Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Gender And Geography

This is a paper that I wrote for one of my classes recently regarding gender, race, and space.

I became more interested in exploring the ideas behind the Twine article because I feel that the points that are made are very accurate.  Why? 

If you look at a picture of my immediate family taken in the early 1990s, you'll see me as the baby in someone's lap, and my sister as a toddler.  I think this picture is essential for putting my own story in context.  The first thing that most people ask me when I show them a picture of my sister is, “Do you both have the same parents?”  It is hard for me to imagine what kind of identity struggles my sister has had growing up, since she has more White features than I do, including red streaks in her hair from our Irish ancestors, as well as being extremely prone to sunburns.  What’s even more interesting is that her very light skin, or this racial barrier, if you will, has not acted as a restricting factor to some of her life choices.  In fact, it was she who went to an HBCU for two years of school and me that came to a Predominantly White Institution (PWI). She finds men of most races attractive.  She has a style different from what most would identify as Black or White, and she has no real accent.
            Even with all of that said, I think that if you asked each of us now what race we identify with as individuals, she would say White and I would say Black.  Our answers would likely be different because each of us has had different moments in our lives where people have treated us different because of our apparent race.  As Twine says, we “had not been conscious of being culturally different from” each other when we were young.  It took both of us awhile to realize that people would treat us differently, even right in front of each other.  Part of this was that we lived in Carson City, NV for a period of time and the Black population there is approximately 1%.  It is probably for this reason that I was called by some of my friends “the whitest Black girl they knew”, and I took no offense to what they said because I agreed.  My sister and I spoke, acted, and behaved “White” because that is the social manner that we were taught in grade school in Carson City.  However, some of my African American friends walked, talked, and behaved “Black” because that is the culture they were raised in.  There was one time that I walked into a store with my boyfriend who is Black and from Philadelphia, and I reached into my purse to grab my chapstick but he stopped me.  He had learned at a very young age not to reach into pockets in places like stores because people would accuse him of stealing.  I had never heard of anything like this, although it made perfect sense to me.  This, I think, is a prime example of differences in Black and White behavior.  All of these things support Twine’s argument that “white cultural identity begins in childhood…” although, of course I am sure there are exceptions in several instances.
            Something we hit on as a class is that Twine does not acknowledge the possibility of the presence of grey area.  I know that I generally speak to Black and White people slightly differently, depending on the situation.  In essence I will say the same thing to both parties, but just in different ways.  What is extremely interesting to me is that it is almost a subconscious change in language.  My learned way of speaking was constructed in a majority White environment, but when I am interacting with my Black peers I use language and slang that I’ve gathered from prior interactions with them or others in the Black community.  Perhaps it is because I want to fit in, or I just want to make people hear what I’m saying (and I do not know the answer to that), but I make these changes in language nearly every time I interact with someone, without fail.  It’s clear that I struggle with my own identity in some ways!
            Another sub-concept that we touched on but did not delve into surrounding the Twine article was what men are stereotypically attracted to what women in reference to race and vice versa.  I found this topic to be particularly interesting after watching my friends of different races voice what kind of people they are attracted to, and a lot is based on where they are from.  An example of this is my roommate from this summer who is from the Dallas/Fort Worth area in Texas, and attends Texas A&M University.  She has her own opinions of who she thinks is attractive and it does not matter to her what race they are.  However, one of my best friends from home, who is extremely similar to my roommate, has a very particular taste and generally is interested in very preppy White men.  Both girls are White, slender and tall, and very attractive themselves, but I see a lot of the space that they have lived in reflected in who they are attracted to.  The girl from Texas has been in situations with a wide range of diversity through her time growing up, as well as in school.  On the opposite side, the girl who is attracted to preppy boys has lived in a predominantly White area that is considered in the upper or upper-middle class and has been interested in the same type of guy since she could date.
            These issues seem to be extremely dependent on place and space.  Whether it is where someone grew up, the environment in which they had a certain experience, or a more specific area (such as a Catholic church versus a “Black” Baptist church), people are molded to behave a certain way.  I think it is really society and our history that continues to enforce the differences.  While this specific argument of the construction of identity is more about race and geography, I think similar “rules” apply to gender as well.  If a female is brought up in a family with several brothers, it is probable that she will have some characteristics of a tomboy, at least before she starts seeing the girly-girls at school, paying attention to commercials, and seeing what girls “should” look like according to society.  Race can be seen as a practically identical concept.  This, to me, is the root of all stereotypes.  If we were to raise all children in an identical matter, I’d be interested to see how relevant race becomes.

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