July 16, 2009

Representing the Demographic

Filed under: 100 Days of Summer,Assorted Politics,Estrogen,Youth Rights — Katrina @ 3:56 pm

Prejudice is alive and well. It survives nicely through plenty of usually well-meaning people whose prejudicial biases fly under their own radar. Perhaps the most prevalent way that racism, sexism, homophobia, and other bigotries still exist is the extra scrutiny the marginalized group often gets, scrutiny that is forgotten for the same issue if someone of a privileged or majority demographic is involved.

We’ve all seen it. If a teen commits a horrible crime, then the question is not about that individual teen but a question and often assumption that this horrible behavior is common in teens. If the perpetrator were 45, that would not be an issue. The 45-year-old would rightly be treated as an individual, and other 45-year-olds would be spared having to carry that person’s guilt just because they were born the same year. Why? Because middle-aged adults are the standard and thus privileged age demographic while youth (and senior citizens for that matter) are marginalized and considered the “non-standard” group, the “other” group.

Trouble is, even in today’s society, a middle-aged, middle or upper class, able-bodied, cisgendered heterosexual white Christian male is considered the “standard”. Anything he does he does on his own. When someone tries to point to him, they would probably say “that guy” instead of “that white guy” (depending where he is, but usually anyway) because it may sound redundant to most people to point out that he’s white, as if whiteness is expected, that if he were black, you’d have to call him “that black guy” because being black is a sign of being “other”, being non-standard. If he is walking down a street, minding his own business, pretty good chance nobody is going to assume just by looking at him that he may mug someone at any moment. There is a pretty good chance that nobody is going to harass him or beat him up for being with his significant other. There is a pretty good chance he will not be considered a disgrace or somehow impure because he had sex. There is a pretty good chance he can go just about anywhere alone at any time of day and not have people wondering why he’s there and that he’s supposed to be somewhere else. There is a pretty good chance he would be taken seriously if reporting an incident of some kind.

I’m not saying life is just peachy for these “standard” guys, hell no. They can’t just look standard. They have to act it. If he actually wants to deal with kids, he is more likely to be assumed to be a pedophile, because dealing with kids is considered “for women” and because of that, due to quietly lingering misogyny, it is considered a “lesser” job, and, goodness, why would a man choose a lesser, womanly job unless he’s some kind of pervert, right? If he gets sexually assaulted, he’ll be considered a loser or a sissy, because getting sexually assaulted just “doesn’t happen to men” and that he’ll be expected to have liked the assault and not to consider it a violent crime. He can’t wear pink because that’s just for women and gay men. He can’t listen to rap because that’s for black people. He can’t watch an animated movie or play certain video games because those are just for kids. He can’t want to eat kosher or halal foods because those are just for Jews and Muslims respectively. So basically, most of these discriminatory rules against members of the “standard” demographic are rules to not “lower” themselves into acting or living like a member of one of the “lesser” groups. And it’s fine for a “non-standard” demographic member to want to act and live like the “standard” because they’re supposed to want to “better” themselves (though often not supposed to actually succeed in doing so).

So, going back to the original topic, if you’re a member of a “non-standard” group, suddenly you and everyone like you is put under the microscope, because you’re a strange population and the “normal” people want to know what you’re like and how they can cope with your existence.

Look at Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, for instance. It’s all about her being Latina, and people (read: conservatives) going off their nut about that and screaming bloody murder over her taken-out-of-context comment apparently asserting that a “wise Latina can be a better judge than a white man who hasn’t lived that life” or whatever. Which, since I mentioned it, there’s nothing wrong with that comment, because white men and Latinas usually live different lives and because of that they’ll have had different experiences and thus different perspectives that the other may not think of due to not dealing with certain issues as much. (I mean, when Adam King was campaigning to be a student representative on his school board, the idea was that as a student he’d be better suited to help run the school than the adults, but were we being ageist against adults by saying that?) That’s not an insult to anyone, just a sign of lifestyle differences caused by racial lines in our society, an issue that needs to get fixed. The conservative idiots whine that she’s a racist for that remark, though, ignoring that they’re pretty fucking racist themselves for disagreeing and thus basically saying that, no, a Latina can’t ever be smarter than a white man and how dare she think otherwise! Not to mention the endless whining that “she only got nominated because she’s Latina!” Again, more looking only at her otherness, that she’s Puerto Rican and female, and accusing her and her supporters of racism in that even though their assumption right there is incredibly racist and sexist. Like it’s unthinkable that she could possibly have been nominated based on merit. So to these accusers, who claim to be against racism, of course, would only be absolutely sure that there were no racist intentions in a nominee choice if all Supreme Court justices were white and male.

Similarly, on the NYRA forums not too long ago, someone claimed that Clarence Thomas had only been nominated to the Court for being black, because George H.W. Bush “needed another black person to replace Thurgood Marshall” or some stupid shit. While, if that’s even true, is of course a racist move, it’s ALSO racist to assume that’s true based entirely on the fact that Thomas happens to be black.

And now I’m fucking annoyed. For one, it should already be clear that focusing too much on race is bad, mmmkay. Also, because of these idiotic racist assumptions, I’m sitting here actually defending Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas from attacks on their race and any supposed benefits they may have gotten, when the truth is… I hate both of them!!! Thomas is a raging anti-youth asshole and probably wakes up terrified in the middle of the night because he had a bad dream that someone, somewhere, was treating a teenager like a human being. I mean, he voted against Savana Redding, for fuck’s sake! He thinks Tinker v. Des Moines should be overturned. And, of course, the Anita Hill thing. It just frightens me that someone like that is sitting on the bench. As for Sotomayor, she made that boneheaded ruling in Doninger v. Niehoff, ruling against a student who had been penalized for calling her school admins douchebags on her LiveJournal. Other than evidence that she most likely would have ruled in favor of Savana Redding, hard to tell how she’d be with youth rights issues in general. I take issue with these judges because of, you know, their actual stated opinions and rulings, and, hard as it may be to swallow for some people, it has absolutely zero to do with their races!

I’m not annoyed with black people or hispanic people due to the rulings of Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor. I’m annoyed with Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor because of the rulings of Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor.

But sadly, with anyone even as high up as a Supreme Court justice, if anything about you deviates from the “standard” demographic, that is going to be called into question. Just a bit ago I read an absolutely horrifying news story about a 17-year-old girl who cooked a cat to death in an oven. She’s all proud of it, too. Thinks it’s funny. I wish so hard she were in front of me right now, because I would pummel the shit out of her until she stops squirming. Then light her on fire.

But I saw that number again. The number 17, which ends in “teen”. And I just know what’s coming. Cat torture and murder is now going to be a teenager crime. Something teenagers do for fun. You know something like that is coming. That train is never late. Because being 17 makes her “non-standard”, as does being female and any other factors not mentioned which won’t help either, then her being 17 is all anyone will look at, and she will be seen as representing all 17-year-olds. Seen as giving reason to ageist adults to hate teens even more than they already do, and causing us well-meaning youth rights supporters to groan that she is a discredit to her age-group. And simply because I would still find it unacceptable to blame her age for this or to treat her in any other anti-youth fashion, I might be seen as defending her, which as my aforementioned desire to pummel her and set her on fire should indicate, I do NOT want to do! It was not 17-year-olds in general that tortured that poor kitty. It was one very evil individual.

So what must be done about these assumptions that one member of a “non-standard” demographic is representative of all of them? Simple. Integration, of course! Well, it’s not that simple really, since people’s ingrained comfort levels can get in the way. While there aren’t laws anymore that prevent women and people of color and others (well, except young people) from getting any jobs they want or getting involved with anything they want or whatever, in many cases there are still lingering beliefs that certain jobs aren’t “for” certain people. Every company I’ve worked for had an entirely white male board of directors and management. I’ve never had a black coworker since I’ve been doing lab jobs, and I think only one hispanic, so it almost looks like working in science is only for whites and Asians. I haven’t seen very many or any female construction workers or truckers (and yes, there are plenty of women who would be physically capable of doing those jobs). There are any number of guesses as to why a lot of these jobs tend to be occupied by only one or a few groups and very few of others. Could just be something that will fix itself over time. Could be discriminatory hiring. Could be, as already mentioned, the belief that certain jobs aren’t for certain types of people. Such as, for example, going into law and becoming a judge, which might be seen as only a white man’s thing, thus perhaps putting off perfectly qualified black and hispanic people, so they might choose a different career that feels more fitting, thus limiting choices of black and hispanic judges to the unappealing options of Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor. Maybe? And if there were more situations where teens and adults could interact on a more casual level, situations where the adults do not have the authority as with parents or teachers, then there would be a lot more intergenerational understanding and less need to stereotype and hate teenagers and assume they’re all cat-torturing monsters. Maybe?

This has been Day 54 of the 100 Days of Summer, Round 9.

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