Our society is identity obsessed. We’ve reduced people to points on a sprawling intersectional grid. Topping the list of categories are race and gender. We’ve come to think that the first is deeply fundamental to who you are, but the second — not so much.
When it comes to race, we need to be clear what we mean. Race is simply physical traits. Groups of people who are native to specific regions of the world share such traits with each other. We’re talking about physical build, type of hair, facial characteristics like shape of eyes or nose, and of course that most commonly discussed trait: the color or shade of one’s skin.
What, then, is “race essentialism”? It is the belief that racial differences represent hard distinctions between people, that there is some shared “essence” among people of a specific racial group. It borders on deterministic, as though race is destiny.
The “progressive” perspective of today’s public scolds that race has to be front and center at every moment. Your every opinion and decision should be prefaced with the open recognition that “as a white/black/Latino/person of color/etc., …” If you fail to focus on the racial characteristics of all persons all the time, that — ironically — makes you some kind of (you guessed it) racist, in their view.
Race is, in fact, only skin deep (quite literally), whereas gender/sex is at the chromosomal level.
Gender, on the other hand, is an entirely different kind of category. Traditionally it has been tied to one’s sex, encompassing the totality of what it means to be “male” or “female.”
But our present situation is this: popular culture has become persuaded that race is fundamental to who a person is, but gender is a mere construct, having nothing to do with biological sex, but rather formed from a combination of one’s internal sense of oneself plus societal norms and expectations.
A person’s gender can change from one to another, we’re now told, and this is to be applauded. Try to identify yourself as another race, however, and there will be no celebrations for “being true to yourself.” In fact, even participating in cultural heritages that are not associated with your own background can be perilous. If you were to “identify” as Hispanic, for example, and go all out on Cinco de Mayo, you could count on being publicly denounced for “cultural appropriation.”
Our culture is totally — and tragically (and sometimes even comically) — confused about these issues. When it comes to race and gender, one of them is certainly more fundamental to a person’s make-up than the other. But it’s the opposite of what our foolish, self-appointed cultural elites have told us.
Race is, in fact, only skin deep (quite literally), whereas gender/sex is at the chromosomal level. Generations of students learned in biology that the male/female distinction begins with the XY or XX chromosomes. This hasn’t changed. From that concrete reality flows a long and intricate list of distinctions that pertain to all sorts of specific differences between the two, according to the DNA blueprint set forth from the beginning of gestation.
But, by contrast, we never learned anything about race differences at the lower biological level. Nothing in the DNA about that. And there’s a reason. The official statement from biological anthropologists is that race is not a biologically meaningful category. Most racial classifications are innovations by Europeans who explored different parts of the world during the colonial age and discovered populations sharing physical traits.
The prominent scientists of a prior generation, operating on naturalistic Darwinist assumptions, used the category of race in ways that spawned ideologies we have since tried to forget. It may surprise people to learn that many social scientists today have found that contemporary race essentialism tends mostly to breed prejudice. I wonder, then, why so many popular writers have pushed the intersectional emphasis on race essentialism as a proposed way to overcome prejudice or become “anti-racist.” These books are so egregious in their errors as to have left a lot of wreckage in the wake of their influence.
Consider a few cursory differences between sex/gender and race. As indicated, the first is chromosomal, the latter isn’t. The first has two categories, the latter countless. The first can’t be biologically interchangeable, meaning that a species is doomed to extinction without sufficient male/female combinations for reproduction and propagation. But race means nothing for the furthering of the human species. Any male and female of any combination of racial types are, for the sake of biological reproduction, identical to any other two.
It is actually race, not gender, that is a spectrum. We truly can’t draw hard lines as to what makes one person “more” or “most” Asian, for example. The intersectional progressives still seem to operate according to the old “one drop” rule, harkening back to the Civil War era. If you had just one black grandparent, for example, you will identify (and be identified) as black. We’ve had very prominent public figures make outlandish racial claims about themselves based on vanishingly small DNA evidence.
Needless to say, the leading figures of the Civil Rights movement were not race essentialists. Some black intellectuals today are pushing back against the mistaken dismantling of that legacy in favor of the destructive foolishness inspired by contemporary Critical Theory. The most famous and celebrated part of Martin Luther King’s public message to the people of his generation is that the character of a person is his true essence, while the color of his skin is completely incidental.
Scientists are telling us what Bible readers should have known all along. Race is never identified as a meaningful biblical category. The Scriptures speak instead of peoples, nations, tribes and languages. By contrast, the first distinction among human beings in the creation account of Genesis 1 is that we, having been made in the image of God, were made male and female.
So then, one category appears to be the creational basis for establishing the first and most foundational of human institutions: the family. The other category is never mentioned. It took awhile but modern man finally got enlightened and progressive enough to flip the two categories and start preaching the exact opposite. I wonder why our society is so confused and dysfunctional.
Clint Roberts is an adjunct professor at the University of Oklahoma and Southern Nazarene University.
Originally published on How to Read a News Story/Substack.com. Reprinted with permission.
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