Robot 6

Just Past the Horizon: Neutrality

This month I saw a few links and conversations that seem to miss a basic fact of human society when the subjects of gender, race and sexual orientation are brought up, so I’m going to state this sentance in all caps on the front page just to make sure everyone has it perfectly clear:

THERE IS NO NEUTRAL ZONE WHEN IT COMES TO IDENTITY.

It’s the way human society is set up.  Sex–the physical characteristics–isn’t really a binary, but gender–the social construct–is an either-or deal.  We’re taught from birth via stories and songs and interaction with relatives (and really, no matter how neutral you try to raise your kids odds are you have some relative who fucks things up somehow, or the neighbors introduce traditiuonal gender types) that girls are this way and guys are this way.  This is something that affects our lives from very young ages, affects how we see ourselves and how others see us.  When discussing social interaction of any sort, gender is an angle that’s always open for discussion.  Always.  Because it has an effect more times than it doesn’t.  It’s part of our lives, whether we’re male or female.

While I’m at, guess what else we’re taught about at a very early age?  Race.  You know why?  Because guess what everybody gets categorized into somehow.  Guess what everybody sees the effect of in stories and interactions with other people.  Our society is still set up for race to have a factor.  That’s because we’re multicultural, and we’re making our way through generations of setting the value of one of those cultures above the others.  There are people who are consciously aware of race, and people who aren’t, but the messages of our culture–told in stereotypes in the media and in “common knowledge” from our elders–are affecting how we deal with each other.  This goes even if you have people of the same race interacting, because the chance that the conversation would be different if it was one white person and one Asian person rather than two white people makes race a factor in how they interact.

So when discussing social interaction of any kind, race should be open for consideration.  No one should get eyes rolled at them just for bringing a subject that has such a major impact on their life to the table.

Class, sexual orientation, nationality…  All of these are things everyone has!  All of these are things that cultures place value on, things we get fed stereotyped messages about constantly, things that are the very building blocks of our identities.  These are things people take into account when we look at first impressions.  These are things that affect how people interact with each other.

And yeah, it happens in different levels and there’s circumstances where things would happen the same way anyway but there’s a lot of circumstances where they don’t.  We might end up dismissing it as a notable factor.  But it’s an natural thought, and odds are even when the primary reason has nothing to do with the demographics of the players, the identities of the people involved are still a secondary or tertiary reason.  And really, if we’re trying to get past snap judgments and prejudiced behavior we have to entertain the possibility that it might be affecting how we deal with each other.  We have to at least fucking talk about it.

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“We’re taught from birth via stories and songs and interaction with relatives (and really, no matter how neutral you try to raise your kids odds are you have some relative who fucks things up somehow, or the neighbors introduce traditiuonal gender types) that girls are this way and guys are this way.”

Yeah, I used to believe this too, until I had kids of my own, and saw from birth how strongly wired we our.

“No one should get eyes rolled at them just for bringing a subject that has such a major impact on their life to the table.”

Only if they assume that, because they feel that way, that everyone else must. Just because you’re a racist, don’t leap from that statement to “we’re all racists,” and not see a chorus of eye-rolling.

Nothing I necessarily disagree with, if somewhat frustratingly context-free.
I understand the wish not to stir things up, or attract trolls or worse from other online places, but the whole “I’ve noticed & been annoyed by something I can’t be specific about, so here’s some venting on a general topic, torn from the context which inspired it” has become something of an online pet peeve of mine, regardless of the topic at hand.

At the same time, Bill, people need to be able to realize that not agreeing with a subject or conclusion doesn’t make it any less valid for a significant portion of the populace.

The “we’re all a little racist” idea comes from the same place as “we’re all a little sexist.” We have been taught that blacks/women/men act like this, not like that. Learning via generalization is easy, and it’s also where stereotypes are reinforced. Those generalizations may be true on a macro scale, but on an individual scale, there is a good chance that they are not.

Lisa, I agree entirely that race, gender, class, and sexuality are important categories of analysis for looking at graphic or any other kind of narrative and certainly in interpersonal interactions and communications, digital and otherwise (yes, race still exists on the interwebs,) but I want to raise a few issues with your post. I’ll jump over the difference between gender and sex (a lot of work in gender studies over the course of the last 19 years holds that BOTH are socially constructed) and instead focus on this statement:

“Class, sexual orientation, nationality… All of these are things everyone has! All of these are things that cultures place value on, things we get fed stereotyped messages about constantly, things that are the very building blocks of our identities. These are things people take into account when we look at first impressions. These are things that affect how people interact with each other.”

I differ with this in that I don’t think class and sexual orientation and nationality and even identities are possessions, singularly owned and carried around on our backs like what one influential antiracist essay called the “invisible knapsack” of white privilege (presumably full of “Tintin in Africa”). Instead I think it’s more useful to talk about these things as social relationships and as ideological formations. I don’t want to get too jargony, but the danger in thinking about these as possessions lies in A) forgetting that they’re all socially contingent even if they have real, immediate material effects – like getting lynched or gay bashed or exploited by your boss. I think in some ways, talking about these as possessions implies a fixity that may not be indicative of how these processes really work and may also imply, for some, fault – “why can’t so and so transcend his race like Obama,” etc.

One other thing I want to raise is that race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and citizenship aren’t equivalent to each other, and nor are they isolated – instead they’re mutually constitutive and constantly intersecting and shifting processes. Hegemonic understandings of blackness have historically been constructed in relation to histories of free and unfree labor, notions about peculiar and pathological sexual desires and behavior which elide certain histories and grossly distort others, etc. Similarly the idea of the “American family” which was hegemonic for much of the last century and which serves as the basis for some political arguments is predicated on certain implicit ideas about who is an american, about what proper relationships look like, and about the place of the family within society, etc.

Sorry for nit-picking something that was in parentheses, but I’m curious…

Zach: “I’ll jump over the difference between gender and sex (a lot of work in gender studies over the course of the last 19 years holds that BOTH are socially constructed)”

How does that work? How is biological sex a social construct? Perhaps it’s arguable that the ways in which we view sex as a category are influenced by social constructs, but we’re not exactly a self-pollinating species, are we?

I feel that biological sex is totally constructed in the sense that many of the attributes attributed to sex are culturally based. Our whole world is essentially divided based on who has what type reproductive system.

For instance… why do men and women have different bathrooms? Is it because of scientific reasons or cultural?

Or how come physical labor is seen as being male activity does having a wang really make men more able to lift something?

This piece is so poorly written that the writer’s statments lose any sort of validity. Do better.

And Brian Lin — Really? You think it’s the “wang” that makes men (in general) more able to lift something? Get real. This issue’s been covered and solved by science and biology long ago. Find something else to create a “meaningful” argument about.

That should read “statements” in my last post, before some wit goes making fun of my spelling.

Dear Hash Astro

Exactly how is this essay “poorly written”? Can you do better? Or do you just feel that these topics are unimportant?

William Shatner

March 23, 2009 at 9:51 am

And this has what to do with comics? Did I accidentally type http://www.pretentious.com?

Context and a good edit, please.

I think a lot of people would read “neutral zone” and think of something like a *safe* zone–a place where race and gender is acknowledged (or not), but isn’t overemphasized or used against anyone. Race and gender *can* be big factors in social interaction, but they don’t *have* to be, not all the time and particularly not on the internet.

Also: the best (or most productive) conversations that involve race and/or gender usually happen when no party is being antagonistic or holier-than-thou.

SallyP–
Don’t try to offload my criticism of this piece’s writing on my not feeling the subject is important. There are MULTIPLE grammatical and punctuation errors, awkward phraseology, disjointed sentences and thoughts, etc which made this piece a distracting and uneven read. No offense, but the writer either rushed this piece out far too quickly to meet a deadline they were not prepared for, or writing just isn’t for them. This may be “just a comic book blog”, but it is a professional site, and writing like this always sticks out like a sore thumb to me.

Is “Just PAst the Horizon” dead? Is it published quarterly? Is it somebody’s high school English project? Let’s get it off of the Robot 6 page.

Seriously, why is this cluttering up Robot6?

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