RIP to the Ghosts of Past Prejudices
It’s Halloween, folks. That time of year we celebrate by impersonating other beings. People have been doing this for thousands of years – fulfilling a basic human need to shuck off our identity and explore our inner selves. Coupling this practice with ghoulish imagery is no accident. Until the early 1900’s, most Halloween “celebrations” were seriously (and intentionally) terrifying. The message was clear: It might be fun to push boundaries but the consequences are deadly. Mwahahahaaa…
Today, this holiday is all treats, no tricks. As a society, we’re much more accepting of individuality in the public realm. There’s a whole new set of genders, new pronouns, new words for ways people would like themselves and their relationships identified. “Pangender”, “intersex”, “nonbinary”, “LGBTQQIP2SAA”… It’s a lot to take in, and frankly I’m not so sure I want to know that much about everyone I meet. What’s the point? The more we learn about gender identity, the less relevance it seems to have.
Remember how we were taught chromosomes determine our sex? “XY” is male and “XX” is female – right? Now scientists have learned it’s actually just one single gene, and there’s no guarantee which chromosome it’ll attach to. Surprise: it’s not uncommon for someone to be physically one sex but chromosomally the other, which is something we can measure now.
Then there’s hormones. We used to think there were “normal” levels of certain hormones for males and females, but now we know that’s not true. Some women have more male hormones than some men, and vice versa. Some people don’t have enough hormones at significant points in their development, perhaps due to trauma or environment. All this can affect gender identity.
Back in my day (I’m mid 50’s), when someone didn’t match society’s idea of male or female, doctors would prescribe “gender normalizing” procedures and pharmaceuticals which could be painful and disfiguring. Thousands of parents every year were signing off on these treatments to “fix” their child, who’s raised thinking they’re not OK as they are. So of course I understand the urge to name and validate every gender experience now. And I’m sure it’s all very interesting. To you.
From my perspective, though, this sort of talk feels like none of my business. Why are we even asking people’s genders anymore? Let’s keep it between you and your doctor and whoever else you choose to share it with. We can remove it from 90% of forms and applications, I bet. While we’re at it, I’ve got another box we can stop asking people to tick: Race.
Talk about meaningless. For starters, there is no biological foundation. None. Scientists have analyzed millions of DNA profiles across the globe, and discovered that skin color is no indication of genetic makeup. Africans, for example, share more DNA with Europeans than they do with Pacific Islanders, though our eyes would tell us otherwise. There are literally no distinct evolutionary branches of humanity, we are 99.9% the same.
What’s worse, the very idea of race was invented by racists! True Story: there was no such thing as race until the 18th century, when white colonists began enslaving and massacring indigenous populations to steal their land and labor. Look up Bacon’s Rebellion, for how the concept took hold here in America, where race continues to be a major factor in almost every aspect of life.
I’m not saying that rejecting racial labels will solve racism – but it’s a start. Every time we see “race” on a Census form, college application, bank loan, etc. it legitimizes this myth that how we look has anything to do with who we are. Whether or not I identify strongly with my African roots and the Black culture in Philadelphia is at once evident to all who know me, and also none of anyone’s business.
Race, gender, sexual orientation are irrelevant. Let’s stop asking everyone to identify themselves and – here’s a thought –let’s accept each other at face value. Let’s give each other all the rights and respect we’d want for ourselves. Peace.
Follow the links in this article for deeper dives. Read Dr. Woodson’s last column here.