Racial, Ethnic & Sexual Identity & Difference - Pt 2
Last Updated: 14 June 2016
Race and IdentityWhenever you get people together and say 'we are the same' then by definition, other people are different. Having an 'Afro-American community' is no more helpful than having a 'white' community. Ideally communities should be defined by geographic location alone, such as an East London community or a Manchester community. If white males were to form 'white' support groups and 'white' pop artists were to mention the fact that they were white about 10 times per song, saying they were proud to be white etc., there would be an outcry and be accused of being racist. Perhaps they would be racist. Perhaps they would be no more racist than the 'black gangsta' rapper. It is because people are not used to a 'white' person saying this this that it would be regarded as racist, unintelligent and culturally backwards. It is only because people are so used to minority groups doing exactly the same thing, and there is a sense of it being necessary somehow to combat prejudice and make up for years of relative economic poverty, and perhaps a sense of guilt by the majority, that it is not regarded as divisive or elitist or negative. Let us compare the use of concepts of difference when looking at Nazi Germany. White caucasian Nazi Germany was no doubt united internally (if you were a member of what was considered to be the majority group, with morale boosted, but treated members of 'other groups' in a murderous and despicable manner. As long as we have communities who identify themselves by skin colour, we will probably always have social problems. And as long as we have a majority group that discriminates, and institutional racism and prejudice, then we will probably always have social problems. We can't just wait for the 'other' side to change their behaviour, all parties need to mature and come together multilaterally.
There are clearly stereotypes of what it means to be 'black' in America, in the UK, in Africa, for example. Much as there are stereotypes of what it means to be 'white' in the UK, in the Southern States of the US, and so on. Whilst the stereotypes are highly generalised, there are many people who are defined by their values. For example, a 'black' American stereotype could be seen to be more aggressive, more expressive, better in touch with his feelings, more soulful, more on a 'natural groove', more in touch with sexuality, less 'controlled', whereas the 'white' counterpart could be deemed to be submissive, a 'yes' person, 'rational', defensive, uptight, inexpressive, unsoulful, less comfortable with self and sexuality, more 'awkward' with self. One should of course be whoever one wants to be and not feel limited by learned behaviours and values from one's 'ethnic' group. One can take on any number of positive attributes from any ethnic group without having to take on the whole lot! Take what you want and ignore the rest. Use what is most you.
Of course, who is to say what is meant by defining one's identity as difference. It could be argued that by not identifying oneself with any particular minority group, that one is 'selling out', and that one has adopted the faceless identity of the majority. I believe that everyone should celebrates their mental characteristics and attributes, and be the best that one can be physically and mentally, regardless of background, place of birth or beliefs. However, I believe that it probably not useful to identify oneself by one's physical characteristics. People with blonde hair don't like 'blonde jokes', yet it would be ridiculous for blonde people to label themselves as blonde and join blonde activity or support groups. The same applies to people with blue eyes. If pop artists in the media kept singing about how they had blue eyes, and how wonderful it was to have blue eyes, and criticised blue eyed people who wore coloured contact lenses for selling out, it would be a rather curious state of affairs.
It is curious to notice how much emphasis is placed upon the elements of a physical being that are visible and little interest in what lies underneath, biologically and neurologically. Skin colour and facial features make up a tiny percentage of the total body mass and genetic material. It is curious to note that those who profess a pride in their race perhaps have less pride in belonging to the human race, or in their own bodies (e.g. their internal organs, biochemistry or blood type), besides the skin. It is also ironic that those who believe they are proud of their skin colour do not look after their skin very well, nor the rest of their bodies, or their posture, and show their physical form little respect, pouring alcohol, drugs, unhealthy foods and essentially speeding up the ageing process. This is not really any form of pride in my opinion, even if there is lip service to some notion of skin colour or pride in one's 'race'. Very few people have real pride in their personality and treat themselves very poorly psychologically, abusing their own psyches and having a very unhealthy self-dialogue. One could equally use general level of health or a positive healthy lifestyle choice as a loose and not too serious group identifier if one wanted to. Tattooes and body art or piercings are also used as group identifiers, and ironically many use tattooes as a racial identifier, depending on the style and designs chosen. This is ironically 'defiling' or scribbling on the masterpiece of the skin that many belonging to such groups claim to have pride in.
Taken from the sleeve notes for 'Passing Complexion' on Big Black's album 'Pigpile':
'Nowadays we can see talk show people composed of people who have to tell people they're black because they're pale, don't look the 'black' archetype, and therefore missing out on all the racism they are entitled to. If someone can be 'black' by proclamation, then the term is as meaningless now as it was in the 1920s.'
When individuals feel they have to point out their 'racial' identity to others who hadn't noticed, they are most likely doing so because they feel a positive affirmation with their 'racial group' and they feel it gives them a sense of self-esteem and shared experience. However, the ultimate goal for society is surely to have one where people are 'colourless', where colour doesn't matter, and where people don't actually notice skin colour. So in such cases, whilst the intentions may be 'good', they are achieving the exact opposite of their ulimate goal, and yes they may inadvertently incur racism by pointing out to people that they are different, as if they want to be treated or seen as 'different' and in some cases are likely to be discriminated against. Such people can be 'white' or be 'black' depending on the situation and whether they want to 'proclaim' group membership or not. Is it a positive exercise to vote for someone because of his skin colour (e.g. those that voted for Barack because he is 'black') or voting for someone because of what they are not (e.g. those that voted for Hillary because she isn't 'black')? If Hillary had been associated with racist white supremacist groups historically and during the leadership contest, would this have been an issue, any more than Barack had been associated with a racist 'black' preacher? It is likely that it would have been - racism presumably being more socially acceptable and 'understandable/forgivable' amongst 'ethnic minorities' than amongst 'white' people.
In the 2008 Democratic leadership contest in the USA, the media and the candidates themselves drew attention to the fact that Hillary Clinton was a 'woman' and Barack Obama was a 'black man'. The media discussed the relative merits of having the first woman president and the first 'black' president. Questions such as 'would it be good for America to have a black president' were frequently asked in the media and on political discussion shows. However, perhaps just talking about their relative experience, character and policies would have been more relevant, and if people hadn't discussed the fact that Hillary was a woman or that Barack was 'black', this would have been more positive for society!
Of course, in economic terms, people belonging to a minority 'race' group may well be slightly economically less well off than the majority, 'white', 'caucasian' group. The economic component may overlap with the 'racial' component in many cases but of course not completely and as simply as this. The government should be doing more to ensure that equal opportunities exist, and for the minority groups to feel more supported, and provide counselling services for those who need it, in poor or unfortunate domestic situations, regardless of background, so that people don't have to rely on identity-based groupings or formal 'minority support groups' in the workplace. Forming 'minority support groups' in places of work may perform this counselling and supportive role, but they may also have the negative effect of drawing people's attention to their difference, rather than people enjoying their uniqueness (in terms of whatever characteristic we are talking about), but their 'differences' being invisible/unimportant but respected within the population as a whole. A minority support group obviously excludes majority 'members', and makes majority 'members' feel like 'majority members'.
A group that identifies itself by a particular attribute in response to tight economic pressure or prejudice in society may as a consequence promote inverted-racism and prejudice amongst their own group. It is like a form of inverted snobbery, where some poorer people look down on the middle class, and want to stay in the same poorer areas and speak in the certain way as that defines who they are and is part of their 'identity'. People should have whatever values and behave or speak however they want, and should feel obliged to act 'black' or 'gay' any more than they should try to be 'white, middle-class, heterosexual male' to fit in. The restrictions and rules of society are many and varied, and very subtle. Society with its cultural identities is not an organism, something to be protected and self-propagated indefinitely. Something which necessarily has any value. It is the collective set of behaviours that are often transmitted from person to person not unlike a virus, and self-perpetuates and evolves with time. Art, books, music, respect for self and others, respect for family, knowledge, religious works, these are things to be protected, everything else is irrelevant, is part of cultural evolution and a means to an end. Maybe this is your chance to do your own thing, whoever you are!
A group identity that purports to be about 'race' may not be about race at all. It may be about shared common experience, such as economic and social struggle, where 'race' or skin colour may happen to coincide in some respects. 'Afro-American' may not be the only 'race' included in the group and may include other 'races' or ethnic groups such as 'asians', 'hispanics' etc. So whilst it may be the experience of struggle and hardship that unites the group and gives them a sense of purpose and integrity, it may also be something that holds the people who hold this identity back from being themselves and leaving the experience of shared economic struggle. Losing this sense of community may be too much for some people. Of course, what the group identity means is probably different for each individual that believes they belong to it. Group identities are highly complex and heterogeneous. Not all experiences of struggle require sufferers to formulate a group identity however. Rape victims or victims of violent crime may indeed join support groups or struggle and suffer for a period of time, but are unlikely to want to see themselves as a rape victim as being a defining characteristic of who they are indefinitely, as this merely serves to remind them of something unpleasant. After the victim has come to terms with it (assuming they do), they simply want to feel normal and get on with their lives and get back to being themselves again, living a rich and fulfilling life with rich relationships with others. Similarly, on a more trivial note, a person who has suffered from bad wind or constipation is unlikely to see these aspects of their suffering or experience as a defining part of their personality. Someone who did this would seem very strange and amusing indeed! You simply shrug it off, have a laugh about it, and don't waste any of your conscious time on it if at all possible! It's not worth it!
The media seems to perpetuate racism and the focus on race, in a similar way that it does with the 'difference' of homosexuals. For example, in 2008, in an incident where a tiny minority of Motorsport fans in Spain, watching Formula 1 practice session, dressed up in T-shirts with 'Hamilton family' written on them and with darkened faces and afro wigs, who were poking fun at the Afro-Caribbean driver Lewis Hamilton, rather than just ignore them like the crowd were doing, all TV cameras were on them, broadcasting the incident to hundreds of millions of viewers. So rather than focus on the race, the media focussed on 'race'. Blowing it out of all proportion and giving the impression the whole event was about these individuals, when in reality they were only a tiny proportion of the fans. Instead of ignoring these idiots and treating Lewis Hamilton just as any other racer, and letting him get on with it, they made a big deal of it and drew everyone's focus onto Lewis Hamilton's 'race', therefore reinforcing the concept that he is 'black' rather than just another racing driver. Whilst it was portrayed as being 'news' and an excuse to bash racists, it just served to give racists the spotlight and reinforce the concept of difference and race. The cameramen were loving it, any excuse to shoot something controversial, to increase ratings and get paid more money.
Sexual Orientation and IdentityCulture is a means of communication between individuals, defining shared core beliefs, attitudes and behaviour in many respects. It also defines how people perceive their sexuality to a large extent, and in what manner they associate their sexual identity and sexuality with different types of display of affection towards others of the opposite sex and same sex. Unconsciously we may adopt ideas about how we should act and behave to belong to the 'right' part of the 'male' or 'female' group. Modern western society is gradually blurring its boundaries in this respect, but unhindered non-sexual affection or touching between males.
For example, holding hands, giving a shoulder massage, sitting in close proximity, walking with arm around the other person, showing and discussing one's mental weaknesses or more sensitive emotions is not something that most societies understand or tolerate in many respects. Certain behaviours such as hugging or telling someone you love them may be acceptable in small doses, but not when engaged in too frequently. Women may well freely engage in such modes of communication and interaction without giving it a thought, but men may well feel extremely uncomfortable about this if it is not with a woman (a sexual or gender-based interpretation.) Men may feel insecure that their essence of being male is under threat when they are presented with such unusual non-sexual, affectionate behaviour.
Gender identity and behaviour is very much defined by our culture to a large extent, although each person's interpretation of what it means to be their gender is often unique in some respect. It is clearly a complicated subject as to what consitutes one's gender identity, and what one finds attractive about the opposite (or same sex.) Modern culture is some respects is highly confused as to what gender identity really should be. In a sense it is just learned values and behaviours, programmed in early in childhood with certain kinds of clothes, toys, games, haircuts etc. that one is 'supposed' to have/be involved with. It is a little like alcohol consumption in different cultures. One may assume that getting drunk automatically means one is louder, more confident, more roudy, but in certain cultures, when people are drunk, they become quiet instead, the polar opposite. How one acts when one is drunk is a learned behaviour in some sense, based on what is expected of one.
When we talk about homosexuality, this is not a physical characteristic. It is not generally considered to be a 'social characteristic' either, although it can be viewed as such by homophobic persons. It is a sexual orientation, separate from one's gender (whether one identify's oneself as male, female or otherwise) and one's sex (determined by biology).
Using Identity to fight PrejudiceMany people in our society believe they are the victims of prejudice. And without doubt many individuals pertaining to each 'group' are victims of prejudice in certain situations or circumstances. We are not here to have a debate about who experiences the most prejudice, but merely to point out that prejudice exists in all 'communities' and is experienced by people in all 'groups', whether minority or majority, in varying degrees. Society's goal should be to eliminate prejudice completely, and the only way to achieve this is to eliminate the concepts of difference completely, so that people no matter what 'race', 'ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, physical form, beliefs etc. are treated equally in all areas of life.
What isn't often appreciated in our politically correct western, democratic societies, is that by standing up against prejudice by emphasising one's difference, and trying to create pride within one's group defined by difference to counteract the effect of many years of prejudice, this may actually be perpetuating the stereotypes of difference and the very concept that there are differences between us. To say that ''Yes i'm different, there's nothing wrong with it, I'm proud of it' is to confirm that one is indeed different, rather than saying that one is just the same as the next person, or to not even bother to mention it at all. It is a method many people have used and will continue to use to resist institutional 'racism' or otherwise against them, and give themselves a sense of dignity and pride. In the long term, however, this may not really provide the best mechanism in which to dispel concepts of difference. Prejudiced individuals may indeed reinforce their own beliefs of difference when observing a society containing individuals who identify themselves by their differences. The argument from those prejudiced individuals is that certain groups have an attitude problem, as they keep pointing out that they are different and expect to be treated in a special way, rather than just like behave like everyone else. In a sense, anti-racists who support minority groups and their notions of difference may in a sense be reinforcing racism and prejudice, the very thing that they themselves oppose. This in turn may well reinforce the group identities further, which in turn reinforces divisions in society. It may be an inevitable consequence of a group of individuals thinking they are different to others. This article is arguing that racialism, the belief in the existance of distinct races, although not the same as racism according to definition, actually serves racist purposes and serves to reinforce racism in all areas of society. Prejudice according to perceived differences is of course not just restricted to the concept of 'race'.
Another aspect of anti-racists and anti-racist campaigners is that they tend to view people in terms of their skin colour as much as the racists they condemn. Anti-racists have their 'racism' alarms activated when viewing any situation where there are two persons of different 'race' involved, and automatically either check whether there is racial discrimination occurring, or even whether they can make racial discrimination fit the situation through liberal and creative interpretation (exploring sometimes unlikely possibilities that might paint this view of events). Persons of 'colour' are hence constantly being viewed as objects in a sense, rather than as people, for who they are as individuals, by anti-racists. This may result in positive discrimination or merely anti-racists bringing up skin colour in situations where it does not always apply, given the facts. This may reinforce a sense of difference in ethnic minorities and again fuel further racism by constantly reminding people of physical attributes and their countries or origin or their religion. Anti-racists may be in a sense more race obsessed than the racists. Krist Novoselic was interviewed about his youth on one occasion and he was asked about the racial mix of his school, and he responded that he hadn't noticed.
It is not always true, but it is often observed that the more 'less economically powerful' groupings one associates oneself with, the more prejudiced one is likely to be. Prejudice may serve as a way of empowerment, as a way of feeling good about yourself in opposition to another group that is lower down on the economic pecking order. For example, a 'black' working class male may adopt sexist values in order to feel better about himself and empowered. Quite often, the group with least economic and social power are working class lesbian women of colour. Clearly the way people use groupings to differentiate themselves depends very much on the individual.
The natural survival instinct of the brain is to associate like experiences or objects together, e.g. to avoid life threatening situations, to enable us to know how to open a door when we come across a 'new' door, or how to drive on a road we have never driven on before. It is a process of learning and association to enable life to progress efficiently, and in order to allow any learning of our physical environment and how to interact with it without becoming confused every time the slightest parameter is changed. This instinct of the brain must be managed however in our modern abstract societies, and it is probably one reason why prejudice occurs in the first place, and indeed why racism is perpetuated.