February 18, 2007

A Question?

Here's a little self-test question you might want to answer for yourself:

Imagine you're looking to rent a room in your house and a friend of a friend comes buy to check it out. You know next to nothing about him and when he shows up you see that he's white. Do you think that that fact that he's white could have any effect on your decision to rent a room to him?

I was thinking about this question the other day mainly because there it seems awkward and even silly. But, here is a variation on the question:

when she shows up you see that she's black. Do you think that that fact that she's black could have any effect on your decision to rent a room to her?

If you replace the term white in the question with some other descriptor like black, female, gay, hispanic, handicapped, etc, the question undergoes a wonderful transformation from awkward to meaningfully appropriate. Default or "normal" characteristics (white, male, straight, adult) are tacitly assumed and not "interesting" to question while other characteristics outside the default settings bear attention. It is always important to mention when someone can be described in a way that is outside what is considered mainstream. This allows us to distinguish this person in our minds but in the act of making them an individual do we also isolate them in an unintended way?

Hootie and the Blowfish was billed by the media as a multi-racial band because it had a single black man in it.

This observation is almost too obvious to discuss but you'd be amazed how often it slips by unnoticed.

The concept of normative quality even more confused when it comes to gender because the normal quality of being male doesn't even apply to a majority of people. From the perspective of pure statistics it is more normal to be female than male. Yet, the same attention to the female as a unique non-normal state applies though. Look at the United States government for example. The government is thought to lack women instead having an overabundance of men. Ah, now, we're starting to make subtle distintions instead of this in your face "friend at the door" prejudice.

When talking about gender and gender differences the emphasis is placed on women and women's roles just like a serious discussion of race always include a section on blackness while whiteness and the qualities of white people are only discussed by comedians. Returning to gender and the government, we find that recent comments by Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg are brought up by the media as the fact that there is only one woman on the Supreme court but too many men might be a better way to phrase the situation. That female representation in congress is growing could also be replaced with the comment that males have always dominated the legislature. Female colleges students are now in the majority instead of males being minority and so on.

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