Race vs. Gender: Is There A Difference?
Self-identification of race encounters more opposition than self-identification of gender in America. We easily accepted Bruce Jenner identifying as a woman in 2015, but shunned Rachel Dolezal, a Caucasian-born woman, for identifying as African-American in that same year. Half of the Millennial generation acknowledge the idea that “gender is a spectrum” instead of just male or female; cities and public establishments have created no-gender ID cards and bathrooms to accommodate for all genders. So what makes choosing our race so different when they are ultimately very similar in regards to how gender and race develop and the advantages gained from claiming to be one or the other?
One example of a benefit to being a certain race would be earning college scholarships by identifying as African-American. Many see this as unfair to real African-Americans who are eligible to the scholarships – no scholarship means no education. Natasha Scott, daughter of an African-American father and an Asian mother, applied solely as an African American rather than African-American and Asian to increase her chances of being accepted into the University of Virginia. By claiming to be solely Black, more educational and most likely monetary opportunities were open to her. Gender similarly has it’s advantages despite the benefit not being monetary. A man who is transgender is able to enter an otherwise prohibited area – the women’s bathroom. Transgender and intersex individuals can also gain an advantage in activities like the Olympics. In Layden’s article, “Is It Fair for Caster Semenya to Compete against Women at the Rio Olympics?” he mentions how intersex competitors may dominate in women competitions because of how testosterone aids in certain muscular development.
Furthermore, race and gender in general are similar by how they develop in humans. Children don’t begin classifying people into different races until around 10 years old. If the children grew up in a politically liberal area, they believed in classifying people into racial categories as oppose to children who grew up in politically conservative areas who believed that categorizing races was wrong. The development of racial identity in children stems from the environment and the members of society surrounding them. An example would be Lacey Shwartz, mentioned in the article “Family Secret and Cultural Identity Revealed In ‘Little White Lie,'” who grew up with white Jewish parents in a white community. Despite her African American features, she identified herself as white because of the community and people she lived with. Similarly, in the documentary Somewhere Between, four Chinese-American girls were adopted by Caucasian parents and grew up thinking of themselves as white. They compared themselves to a banana that was yellow on the outside and white on the inside.
As mentioned, gender identity development is similar to the development of children’s racial identity because they both develop from their environment. Girls who grow up surrounded by princesses, dresses, dolls, and other female stereotypes are likely to identify themselves as female once they are old enough. If boys were surrounded by similar princesses, dresses, dolls, and such, they would also be likely to identify themselves as female if they weren’t told they were biologically males. Parents are encouraged to help their daughters or sons to develop a healthy gender identity by exposing their child to both genders’ activities, clothes, jobs, and to alternate gender roles such as male nurses or female firefighters. Gender identity in children develops through exposer to gender roles and activities in their community like racial identity.
However, self identifying race and self identifying gender have a major difference. When self identifying as a specific gender, people usually look like the gender they are identifying as. If a male identifies himself as female, he uses she, her, hers to describe himself and alters his appearance to appear female. In this case, the person matches his physical appearance. On the other hand, claiming one’s race isn’t as easy. Although a person can claim to be a race, their appearance may not match the claim. An example of this would be in Garcia-Navarro’s article “For Affirmative Action, Brazil Sets Up Controversial Boards To Determine Race” where 27-year-old Afro Brazilian Lucas Siquiera was denied a Brazilian diplomatic position because the public and the government’s “race commission” considered him Caucasian based on his appearance. The main point in the article was that his claim did not match his appearance. Society isn’t confused when gender is claimed because the claim matches the looks, but race doesn’t always match the appearance of the person. The confusion with self identification of race makes it less accepted by society because the public can’t tell if applicants are the race they say they are if they don’t match the physical characteristics common to the race they identify as. In Natasha Scott’s situation, she claims to be purely African American in her college application and looks African American too. However, Massachusetts Democratic Senate Elizabeth Warren claims to be part Cherokee Indian and looks white. She, despite proof of her relations, isn’t considered Native American by society because her appearance doesn’t match her Cherokee claim.
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Layden, Tim. “Is It Fair for Caster Semenya to Compete against Women at the Rio Olympics?” SI.com. Sports Illustrated, 11 Aug. 2016. Web. 11 Dec. 2016.
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“Minority Rules: Who Gets To Claim Status As A Person Of Color?” NPR. 16 May 2012. Web. 31 October 2016.
Norris, Michele. “Family Secret And Cultural Identity Revealed In ‘Little White Lie’” NPR. NPR, 23 Mar. 2015. Web. 11 Dec. 2016.
“On College Forms a Question of Race, or Races, Can Perplex.” The New York Times. 13 June 2011. Web. 31 October 2016.
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Wong, Curtis M. “50 Percent Of Millennials Believe Gender Is A Spectrum, Fusion’s Massive Millennial Poll Finds.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 2 Feb. 2016. Web. 11 Dec. 2016.