[Vision2020] Racial, sexual identities aren't 'sudden' things

Moscow Cares moscowcares at moscow.com
Fri Jul 10 04:09:55 PDT 2015

It's a simple matter of . . . "Free to be you and me."

Courtesy of today's (July 10, 2015) Moscow-Pullman Daily News with thanks and appreciation to  Joe Campbell.

His View: Racial, sexual identities aren't 'sudden' things
Joe Campbell
I'm thankful that Bill Ward (Town Crier, July 1) took his family to Our Whole Lives, taught through the Unitarian Universalist Church, where issues of gender and sex were discussed. Whether or not you are a supporter, recent news stories about Rachel Dolezal, Caitlyn Jenner and the U.S. Supreme Court decision on gay marriage provide great opportunities for public discussions about race, gender and sex.
Ward claims among the things he learned at OWL was that "in today's society people can be any gender they identify as." Perhaps, but this does not imply one can "suddenly identify as a woman" in order to "reap the benefits" of Ladies Night, as Ward suggests. Jenner is not pretending to be a woman in order to get free drinks. She's undergone various medical procedures and is now living as a woman. There is a commitment on Jenner's part that is lacking in Ward's example. Gender identity is more than faking it.
I understand Ward's frustration because we've all been taught that sex is biological. Historically gender has been distinguished from sex. Gender has to do with social factors, like self-identification: how you perceive yourself and how you want to be perceived by others. Contemporary scholars often reject the gender/sex distinction, yet even sex is complicated. If sex has a biological basis, what is it? There are at least two answers: chromosomes and genitalia. Unfortunately, they don't always line up since there are XX "males" and XY "females." In addition, there are other categories than just these four. Just focusing on chromosomes, there are several options: XX, XY, X, XYY, XXYY, XXX, XXXX, and XXXXX. Sex has a biological component, but there is nothing in nature itself that tells us where to draw the line between male and female. We could decide that just one Y makes a female, or we could decide something else.
Or we could focus on genitalia, which is equally complex.
Some argue that sex, like gender, is a social construct because our social decisions and practices play a role in what counts as whether someone is male or female.
Saying that sex and gender are social constructs does not mean that anything goes. Language meaning is a social construct, but that doesn't mean you get to decide what words mean. Language meaning is not a natural, biological category, nor is it subject to momentary, individual whims.
Ward jumps from the issue of Jenner's gender to Dolezal's race and concludes there is not "any difference in the two situations." Even if we agree that race, like gender, is a social construct, they are socially constructed in distinct ways.
Gender was never a biological category. Race is different, since for most of its history, it was regarded as a paradigmatic biological category. Is race purely biological? I don't want to get bogged down with the details, but consider that we tend to think that if someone is even 1 percent black or Native American, then he or she is black or Native American. There is nothing about biology alone that dictates this decision. That doesn't mean that biology plays no role.
Does saying that race is a social construct imply Dolezal is black? Not necessarily. It depends on which social constructionist view of race one holds. Most contemporary philosophers give more weight to social factors over self-identification when it comes to race, so many say she is not black.
On the other hand, Dolezal contends that she is black. Does that make her guilty of deception or fraud, as Ward suggests? Not necessarily. She might think race is more like gender than sex, more an aspect of individual than social identity. I think she is wrong about that, but that doesn't mean she is guilty of deception or fraud. As George Costanza says: "If you believe it, it isn't a lie."

Before we criticize people for their sense of fulfillment and happiness, perhaps we should . . .

"Take a Walk on the Wild Side"

Seeya 'round town, Moscow, because . . .

"Moscow Cares"
Tom Hansen
Moscow, Idaho
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