Gender and Race or Race and Gender?
The idea of ‘race’ has been troubling me for several years. I have no doubts there is racism but what has troubled me was - what are races? I know that when at University I learned about the men who came up with idea of races during the late 17th to early 20th Centuries but I had not connected that concern with an understanding that ‘racism’ became an ideology.
It is several years ago that I dropped the idea of races, but I continued to acknowledge the existence of racism. I also recognised that most people act in racist ways. And I include here most of us, in that we treat some other people ‘less favourably’ because of their colour, Nationality, National or Ethnic origin. That in the UK is the definition of who is covered by our laws against racism, and of course this definition covers all of us. It is not reverse racism if a Black Caribbean person treats a White English person ‘less favourably’ and there is not justification for that treatment - it is racism.
And what strikes be about the concept of racism is that it is based upon a notion that is historically specific and arises to justify the enslavement, Indenturing of labour and other negative and harmful practices against people with dark skins. A whole ideology and sciences was developed to justify the exploitation of other human beings for material gain but which was peddled as natural and universal ‘facts’.
These days most people in the UK recognise that notions of the inferiority of Black people is also factually nonsense. The presence of melanin in one’s skin and hair is a measure of the skins adoption to exposure to the sun. And that is all. But ironically some of the men who were convinced that they were superior in knowledge and intelligence insisted that the being so-called ‘white’ meant that one was more intelligent than someone who was ‘Black’.
These days most thinking people would no longer accept that there was a White race, and if they did argue such a thing they would no doubt have to acknowledge that all that White people have in common throughout the Globe is low levels or no melanin. And since melanin is solely about regulating the impact of the sun, this is hardly a plausible universal common feature of White societies which makes them superior. Especially when it seems that white men have created the environment of Global Warming and it is they and their families who will suffer most from low levels or no melanin.
So, racism is a socially constructed idea that happened to have had the effect of putting White people and to be specific White men at the top of the hierarchy. And at this point one needs to recognise that the other part of the human species is females. They too were being considered superior of Black peoples but inferior to males of their own class. And who were the people who came up with the notion of social classes but the men who had power over women and all non-white peoples. I am not trying to be funny when I write this I am simply setting out a view that I only recently come to. I mean I knew a number of facts about who had power in Britain, I studied more at University than I did at school, but I am not sure that it occurred to me the connection between the the struggle for women’s equality and the struggles for ‘racial equality’. I have used parenthesis because I don’t any longer believe that there are ‘races’ of human beings.
Of course, I acknowledge that there are people who are culturally and linguistically different throughout the World. But the idea that these peoples constitute a ‘race’ and that that race is better or less human than a group of people who come from a different culture or tribe is a foolish idea but one what has been imposed on quite a lot of the World. A World that most people would acknowledge had been imposed by various groups of men. Men who have frequently fought each other to find see which of them should be ‘top dog’. The consequences of this fighting have often been that women have been killed and have been made to be the property of the men who won the battel/war.
Over the last 50 or so years women in Britain have benefited from the freedoms won by our mothers and grandmothers, and it is we how are now demanding not merely equal pay but the end of men’s violence and the end of men’s dominance. It may be pure coincidence but as we have done so, so have some men taken the view that they can be women and control what we as women say about freedom and equality.
Nearly 40 years ago when I came out as a lesbian I was somewhat troubled by the men who publicly paraded as women. But I learned that most of these men were transvestites, they were a part of a long-established culture which had been part of the gay men’s culture, as Molly’s etc. The more I learned about their history, the more I could understand its origins and role. It was a part of gays men’s culture but not the most politically or culturally progressive. What has happened since the days of ‘homosexuality’ being criminalised is a growth of men who identify as transsexual or transgender, some remaining married to women whilst they wear Womens clothing, often it appears, clothes that their own mothers may have worn when they are children.
What is new over the last 20 years are the number of men who have chosen not only to present themselves are women but to undertake surgery to remove their external sexual organs. A significantly smaller number of women have also transitioned from female to male. The Labour Government of Tony Blair passed the Gender Recognition Act 2004 which I must say I knew little about its history, but did and do comply with. What I did not recognise was the significance of the word gender and how it would be used a decade later.
I fully accept the right of a person to make use of a law designed to recognise and acknowledge their new gender status and frankly even if it did not, it is still the law and I am bound to uphold it. I make this point when I have training people on compliance with past and current Race Relations legislation. Nothing requires us to like the law, but we are bound to adhere to it. Over the l past years, I have done more than abide with the 2004 Gender Recognition Act but over much of that period I am aware that a new politics of gender has been developed and which for personal reasons I was not able to notice alongside other significant events since my partner was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Since her death 2 years ago I have begun to catch up with recent issues and amongst them has been the proposal to make significant changes to the Gender Recognition Act in a way that may be unhelpful to women who are not trans. What I have encountered is a body of gender politics which has little to do with the lesbian feminist critique that I had supported for the advancement of women. My feminism was and is based upon the notion of equality between women and men. It is similar to my politics against racism. And what I had not recognised until now was how much race and gender as concepts, have in common.
It is well over 10 years ago I stopped using the word race to describe groups of human beings. I did so because I saw how much racism was the product of beliefs about the inherent differences between Black people and White people. Books and treatise have been written justifying or excoriating the notion of races of human beings. And the more I studied the more I recognised that racism arises from beliefs about the differences of human beings into these distinct, no-doubt biologically based categorised. But it turns out that the only difference between Black people and White people is melanin. This a feature in a human person’s body carried by genes which provide for protection for the harmful sun’s rays. Those human whose genes developed in much of the Southern hemisphere tend to have melanin.
We are all human beings whatever the colour of our eyes, hair and skin, all related and in my view of equal value. The fact that some learned White men came up with theorise of differences in the 5 categories of humanity they had described, does not make them right. And similarly, these same men insisted that men, and men alone could be rational whilst women could not. It seems to me that theories of gender were then developed to justify men’s power over women. And like them these theories of race are hogwash.
Gender politics are the politics of making a distinction between humans on the basis of the external manifestation of difference between the gender, just a racism tries to the the same for skin colour and hair, amongst other key differences I include here Hitler’s definition of Jewish people as a ‘race’. The fact that men and women have different reproductive organs should not be confused with the social categories what have been constructed to allocate differential power to each gender. Some people are Black and some are White, some people are female and others male. It is the differential value that has been added to them that surely is the problem. This is why I speak of equality, as a human born with female reproductive apparatus I consider myself equal in human status to those humans born with male reproductive apparatus. And I consider these differences very much influenced by the social weight society puts on them.
As a feminist I insist of being equal, and as a consequence of that insistence I want men to change their behaviours and assumption of power and superiority. I want gender to be as irrelevant as notions of race are. If you want to see the end of racism consider all humans as having an equal right to exist and flourish notwithstanding their colour, Nationality or Ethnic or Nations origins. And likewise, if we want to see the end of the routine rape and murder of women because they are women, or the end of unequal pay and physical exploitation of women and girls then chuck gender and grasp humanity.