on the other hand

About the cultural zoo. There’s another side to it. We like to say, for instance, that “under the skin” black people and white people are the same. But: are you kidding? Black people and white people have totally different life experiences, totally different attitudes about just about anything. Like men and women. You discover at the age of two that you are female, and you are instantly into a life that is going to make you a very different person from if you discovered you were a boy. I know this for a fact. At the age of about five, maybe, when we neighbor kids were all running naked through the lawn sprinkler, I figured it out. The ones with the dink were all boys. The ones without one were all girls. Every one. And, sure enough, the girls have turned out completely different from the guys. Under the skin, over the skin. Makes no difference. Different.

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One Response to on the other hand

  1. Cielo says:

    Different. Yup, from each other, and from you.

    I know that that sort of simplistic short-hand is easy, and playable, but — really? Unless you’re going to play off it off, to turn it inside-out, to use it as a jumping-off point (maybe for that wrong-ass colonial narrator?), it’s not very interesting.

    Until the adolescent hormones kick in, there’s not a lot of internally-determined, sex-specific behaviour. There IS, however, a lot of culturally-encouraged, gender-related behaviour. And since kids are little sponges, programmed to learn and internalize everything around them so that they’re more likely to survive and thrive, they demo it daily.

    Race is similarly problematic. Firstly, it is totally culturally defined (the Black/White binary tends to exist in lands that were part of the British colonies, more complex definitions of race exist in other societies). Secondly, as much as race may have once been a useful shorthand to predict someone’s values and behaviors, it doesn’t do so unless the people of that race have the same cultural experiences. For example, a Sudanese immigrant, newly transplanted to Calgary, will NOT behave/talk/have the same resources & experiences as a mixed-raced, “black,” 4th generation Canadian in the same city. In Brazil, a kinky-haired, latte-skinned person with dark eyes, is considered to have a different ‘race’ than a curly-haired, coffee-skinned, golden-eyed person.

    But statistically, differences within defined groups (by sex, race, hair-colour, weight, what-have-you) are generally just as great, if not greater, than differences between defined groups. It’s really just a matter of how much weight we grant to the various differences, and how we split up culturally-defined groups. So, presenting those differences as biological is an uninteresting oversimplification.

    Quick Examples:

    *One of the femi-est gents I ever rolled around with was also the most concerned with presenting himself in public as pop-culture-typical masculine. Which made a lot of sense, once I met the dude’s family.

    *A little girl I know who, from toddler-hood, *always* refused to wear a dress, and grew up to do a traditionally male dance form against the strict, culturally-based objections of her father.

    *Another child in my acquaintance told me once that her parents were Black and White, and defined herself as Gray. She didn’t know what to call a more mysteriously-ethnic friend of the family.