptosphere tend toward essentialism. After all, most people in these communities tend to highly value the natural sciences and think of science as a culture-free objective enterprise. Thus, the “soft” social sciences (and the non-scientific humanities) are often viewed as being wishy-washy and far less objective than the natural sciences, and so any theories developed in these disciplines are subject to increased, if not hyper, skepticism.

I cannot think of a more accurate statement to summarize why people in these communities are having such a hard time with these conversations.

Content note for topics that involve violence against certain genders or identities, assault on personal autonomy, and might trigger dysphoria amongst people prone to such. I’m trying to be sensitive herein, but we’re talking about gender-prescriptivists and the nexus of sex and gender.

Full disclosure, I’m a heteronormative heterosexual cis white middle-class male — pretty well the privilege royal flush in our society. But I have a particular interest in society and the so-called “soft sciences” of sociology; of human interactions, gender, and social justice. So, I’m bending my thoughts to the fights I’ve witnessed over many many years of blogging and other internet conversations. Correct me if I get anything wrong herein, please. I’d strongly prefer you voice your concerns and I alter part of this argument, than that I cause anyone (especially those already under scrutiny or oppression) any undue pain.

Though recently we’ve all seen this argument play out in relation to trans identity (my most proximate example is in the comments on my only post on the most recent fight), I’ve personally witnessed this particular vector of discussion play out far more often in context of race — mostly when one explains that race is a social construct, by virtue of the actual genetic differences involved between races being swamped out by something as commonplace as, say, the difference between the average child and either of their parents. The arguments generally play out identically though — “Reals, not feels”, shout the hyperskeptics. “Therefore we should be colourblind and thus ignore any injustice happening to one race — All Lives Matter.” However, even those arguments, galling though they are, become confused when someone, in service of anti-trans sentiment or simply out of ignorance of the topic at hand and making false analogies, tries to make the argument that Rachel Dolezal was “trans-racial”, and that if we were “colourblind” we might recognize that Rachel Dolezal is just the same as Caitlyn Jenner and her transition from man to woman.

And they’re confused because they mistake “social construct” for something that is entirely made up and thus could be thrown out without impact, rather than being an agreed-upon framework by which we understand differences between human beings and as label shortcuts to simplify language, and to better understand a rough approximation of a person’s identity and upbringing in shorthand.

Race is a social construct. Gender is also a social construct. That does not make them “not real things”, in the same way that money is a social construct — as an abstraction and standardization of value and a symbol of resources available to a person. Nobody is rushing to say money doesn’t actually exist or have any importance in our capitalist society. They might want to abolish money, in the same way as a person might want to abolish gender. But that’s not to say they’re going to succeed without serious changes in society, changes that evidently can’t be envisioned happening by increments by the people proposing that abolishing the construct is a worthy goal. In the case of money, you’d have to have absolute abundance of all resources — free limitless energy and a replicator machine that could make whatever you want with that energy, for instance. In the case of gender, you’d have to have a society that accepted any performative aspect of self-identity without our innate desire to pigeonhole or label them in short-form for communications purposes.

Perhaps another example would help. Another thing that’s a social construct is sex. Not sexual congress, but the binary male / female dichotomy. Genetics are not so binary, and there’s a fuzzy area in between the assignments where things get dicey. Assigning a child a sex at birth when maybe 95% (a number off the top of my head) might fit readily into one of the two boxes without issues, and the remainder do not fit quite so neatly, is very problematic. It’s doubly problematic when people — doctors, parents, cigar makers — use the mental shortcut of what sex that child is assigned to determine what gender they’re likewise assigned at birth. The cigars don’t after all say “it’s a male!” And “it’s a boy!” could rightly be viewed with skepticism as to its certainty, knowing that it’s only VERY LIKELY a boy, and might actually turn out to be, say, a trans neutrois person once they’re fully able to make the gender identity determination for themselves.

But “It’s very likely a boy!” won’t play well on cigars except amongst a particularly enlightened crowd. And even then, with a truly enlightened society, who’s to say the parents would then have any particular investment or excitement of hitting the Red-or-Black on the roulette wheel, that they might ask doctors to bump the child from 0 or 00 into their preferred category? There’s comfort in certainty that you’ve pigeonholed a person appropriately. There’s likewise an abrogation of personal integrity in altering the child to fit one or the other sets of criteria.

Some examples of this that happen fairly regularly (given how rare the conditions involved actually are) include removal of one or the other set of sexual organs from intersex children, or giving courses of testosterone to a micropenised boy or removing it altogether and raising the child as a girl. The existence of the Phall-O-meter, developed by Anne Fausto-Sterling, speaks to our desire to enforce a sex binary. And we all know that this sex binary impacts on gender, because parents generally socialize infants in the gender that matches their sex — people with vaginas are treated as little girls, etc.

It is no surprise that there is so much pushback against abolition of the gender binary — even by those who claim to want to eliminate gender altogether, who rail against trans folk as being alternately “invaders” into female spaces, or “traitors” by switching side to Team Patriarchy. When the binary suggests that men are always oppressors and women always victims, that presupposes that everyone must fit into one of those two categories and that gender — which is performative — isn’t actually impacted societally by those two camps. That you can take on any gender you want without having had that gender impacted by society socializing a person in a particular way. And yet, you will see the same people presupposing a sex dichotomy, railing against performative gender, demanding that only assigned-females-at-birth get any dominion over the gender category of “woman”, and that any trans woman must needs define themselves as “males with unusual gender performance”. TERFs‘ ideology is confused in this way — it argues both sides of each issue to arrive at a muddled and hairy conclusion that necessarily marginalizes identities whose very existence undercut their own. It is no wonder people like Cathy Brennan and Elizabeth Hungerford petitioned to have trans identity stripped from UN protections — the existence of trans folk undercuts their own sense of self-identity. They believe that a trans woman in a “female-bodied” space would pose some sort of danger to their efforts to… eliminate gender. Because some of these trans women might ACTUALLY be male rapists in disguise! Or some other fear-mongering nonsense. You know.

No, I’m not sure how to square that either. I just don’t know why anyone would want to try, why anyone who pretends at rationality who legitimately wants to interrogate gender and their relationship with it wouldn’t write off Brennan and Hungerford as cranks and get their gender-critical ideas elsewhere.

It is probably possible to be “transracial” in a limited sense. It is certainly possible for a white person to live in a predominantly black culture and to integrate into local customs and, as the racist phrase goes, “go native”. To naturalize to a culture that is not the one of their heritage. America was after all founded on being a melting pot of culture. Certainly people do it all the time here, coming to America to start a small business and find their fortune, despite hailing from a country where the closed-minded and provincial sorts who live in this country might look at you and say “yer a terrist!” because you’re not the same colour as them, or speak with an accent, or have a funny name (not like good American names like Stroker or Dorkoff). And these people integrate into some amount of the local culture, even though America as a culture is not itself a race. It is a good example of how someone might come to adhere to cultural standards of a “race” which might have firebreaks built between intermingling — laws like anti-miscegenation, microaggressions against people of certain skin color, systemic problems like broken-window policing that keep society stratified and finding that those stratifications, strangely enough, occur along racial divides. All of this might lead to someone being socialized into another “race” despite not technically being a member, and functioning primarily within the framework of that race.

But a person like Dolezal who might still benefit at any time from white privilege by stopping kinking their hair and pretending to be a light-skinned black person, who chose to present as black out of cynical self-interest and an evident desire to be the blacks’ Great White Hope and lead their organizations and be their Respectable Spokesperson, is more like the grossly improbable bugaboo scenario of a person pretending to be trans in order to invade your spaces. It’s a violation in that it’s not true. It’s not, like with Caitlyn Jenner’s gender identity, about finding an identity that is more comfortable to you at the expense of some amount of privilege, about being able to perform an identity that fits better your internal map of self. With Dolezal, it was about a person literally deceiving an underclass in order to gain some measure of direct power over them. Try to tell me that Jenner has more power as a woman, binning all but vestiges of her macho Olympian past, without sounding like an MRA.

And beyond all that, even black folks who integrate thoroughly with white culture in America to the point of participating in all the societally prescribed methods of maintaining the capitalist stratification that keeps their race oppressed, will themselves become targets by racists. A black CEO of a Fortune 500 company would, I posit, have a higher chance of being pulled over and maybe murdered in a traffic stop for resisting arrest than a white carjacker driving the same Porsche. Race is a social construct based mostly around skin colour and prejudice, and any cultural upbringing associated with that race becomes conflated and confused with that race. Thus a racist might make fun of black people for eating collard greens while New Zealanders can get away with eating Dalmatian cabbage without a second look.

That social construct has real impact. Saying “race is a social construct” is not the same thing as saying “race isn’t real and we should all be colourblind”. And saying “gender is a social construct” is not the same as saying gender has no impact, or that if we did away with gender that people would no longer need to perform anything.

In fact, I think the opposite. Even if you’re critical of gender in its current form, there will always be a performative aspect of gender. Even those who don’t perform typically, who are disinterested in any overt displays of gender, are performing the gender identity that they are most comfortable with — they have added to their self-identity those routines that allow them to avoid what they know society expects of them, and that abstaining is itself performative. It is possible to be agender entirely, to simply be the intellectual whose only pursuits are science, or the artist whose only pursuits are art, who cannot function in society because they cannot relate to other people, or who can function in society by understanding the social mores and rules and performing them only to the point where they don’t involve anything related to sexuality or romantic coupling. It’s even possible for people who are entirely agender to perform romantic gestures with one another. (Though steeped as we are in heteronormative romantic narratives, it would look to most of us like a couple that fits into other boxes, like a regular heterosexual couple who happens to perform gender very differently, who wears or dresses however they want regardless of gender associations with particular modes of dress.)

But gender also serves a purpose in society, though it need not necessarily if only we were more willing as a species to ask questions of our potential partners. When I say I want all people of all sexes to be able to perform whatever gender they prefer without being judged for it, I also understand that heterosexual cis people might have an interest in finding a reproductive mate and that these people might be inclined to look for, or rule out, certain mates based on those intentions, and looking for people of particular genders is a quick mental shortcut.

This might also be why there’s such a moral panic amongst bigots about the possibility of these shortcuts being “wrong” in the sense that what they perceive to be a woman might actually have a penis, meaning they found themselves attracted to someone with whom they can’t mate in the traditional sense. Their heterosexuality is thrown into question because of someone else’s performance and they become confused, because their identity is so tied up in their preferring vulvas that they find any chance of them judging presence of preferred sexual organ incorrectly to be repulsive. Their identity then hinges on preventing someone else from performing theirs, and they become (often violently) reactive.

So there will always be some judgment involved in interpersonal interactions. I’d just rather it be pluralistic and pragmatic judgment rather than xenophobic or bigoted judgment resulting in unnecessary pain out of reactions to perceived assault on the bigot’s self-identity. And I’m especially disinterested in judgments that result in abridging people’s rights as full human beings; or judgments that result in violations of bodily autonomy or bodily integrity. I think my positions about pluralism, about gender, and about trans-inclusivity specifically are entirely consistent with my core belief that each human being has a right to self-direction and self-identity, and that only where that self-identity trods upon another’s is the identity itself in question.

It’s for that reason that I side with women against a society that would force women to be birthing factories, that I would side with black folks against a systemic injustice that results in their disproportionate murder and incarceration and enforced poverty at the hands of those with power, and that I would side with trans folks against those trans-exclusive “gender critical” folks who find the existence of trans identity to be undercutting to their own sense of identity and who would petition to strip them of fundamental human rights.

It seems only fair and just in this world rife with injustice.

And one cannot come to these positions without understanding what a social construct actually is, and isn’t. You can’t change the world in a positive way without first understanding how it functions now, or by throwing out large swathes of it in service of a jingoistic “colourblindness” or “genderblindness” just because it feels like the more skeptical course of action. If you try to navigate society by gut feel, you’ll get results no better than random — you might arrive at the most just world, but only by sheer chance.

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Constructing an understanding of social constructs
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26 thoughts on “Constructing an understanding of social constructs

  1. Pen
    1

    I think there’s something a bit off about your interpretation of Dolezal and race as a social construct. The fact is, she could only do what she did because a great many people who don’t look black at all are accepted as black in US society on the basis of having a black ancestor. It seems paradoxical to those of us who aren’t from that society, but it’s a culturally specific way of constructing the concept of race, with a whole history in the one drop rule. And it kind of blows the argument from privilege out of the water. I’m very much afraid that what’s lacking in Rachel Dolezal, from the American point of view, is that one drop.

  2. 2

    Yes @1: And reminds me of Puddinhead Willson and We’ll Spit On Your Graves… I’ve never properly understood how light-skinned people in the US can be seen as black and darker-skinned / tanned be seen as white… but yeah I feel that it is to do with racial identity being performative – its linked to classism and markers of poverty being encapsulated in race.

    Also great article, from my reading it didn’t seem like OB falls into any of those TERF-associated categories.

  3. 3

    I’ve often heard “Race is a social construct” and took that to mean “we should all be colorblind”. I never really understood what someone might actually mean, until a Person of Color used the expression in a conversation with me the other day — and I damn well knew that wasn’t what he meant. Then I read the Skepchick article and the light started to dawn. You’ve helped make it even more clear.

  4. 5

    And one cannot come to these positions without understanding what a social construct actually is, and isn’t. You can’t change the world in a positive way without first understanding how it functions now, or by throwing out large swathes of it in service of a jingoistic “colourblindness” or “genderblindness” just because it feels like the more skeptical course of action.

    I’d go even further than that. To be “colourblind” is less skeptical and less considerate. I think it’s actually a bad thing. Less bad than outright racism, but in practice I find it to be a form of bias-driven stealth and denial in the face of one’s unacknowledged racial assumptions and biases.

    Racism can be tricky to define. One of the ways I’ve heard it described as the failure to see someone else the way they see them selves, for reasons of racial perception.

    Depending on context, that definition may or may not be a good one. But I like that idea of a failure to see someone else the way they see themselves. Because it matters.

    Most of my friends are brown – Indians and Sri Lankans. On the one hand, you could say that I don’t treat them differently to anyone else, which is true in the sense that I don’t treat them poorly. Or at least, no more poorly than anyone else – my circle of friends bond by exchanging witticisms at one another’s expense. From the outside we often come off as really cruel, but within the group it’s really just for the mutual joy at being clever shits at one another.

    But on the other hand, I do treat my brown friends differently. Because I’ve noticed that they have a different perception and experience of the world, and this forms part of their identities that is different to me own. So I take that into account when I relate to them: I instinctively try to imagine them as the complex individuals that they are, to see them, as closely as I can, as they see themselves. Racial identity is a part of that perception.

    I don’t believe that my relationships with my friends would be improved if I just ignored their racial identities and just projected on them from the outside the same set of assumptions and experiences under which my life operates.

  5. 6

    & yes @Daniel #5: the reason you can’t do that is because for you and for some parts of society, they are outside the default, and your “just projecting” would be in essence ignoring them as people and assuming the validity of what you (or me, often) consider normal…

  6. 7

    Note that some light skinned black people can and do access white privilege by “passing as white.” Do legal is not unique in this regard.

    My issue with Dolezal is the pattern of deception. She also claimed native American heritage, and lied about many life experiences.

    As in the OP, I can see validity in other circumstances, such as a white baby adopted and raised by a black family.

  7. 8

    Gender issues also shouldn’t be reduced to petty word-games by people who get a kick out of being unpleasant to others, but don’t want to admit it to themselves so need to find some flimsy but servicable excuse for it (cf the excuses made by the worst of the pitters and hyperskeptics for being shitty to atheists from marginalised groups… their attitudes are very similar to the worst of the A+ Inquisition).

    I’m not suggesting that most people aren’t acting with what they believe are good intentions, or at least well-justified intentions, but there’s an awful lot of humility and self-reflection missing from *all* sides in this discussion.

    On another note: “…it was about a person literally deceiving an underclass…”. You might want to consider an edit, as suggesting the Black American community constitutes “an underclass” is everso slightly, *very* problematic.

  8. 9

    Damn, forgot to add, I did appreciate your post for exploring some of the complexities that make taking absolutist positions so dangerous. Also that Skepchick link is a good intro to social constructs. Didn’t mean to just complain lol.

  9. 10

    Good post.
    It’s someting that has been driving me up the wall in those recent discussions: The ignorance on the actual terms of art, the philosophical groundwork and the most basic concepts.
    “Race” is a social construct.
    “Gender” is a social construct.
    “Ocean” is a social construct. You can still drown in it.
    That’s because we’re social creatures who construct the world through language. Sure you can say “but Giliell, “Ocean” isn’t a social construct, it has a very clear definition”, and then I ask you “where does the Atlantic Ocean end, precisely, where does the Pacific Ocean begin, why is that the case and what happens to 150 water molecules that were part of the Atlantic Oces just a moment ago and are now part of the Pacific Ocean only that they changed right back.
    We cut up the world through language, we define the world through language. We shape the world through language. And then we believe that what we say is actually true in the sense that it adequately describes the world.

  10. 11

    The reason the constructs matter is because we are treated differently because of them. The reason race matters is because we have constructed a society where it matters.

    The recent issue around trans women being women is really illustrative of this, and hits so many — SO MANY — misunderstandings. The general argument is that only a woman born and raised as such can really understand the feminist perspective, and a transwoman is a man become woman and so has lived with all this male privilege that negates the lived experiences necessary to be equal to a “real” woman. Plus the whole Herp Derp Rapists! thing which, since Huckabee agrees with it, by definition must be a point of such ignorance and derpitude that I fear the Elder Gods will awake just to smite people for thinking it.

    Here’s the problem(s):

    For the majority of transwomen (really people, but since the argument and hoopla is over the womanz I’m going to discuss them), they knew they were girls at 2 and 3. They didn’t BECOME a woman, they were born a woman, just in the wrong body. And because for so long there was such stigma and misunderstanding, they had to hide that and maintain the image of masculinity for their own safety. So not only were they women the whole time, they were the main actors in their own oppression. It is a brutal and cruel thing. And their lives often depended upon it. So to dismiss these woman as not understand the oppression women feel? Not only do they have first hand knowledge, they are made to actively be a part of it. And even to be a part in the oppression of others. Imagine being undercover and breaking character can get you killed…

    But now we have a more interesting issue arising — as our society is more educated and open, those children at 2 and 3 are allowed to express themselves in the gender they are. I’m in trans parenting groups where kids as young as five and six are discussing name changes and transitioning. Or, as happens to a percentage of children, everything is pretty gender-neutral until puberty hits, and then it becomes “OMG THIS IS TOTALLY WRONG GROSS GET THAT OFF OF ME NOW” and if they have parents that are aware and kind they get puberty blockers and get the joys of transitioning during high school. Or the parents refuse and the teen has to live multiple lives with often serious self-loathing and body dysphoria that can shut them down — my daughter* has days when she can’t leave the house because she just feels gross — and rates of suicide are 2 in 5, and either way this is a woman you KNOWS oppression.

    So you can have a girl, born a girl, and raised as a woman. So is THAT transwoman a woman?

    But let’s flip this. Is a transman a woman? According to the TERF (And if a description is a slur y’all should have not self-described that way) logic, he was born woman and raised woman. So he would be totally okay in those “womyn born womyn” safe spaces. Except the penis thing, because that’s the tool (He. Hehe,) of the oppressor. But I digress…

    The point being, transwomen are born women. If the only thing that defines a man is a penis their social constructs are pretty negative dimensional. If gender is, however, a social construct, than every trans woman has been born a woman and might have had to hide herself, but cis woman have done that, too, through that ages and no one has denied their womanhood.

    Are transwomen women? Le DUH, of course they are. What else could they be?
    Are TERFs bigots? Le Duh, of course they are. What else could they be?

    *My daughter is my in-the-process-of-being-adopted daughter, as her parents did not think a transwoman was really a woman and refused to have her in the house. Had she been mine from the start we would be starting transitioning at 20.

  11. 12

    Could someone explain to me why the concept of colorblindness is so terribly bad and offensive to liberals? I mean, obviously our own culture isn’t colorblind, and anybody who says it is is lying. And I certainly know that I’m not colorblind either. I wish I could be, but I’m not. But what’s wrong with the concept of colorblindness as an aspirational goal for our country — something that we strive jointly to achieve, approach gradually over the next hundred years — a goal to be striven for, even if it can never be 100% achieved?

    Daniel Shiellar in 5 asked how we define racism — I’d say that racism is when we assume a person possesses certain characteristics solely on the basis of their skin color or ethnicity. Obviously we can’t stop making snap judgments about a person’s competence and trustworthiness when we first meet them — there are thousands of years of evolution that prompt us to do that. But the problem with race as a predictor is that it’s crap data. There are dozens of better indicators that will give us better results – some we can take in at a glance, like dress, some we can ascertain in a few seconds, like speech patterns and vocabulary, and some that a bit of conversation can supply, like education level, family background, career, etc.

    What’s wrong with hoping that society can evolve enough that someday my grandkids or great-grandkids will shed enough racial assumptions that, when they meet someone new, that person’s skin color produces as few assumptions as eye color or finger length or any other irrelevant characteristic does for us now?

  12. 13

    Racism is prejudice + power. It is a systematic and institutionalized thing.

    Colorblindness also denies people’s unique lived experiences. To claim that you don’t even notice what someone looks like is just nonsense.

    Once doesn’t require colorblindness to end racism. Colorblindness is used to uphold racism now, and than to deny people their individuality.

  13. 14

    Could someone explain to me why the concept of colorblindness is so terribly bad and offensive to liberals?

    It’s not the concept, it’s because in practice, “color blindness” is only used as a way of deflecting criticism or ignoring injustices.

  14. 15

    Darlene Pineda

    The general argument is that only a woman born and raised as such can really understand the feminist perspective, and a transwoman is a man become woman and so has lived with all this male privilege that negates the lived experiences necessary to be equal to a “real” woman.

    To expand a bit on this (I’m totally in agreement with you).
    This argument is so fucking flat and naive, it’s not even just wrong. It assumes that “cis women” are a unified group* with shared universal experiences, just like your run off the mill sexist assumes that women area unified group who all share a common set of characteristics that is fundamentally different from the set of characteristics shared by all men.
    But our lived experiences vary greatly depending on place, time, class, religion etc. My experiences growing up in the 1980s (I sometimes miss the 1980’s, when Lego was still for children and not fo rboys and girls) are fundamentally different than my daughters’ (they self-identify as girls. I taught them early that not all girls have vaginas and not all boys have penises) experiences right now. And their experiences are different from those of their bilingual Russian-German friends. Or from a girl who’s raised in the American Quiverful movement. Or a girl in Bangladesh.
    Do male-presenting trans women sometimes benefit from male privilege? Sure they do, because when others interact with you, they will react to the gender you’re presenting. Does that significantly alter the game? No it doesn’t. If a female CEO doesn’t get sexually harassed the way the female secretary gets harassed because she has class privilege nobody says she’s not a woman because she doesn’t share that part of oppression.
    Simply said, TERF ideology doesn’t understand that “being a woman” is not a godsdamn circle, but a Venn diagramm with so many overlapping circles that there may be indeed some that don’t overlap at all.

    *and don’t be mistaken, that unified group is white and middle class.

  15. Pen
    16

    @13 Darlene Pineda

    Colorblindness also denies people’s unique lived experiences. To claim that you don’t even notice what someone looks like is just nonsense.

    I’d like to qualify that a bit. The group of people known as ‘white’ are actually extremely varied in appearance, especially hair color and texture. Of course we notice what hair color someone has – we even use it as an identifying feature. It even still has traces of consequence in the US and once represented genuinely separate ethnicities in Europe (and to some extent, still does). But the idea that people in modern western societies are basically color-blind as regards this difference in appearance could hold up. Color-blindness as regards skin color is also theoretically possible, and may, at some point in the future, be appropriate.

  16. 17

    @BruceGee, liberals are not “offended” by colour blind ideology, it is proven to contribute to and perpetuate racism. So it is harmful …
    https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/culturally-speaking/201112/colorblind-ideology-is-form-racism

    It’s basically like saying you are “gender blind”, ignoring the systemic issues women have in our society. It’s a way of ignoring the problem and generally people who want to ignore it are usually those in the privileged group. Everyone will be “colour blind” when racism is gone, but you don’t get to the end state by forcing it, you need to end racism first. At which point no one will say they are “colour blind” as it makes no sense.

  17. 18

    There’S also ample evidence that the more “enlightened” and “rational” people believe themselves, the more biased their decisions are. And I’m not only talking about the mountain of anecoted we’ve collected here within the last years where very “rational” people spewed horrible things and then claimed they were simply right because they didn’t “have prejudice”.
    I man sociological studies where you can correlate self-description with how biased hireing decisions are for example.
    If you are honest and aware of biases and prejudices you might reexamine your own decisions. If you believe your decisions are “colourblind” and “genderblind” you end up hreing white men and believe that’s a meritocracy.

  18. 19

    I recently responded to a Facebook comment where someone tried to claim that we need to treat everyone the same and that would eliminate sexism (in this case). I said “Pretending that conditions are equal already is not going to make it true. Treating everyone the same is what people claim we have been doing for decades now, but things are still not equal. Does this seem to you like an approach that is working?”

    The conversation stopped at that point.

  19. 22

    Giliell @ 18,

    There’S also ample evidence that the more “enlightened” and “rational” people believe themselves, the more biased their decisions are.

    I’d be very interested in seeing those studies. I’ve seen lots of studies that people who self-reported lack of bias still discriminate, but I can’t find anything relating to self-reporting of being “enlightened” or “rational” increasing bias.

  20. 23

    Building off what others have said, the issue with claiming “color-blindness” is similar to the issue of media outlets claiming “objectivity.” It’s a nice ideal, but it doesn’t actually exist in reality (yet). When a media outlet or personality claims to be “unbiased” or “objective,” what it usually means is that they do not consider (or refuse to consider) the ways in which they are unconsciously biased. Things like which stories they choose to tell or promote, whose point of view they consider for those stories, and how they weigh different points of view against each other, are all choices where subjective bias creeps in. Good media outlets and personalities realize this and acknowledge it, and try to account for it.

    Similarly, people claiming to be “color-blind” are often failing/refusing to consider the racial biases they’ve unconsciously absorbed by living in a racist society. “Color-blind” decision-making fails to take into account the ways that society is stacked against people of color. It’s like judging the fastest person in a race by who crosses the finish line first, and ignoring that all the runners are starting in different spots. They’re pretending that a slanted playing field is level and making decisions based on that pretense rather than reality.

  21. 25

    To be honest, I have a really, really hard time understanding what’s so fucking appealing about being “colorblind.”

    You’re making lack of awareness of race issues into a metaphor for a disability and saying we should all strive to have this metaphorical disability. (Come to think of it, the ableism implicit in promoting “color blindness” as a goal worth striving for would make an interesting discussion.)

    Since when is perceiving reality LESS accurately overall a worthwhile goal?????

    The ONLY reason this whole “colorblind” thing makes a LICK of sense is because of the framework of white supremacy in which we all exist. It ONLY makes sense if you accept that merely perceiving a person’s skin color is a fraught, difficult, and potentially painful act. And the only reason we accept this is because we are steeped and immersed in white supremacist assumptions about the world and about other people.

    Have you SEEN black people?? They are beautiful! It’s sheer folly to imagine that trying NOT to see them in any sort of way is a good thing!

  22. 26

    #23, SallyStrange:

    Since when is perceiving reality LESS accurately overall a worthwhile goal?????

    I feel like this needs to be made into a banner or something.

    Anyways, since I’m late to the thread (as usual), all I can say is that I’m seriously impressed by both the article and the commentators thus far. Catnip Stamps of High-Five to Jason, Karen, Giliell and Darlene. 🙂 Ya’ll pretty much said what needed to be said.

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