Source: shwetanarayanThis has been a v long-brewing post; I’ve been meaning to make it, or something like it, since 2009. Many thanks to rose_lemberg, Arachne Jericho, sovay, and elsmi for helping me finally get it together in a coherent fashion. Any errors or problems are my doing, not theirs.
We tend to have this idea that categories, like “bird” or “food” (or like “human” or “white”, which is what this is all really about) are like solid boxes. Entities are either in them or out of them, with a clear and unchanging boundary, and everything inside is an unsorted & equal jumble, and everything outside ditto.
This notion gets strongly underscored by our cultures, so it can be hard to … er… unpack. But the fact is, cognitive categories aren’t actually like boxes. They have internal structure, and fuzzy boundaries (which people can draw in different places, and move depending on context), and these things matter hugely in how we think about and deal with oppression.
I’m going to start by talking about research on the category “bird”, because there’s been a lot of it (c.f. Eleanor Rosch's work in the 70s and early 80s, which kicked it off), and it's pretty neutral so it'll be easier/less triggery for people to think about the category structure.
So! The “bird” category has (somewhat culture specific) internal structure. For example, most Americans will agree that a robin is a better example of a bird than an albatross, and an albatross is a better bird than an ostrich. (And while bats are not birds, they are better birds than horses are, and horses are better birds than refrigerators are; so the gradations continue to some extent outside the category boundary).
This internal category structure has a number of cognitive effects/characteristics:
1) If you ask people to just write down as many birds as they can, they’ll list the more prototypical (category-central) ones first. More peripheral members of the category do not come to mind at first.
2) In reaction time tasks where people are asked to respond yes or no depending on whether or not a presented item is a bird, people will press yes faster, with fewer errors, for prototypical birds.
3) The structure that emerges from these two experimental measures matches the structure that emerges if you just ask people to rank birds in order of which ones are the “best” birds. Once you ask people to structure their categories they have really strong, consistent, and replicable intuitions about that structure.
4) People’s idea of similarity is asymmetric: they will, for example, say that albatrosses are more like robins than robins are like albatrosses.
5) People reason from the prototype to the whole category, but not the other way around. So, for example (according to experimental results), people reason that if all the robins on an island caught a disease, the ducks would catch it too; but not vice versa.
6) People’s use of linguistic hedges (really, sort of, technically, etc) is based on prototypicality too. So you can say an emu is technically a bird, but you can’t say a robin is technically a bird.
7) Over time, some characteristics can become more prototypical. Others can’t. The US adoption of the eagle as a standard animal has made it a more prototypical bird; and the hooked beak has become a more prototypical characteristic than it used to be. But yeah, eagles can still fly. An emu is never going to be a prototypical bird.
This is all pretty innocent when it comes to birds! But there is evidence that this sort of category structure is everywhere in human cognition (e.g. people will say 4 is a better even number than 1374.) Now, robins excluding emus from the bird-category, or claiming to understand how emu-ness works because of their experience as robins, might sound like the stuff comic strips are made of; the human dynamics are less funny, and far more harmful to their targets.
So, moving domains to socially relevant categories:
1) Able neurotypical not-fat not-poor straight cis white anglophone American Christian men are considered to be prototypical humans (prototype here = privileged default). So. If you ask people to think of famous people, they will think first of famous able neurotypical not-fat not-poor straight cis white anglophone American Christian men. And their exceptions will normally fall outside this prototype in only one or two ways.
This is how a lot of casual erasure happens. (btw it’s also what’s happening when editors “just happened to think of” a lot of poets/writers/artists who aren’t marginalized, and when poets/writers/artists “just happened to think of” prototypical characteristics to portray.)
2) If someone is not an able neurotypical not-fat not-poor straight cis white anglophone American Christian man, it will generally take people longer to categorize them as human. And the further they are from this prototype the longer it will take to make the judgment. Now, if people take that extra time, we’re probably good; but do they? When they sort resumes / run job interviews, when they’re trigger-happy cops, etc?
3) (horrific examples tw) Consider the structure of the category “American citizen”, which often gets treated as either-or. But the prototypical citizen is white, abled, and Christian (at least). Consider who counts: who gets protected under US law. And consider whose ID gets checked, who gets stop & frisked. Whose mass incarceration and state-sanctioned murder is business as usual. Who gets called “an illegal”, or told to “go back home”, regardless of their actual documentation. Who gets demands for their birth certificate once elected to high office. Whose languages are considered ok if spoken in the US, whose accent if they’re speaking English.
(Non-Americans, when we talk about American privilege, we need to understand that it does not apply equally to all people with US citizenship; it applies only to the people who get counted as “proper” Americans, according to this category structure & the context.)
3b) (Horrific example tw) Where you draw the category boundary can be person and culture specific. Which is okay with birds, you’ll only annoy scientists if you decide an emu isn’t a bird, but what about the category “human”. What about the people who decide that if you’re Black, or disabled, or a trans woman or all three, then you’ve fallen outside the human category and your murderer isn’t really a murderer? The murderers who call their Black victims “it”? The settler laws about Aboriginal Australian people, that only recently categorized them as human?
3c) This also applies for categories like whiteness. Who counts as white depends on who’s drawing the boundary, where, when, for what purposes. I think we do need to talk about which people’s whiteness is marginal/conditional and can be revoked by category-central white people. We can’t do that, however, without also talking about how people in these groups benefit from conditional/marginal whiteness, by mostly gaining white privilege while denying whiteness whenever questions of race/racism come up. I am suspicious of people who will only talk about how their whiteness is marginal when other people are talking about racism.
3d) Obviously I could go on, but consider also the category of English. Whose English counts as actual English? And within that, whose is proper English?
So yeah (3) tl;dr: This is how a lot of active casual bigotry happens.
4) Am albatross is more like a robin than a robin is like an albatross; a queer WOC is more like a cishet white man than a cishet white man is like a queer WOC. Which characters in stories count as “relatable”?
Everyone is expected to relate to a cis straight white anglophone American man. We’re all like them, they’re just (default, category-central) people after all! But they’re not like us. We’re the albatrosses, here. How can the poor robins be expected to relate to us? This is why they think it’s so ludicrous that they should be expected to read about marginalized characters (who are nothing like them!!) but think it’s normal and fine that marginalized people should be expected to read about category-central characters.
Conversely, it’s also why they think they know our experience perfectly well and can talk over us; after all, we’re just like them, except in a few (stereotyped) ways. They’re default people! Unlike us.
5) (Horrific example tw) While people know perfectly well that diseases will spread from category-central members of humanity to peripheral ones, they often don’t realize it goes the other way too. In the 80s, a lot of people thought AIDS was a “gay disease” - it wouldn’t hit straight people! (And bi/pan/polysexual people don’t exist after all, c.f. the erasure caused by (1)). Sooo yeah, they didn’t care, till it did start hitting a lot of straight (white) people.
6) (TERF warning.) Consider how some TERFs say, “Of course I think trans women are women! - Technically. But like, not real women.”
So long as they can make that linguistic hedge in some form - so that they’re not actually expected to treat trans women as fully women, as fully human - they’re fine with it. This is part of how they contradict themselves so blithely without hitting cognitive dissonance.
This is one method of moving the goalposts. Our understanding of categories is fluid and context-dependent, and we shift from thinking about the prototype to the whole category and back more than we normally consciously realize, and we can use the same word, often, to refer to either; and oppressors can use that to pretend they’re speaking in good faith and being “reasonable”, while in fact they’re changing their definitions on the fly to suit their convenience.
7) Consider whiteness again. Within a US context, some groups (e.g. white Jewish Americans) have become more white than they historically were, and benefit from co-signing whiteness. They are still not category-central; their inclusion may still be marginal; but by default, they are now on the inside of the category boundary. Whereas other groups (e.g. South Asian Americans) do not get to cross the line no matter how strongly they buy into whiteness, because Blackness, and therefore darkness, is an exclusionary feature. But what that means, too, is that South Asian Americans do get privileged over other groups, most notably Black Americans, and need to understand that the power dynamics of whiteness do not end at the boundary of whiteness.
For more central but still not default people (both within and outside the category!), aligning with & co-signing the category-center brings clear advantages. That’s not true for people who are always, definitionally, excluded.
I’m going to start my wrap-up by talking a bit about derailing (getting in before defensive-privileged-commentors do so, haha). Often it works by changing the category under discussion – forcibly redrawing the boundary, and thereby changing the center of the category & what’s being talked about. Example that I see all the time: “Trans women are awesome!” gets derailed with “ALL women are awesome!” By making the category “all women”, the derailer does not merely extend the statement to more people. No, by changing the category and evoking the new category’s cisnormative prototypes, they change the subject entirely – recentering themselves and pushing trans women off to the margins.
“Not All Men” works in sort of the opposite way. By creating this hypothetical subcategory of Not-All-Men and forcing attention to it, it derails discussion away from, & attempts to undermine statements about, the category as a whole.
So! When talking to other people, in fandom and outside it, we need to be aware of category-centrality as well as membership. Especially because categories like whiteness are not boxes, but rather spectrums, with a central core of “real”, unarguable members, and an uneven periphery of conditional members, who can get kicked out by the category center as convenient, but still benefit from some or all of the privilege most of the time. Understanding this helps us understand the mechanics of derailing, and the mechanics of marginalization/exclusion done by not-central members to even-more-non-central members, as well as the mechanics that central members use against us all.
- 2 days ago
- 3 days ago
I’ve been away from Tumblr and Twitter because most social media is triggering me right now. I have an alternate pseudo I use for boardgames and right now that Twitter feed is set to that and nothing else.
I’m sorry, I know I should be posting stuff about Ferguson, but I am so at the limits of what I can stand right now with regards to racism and police brutality that I literally cannot read more than one or two posts of tumblr without running off screaming.
- 5 days ago
- 5 days ago
Robin Williams didn’t die from suicide. I only just heard the sad, sad news of Robin Williams’s death. My wife sent me a message to tell me he had died, and, when I asked her what he died from, she told me something that nobody in the news seems to be talking about.
When people die from cancer, their cause of death can be various horrible things – seizure, stroke, pneumonia – and when someone dies after battling cancer, and people ask “How did they die?”, you never hear anyone say “pulmonary embolism”, the answer is always “cancer”. A Pulmonary Embolism can be the final cause of death with some cancers, but when a friend of mine died from cancer, he died from cancer. That was it. And when I asked my wife what Robin Williams died from, she, very wisely, replied “Depression”.
The word “suicide” gives many people the impression that “it was his own decision,” or “he chose to die, whereas most people with cancer fight to live.” And, because Depression is still such a misunderstood condition, you can hardly blame people for not really understanding. Just a quick search on Twitter will show how many people have little sympathy for those who commit suicide…
But, just as a Pulmonary Embolism is a fatal symptom of cancer, suicide is a fatal symptom of Depression. Depression is an illness, not a choice of lifestyle. You can’t just “cheer up” with depression, just as you can’t choose not to have cancer. When someone commits suicide as a result of Depression, they die from Depression – an illness that kills millions each year. It is hard to know exactly how many people actually die from Depression each year because the figures and statistics only seem to show how many people die from “suicide” each year (and you don’t necessarily have to suffer Depression to commit suicide, it’s usually just implied). But considering that one person commits suicide every 14 minutes in the US alone, we clearly need to do more to battle this illness, and the stigmas that continue to surround it. Perhaps Depression might lose some its “it was his own fault” stigma, if we start focussing on the illness, rather than the symptom. Robin Williams didn’t die from suicide. He died from Depression*. It wasn’t his choice to suffer that."
- 5 days ago
I’ve written an audio drama called The Word From Shadow Grove that I’d like to have recorded, and I have a trans woman voice actor lined up to do it if I can meet the very generously negotiated fee she’s quoted for me.
My intention is to distribute the finished product for free, though, and I can’t afford a ~$400 outlay anytime soon, so I need a little help to make this happen.
- 5 days ago
Nevada Assemblywoman Lucy Flores is running to become the first Latina Lieutenant Governor of her state. She’s no billionaire’s wife, no Ivy League prodigy, no daughter of some ruling-class family from Latin America. Lucy Flores grew up poor in a family of 13 children. A daughter of immigrants, she dropped out of high school, got involved in gangs and spent time incarcerated. She saw all her sisters become teen mothers and didn’t want that for herself. When she became pregnant at 16, she had an abortion that she doesn’t regret.
She eventually turned her life around. She went to college and later law school. Yet she doesn’t twist her success into a bootstraps narrative of a self-made woman. Instead, she acknowledges all the support she got along the way. She bears witness to the fact that it was the chance generosity of individuals, and not a reliable safety net in our society that made the difference. Her own lived experience becomes the basis of her progressive agenda for social change.
Lucy Flores defies the politics of respectability. She’s single, childless, honest about her sexual past, and fierce in her advocacy for poor and marginalized people. She takes bold stands on immigration, education, and domestic violence. Her experience makes her an effective advocate, but it also makes her a new kind of role model for Latina women. Like Justice Sonia Sotomayor before her, we are watching a smart, single, childless Latina rise from poverty to political authority. But Flores’ background not only includes the “humble beginnings” of poverty, but the stigmatizing experiences that can accompany poverty, like jail, dropping out, and unplanned pregnancy.
Read more of Aya de Leon’s article about Lucy Flores on Bitch Media
(via alan713ch)Source: bitch-media
- 5 days ago
- 5 days ago
Let’s see how many of y’all ready to show some SOLIDARITY…
Let’s make this happen!!
WE HAVE TO SPREAD THIS !!!
Im for it
Yooooo. I’m doing this.
please do this
Okay, but can we get a list of black owned businesses in our areas?
There’s an app called Around the Way for iPhones and Androids that locate your nearest black owned business’ by zipcode. PLEASE SPREAD THIS!
I already know where I’m going.
There used to be more though.
(via grrspit)Source: darvinasafo
- 5 days ago
It’s a very long night when you discover that the reason your old friends thought “Requires Medication” was a good way to shame somebody is because they never thought very highly of you for needing medication.
- 1 week ago
Young Hui woman in downtown Shanghai restaurant preparing traditional halal meal. The Hui people, 回族, which are found throughout China, are ethnically and linguistically similar to Han Chinese with the exception that they practice Islam. Many are direct descendants of Silk Road travelers and their ancestors include Central Asians, Persians, Arabs, who married Han Chinese. Based on a recent census, China is home to approximately 11 million Hui people.
(via alexispointy)Source: chinaisnear
- 1 week ago
Meet Jedidah Isler
She is the first black woman to earn a PhD in astronomy from Yale University.
As much as she loves astrophysics, Isler is very aware of the barriers that still remain for young women of color going into science. “It’s unfortunately an as-yet-unresolved part of the experience,” she says. She works to lower those barriers, and also to improve the atmosphere for women of color once they become scientists, noting that “they often face unique barriers as a result of their position at the intersection of race and gender, not to mention class, socioeconomic status and potentially a number of other identities.”
While Isler recounts instances of overt racial and gender discrimination that are jaw-dropping, she says more subtle things happen more often. Isler works with the American Astronomical Society’s commission on the status of minorities in astronomy.
She also believes that while things will improve as more women of color enter the sciences, institutions must lead the way toward creating positive environments for diverse student populations. That is why she is active in directly engaging young women of color: for example participating in a career exploration panel on behalf of the Women’s Commission out of the City of Syracuse Mayor’s Office, meeting with high-achieving middle-school girls. She is also on the board of trustees at the Museum of Science and Technology (MOST).
“Whether I like it or not, I’m one of only a few women of color in this position,” she says. “Addressing these larger issues of access to education and career exploration are just as important as the astrophysical work that I do.”
BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOST YES DAMMIT!
sending this straight to featured #science cause fuck yeah BW + Astrophysics.
I’m trying to tell y’all, black women are leveling up.
It still amazes me sometimes that it’s 2014 and there’s so many “firsts” still left out there.
(via notyourexrotic)Source: news.syr.edu
- 1 week ago
cjwritergal replied to your post “I get so angry at the board gaming world. It’s still ok to be racist…”
*hugs* Thank you.