It’s a Monday morning late 2007. An ex-Nigel and I are driving me to the office and he explains how race is nothing but a social construct. How there’s nothing innate about race, but how we create meaning from skin pigment. My jaw. It fell.
I protested because isn’t it so damn obvious he’s talking bullshit! We argued over it until he dropped me off at the office. I didn’t really believe him because whatever. Because it made no sense whatsoever.
I later learnt gender and sex are also social constructs. The latter two were easier to believe after the big shock of learning about race. And that’s what I argued in Facebook groups, blog comments and also occasionally In Real Life.
But the people against whom I argued race’s social constructivism laughed at me instead of merely rebutting my arguments. I even tried it out on my own situation by claiming to be black one day, and coloured the next day. I told people it’s because the coloured category’s too constricting. That the black category feels more welcoming. That the coloured category’s an Apartheid creation. Well, another now ex-Nigel told me no, the category of coloured existed even before the Apartheid government’s racial classification programme. So I stuck to the constrictedness of being coloured.
The people who argue race, gender and, occasionally sex, are social constructs, tend to do so when talking about social justice. So their arguments generally follow this pattern: ”Race is a social construct; ergo, black people aren’t less intelligent than white people”. Or ”gender is a social construct, much like the government and taxes. So it isn’t natural for women to be all passive and wear high heels. She learnt how to wear high heels from a culture that hates women.”
And it’s a persuasive argument. But incorrect.
Now see, I don’t have much of a problem in persuading people that something is problematic. But I do have a problem when the arguments we use are sub-standard. And the naturalness vs social constructivist argument strikes me as such an argument.
I’m tempted to say it’s a divisive and time-wasting argument. Because it can be: various Facebook groups spent a lot of time discussing whether male-on-female violence is innate or constructed. And it’s such a huge time suck when instead, we could’ve been doing something that’s more enriching. Whatever it is.
But the reason why I scoff at the argument is that ”naturalness” isn’t a moral position. Poison Ivy is natural and to think all things natural are good, is just plain wrong.
So what does this mean for social justice warriors? Who have persuading to do? And who can no longer use the crutch of social constructivism?
Well, the best arguments are always logical. They might not convince enough people right now, right here, but at least we’ll know we’re not using manipulation and unsound logic. We can ask ourselves a couple of questions to decide whether, eg gender is A-OK and whether we may perform it.
1) Why are we doing this again?
2) No seriously, why are we doing this? On what basis?
3) Does it unfairly disadvantage a group of people? Time-wise, financially or emotionally or in any other way?
There may be more questions I’m not thinking of, but these three should be OK for the majority of issues. Let’s start judging issue x on its effect on us. Not on how ”natural” it is. Carbon emissions are natural but we don’t like ‘em, you know?
P.S I no longer believe we construct race and gender. Fodder for another post on another day.