Raised Right: False Equivalence

Trigger Warning:  Brief mentions of homophobia, transphobia, racism, misogyny, and rape culture.

There’s a lot of good material to discuss in chapter seven of “Raised Right:  How I Untangled my Faith from Politics” by Alisa Harris.  However, for today’s post, I want to focus on the following statement, made toward the end of the chapter:

Our gayness, blackness, whiteness, femaleness are not parts of a complete identity but our whole identity, elevated from an accident of birth to a political credo.  We become misshapen when all the spiritual and intellectual parts of our identity become merely political.

There have been a number of instances in the book so far where Ms. Harris has offered some wonderful and self-reflective insights into her experiences with conservative Christianity, only to incorrectly — in my opinion at least — projects those insights onto liberals, feminists, QUILTBAG people, and others.  As this particular instance is especially egregious in my mind, I want to take the time to draw attention to it.

There may be some truth, at least in some instances, to Ms. Harris’s suggestion that one’s race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or some other aspect of one’s life that tends to take central stage, possibly to the exclusion of others.  As a gay man, I am particularly fond of the following line spoken by John Mahoney’s character in “The Broken Hearts Club:”

Sometimes I wonder what you boys would do if you weren’t gay. You’d have no identity. It was easy when you couldn’t talk about it. Now it’s all you talk about. You talk about it so much that you forget about all the other things that you are.

However, I think it’s important to understand why this is often the case, which Timothy Olyphant’s character in the same movie explains so well.  To paraphrase[1], he suggests that a lot of gay guys tend to spend so much time hiding, denying, and even trying to change who they are that when they finally come to accept their orientation, they feel like they “have a lot of catching up to do.”

I think we can expand on that sentiment by considering the way in which people are marginalized, repressed, and dehumanized for being gay, female, trans* or a racial minority.  Whether we look at racism, transphobia, homophobia, or misogyny, the message that many in our society — and the system itself — sends to many such people is clear:  “You are not fully human because of who you are.”

When someone’s basic humanity is constantly[2] diminished, challenged, and denied because of some aspect of zirself then it is perfectly reasonable that defending zir humanity from those attacks, which means focusing on that aspect of zirself.  For women, racial minorities, and QUILTBAG people, defending their rights and devoting significant amounts of time is a matter of self-respect and even survival.  Comparing the amount of time that such marginalized people spend on those endeavors to the endeavors of the conservative political efforts — efforts that often translate to the continuing marginalization of other people, is dubious at best.

I am thankful that Ms. Harris has rethought many of her previously held positions and untangled her faith from her politics.  However, when it comes to considering the plight of marginalized people and how they choose to handle that plight, I think she needs to think things through a bit more.

Notes:
[1]  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an exact quote online.

[2]  And the constant presence of such othering of various groups is something that people who do not belong to those groups[3] often miss.

[3]  And this is true among the various marginalized groups, even.  For example, I’m constantly amazed at just how pervasive the rape culture and other forms of misogyny is as I read feminist blogs.  Being gay does not automatically sensitize me to the struggles others face.

2 thoughts on “Raised Right: False Equivalence”

  1. Good post, Jarred. Some people’s total aversion to “identity politics” really bothers me.

    I agree with the “they have a lot of catching up to do” reasoning. And, I think that, oftentimes, we make certain aspects of our identity political because other people make them political by, say, passing laws that disproportionately affect us based on these aspects of our identity.

    In my experience, it’s easy for some heterosexual people to not get why people might talk about being gay “all the time,” but they’re not the ones who are marginalized based on their sexual identities and who are repeatedly told during their lives that they’re immoral based on that identity.

  2. “Our gayness, blackness, whiteness, femaleness are not parts of a complete identity but our whole identity, elevated from an accident of birth to a political credo. We become misshapen when all the spiritual and intellectual parts of our identity become merely political.”

    Admittedly, I’m looking at this quote in something of a vaccum (not having read the chapter that contains it) but on the first read, I thought she must be talking about the “whole identity” as seen from outside by someone who would reduce the whole person into an easy compartment for political purposes – to portray each orientation, each religious faith, each race, etc. as a monolithic bloc with similar characteristics, wishes, interests, etc. and saying that this is what distorts people – turning all the “parts of our identity” into something easily manipulated, like squshing a round peg through a square hole to make us easier to stack together.

    It sounds like you’re saying, when the quote is taken in context of the whole chapter, that Harris believes people begin to define themselves by the particular characteristic that they feel is the only thing others see about them? i.e. a person might feel that the quality of *belonging to X category* is their own most defining aspect based on how others react to them having that quality?

    Bleh, it’s early and I’m getting a cold, so my brain isn’t working as well as I’d hoped. I apologize in advance if I’m misinterpreting what you’re saying.

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