Posted by: Dan | March 30, 2008

An Aside on Race and Gender

In combatting racism, it is not enough to become “colour-blind.” Such an approach assumes that people of all races have an equal chance to “make it” in our society, thereby maintaining the fiction that society itself is neutral when it comes to matters of race. Thus, the “colour-blind” approach ignores the very real, and ongoing, structural evils that confront black people in the United States, Native people in Canada, and so on. In such a situation, one cannot become colour-blind. Rather, one must become aware of the ways in which the structures of our society are deeply rooted in racism. One must see colour, instead of ignoring it, if one is to truly offer an alternative. The solution to racism is not ignoring race, it is “Black Power” or “Native Pride” or whatever other movements embrace an awarenes of race, instead of side-lining race altogether.

Similarly, in combatting patriarchalism and sexism, it is not enough to espouse a “gender-neutral” approach (say in one’s writings). Once again, such an approach assumes that society, and its structures, have adopted a gender-neutral approach, and thus all that remains is for each individual to become gender-neutral. This is a lie. Society, and its structures, still perpetuate a consistent gender bias (to state it mildly; if you want a stronger proof of this, look up the statistics on the prevalence of sexual violence in Canada). Thus, the solution to patriarchalism and sexism is not gender-neutrality — after all, there can be no neutrality in such things, one is either for, or against, the oppressed. Rather, the solution is “Feminism” and other liberating movements that take gender seriously.

You see, when we try to take an enlightened approach to things and say, “oh, things like race and gender don’t mean anything to me — they don’t have any impact on how I view people,” we have actually become complicit with the oppressors and bought into the myth of “equal opportunity” that they have sold us. For as long as people are oppressed because of things like race and gender, then those things should matter very much to us. Otherwise, we run the risk of thinking we are “radical” or “loving” when, in actuality, we are perpetuating systemic evil.

Ultimately, I think that the key to all of this is not treating things like race and gender as primary ontological categories, but as ideological social constructs that are used and abused by those who seek to influence the formation of our life together. Hence, they are both relativized and, at the same time, taken with deathly seriousness. Yes, we are all God’s creatures; yes, we are all brothers and sisters and (by hopeful implication) child-heirs of God. Yes, in that light things like race and gender appear to be inconsequential… BUT in the very real socio-political and economic realm of our contemporary life together, things like race and gender are used in crucial, and often brutal and death-dealing, ways. Therefore, we need to also take these things seriously.

Thus, we once again discover that the proper way forward is revealed by maintaining the eschatological tension upheld by the New Testament.

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