I am a sexist and a racist. This is true. I have had no choice in this. The status quo propagates sexism and racism where I live and was raised. Canada, North America, “The Western World”, although this is not the only place or time in history it’s been this way. There’s a lot of debate and talk about this, especially on social media, with the phrase “check your privilege” becoming a widely used one. I recently read Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens. Much of what follows is inspired by his ideas and ways of thinking, and I’ve included some of his quotes throughout. For more of this perspective, I highly recommend the read.
When I was growing up in the 1980s in Prince Edward Island, my family impressed upon me that it was not okay to treat black people differently than white people. My teachers showed me that racism hurt people and that it was wrong. Lessons in school demonstrated to me that women could do all the same jobs that men do. I decided that I was not a racist and that I was not sexist. I would not discriminate on the basis of colour or sex. Great! Done. Or….
“Fewer resources are invested in the health and education of women; they have fewer economic opportunities, less political power, and less freedom of movement. Gender is a race in which some runners compete only for the bronze medal.” – Yuval Noah Harari
The structure of society as I know it, the entire system is skewed toward white males, as in me. Females and all people of colour are still painted to be subservient to the white male. Any laundry commercial, job interview process, movie, pop culture artwork, Facebook news feed or general walk out your from door will show you this. Why is this?
It’s quite simple I think. Human Rights do not exist. They are a myth, a fiction which is held in the collective imaginations of humans only. Through the rituals performed by our modern-day sorcerers, aka lawyers, we collectively believe that a set of rules, which have nothing to do with biology, are indeed real and have power. So they do, in that way. In order for humans to cooperate in such large numbers, we use fictions such as religion, government and the all powerful money. This complex set of fictions are what set and maintain the status quo. Where I am, America and Canada, the land was generally brutally taken over from Indigenous People by white European males. In 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was penned, we witness a group of white men defining a set of rules, of truths, which all people will benefit from. The thing is, these men simply did not consider women people, nor did they consider people of colour to be real either. The fact is, humans were trafficked from Africa to America to be slaves who generally were then mistreated and on the whole considered to be unworthy of the same basic respect that white men were entitled to. Indigenous Peoples were murdered in masses and forced to assimilate. These things happened – they were real. It was action. The reasons they happened, they are fiction.
Gender roles, that of man and woman, are also fictions. Male and female, however, is biology. Through the course of history, what has been “permissible and natural” for men and women to do has changed drastically. What has been permissible and natural for males and females to do, biologically, hasn’t changed. Human’s don’t evolve as quickly as our fictions do. Is it possible for two females to love one another sexually? Biologically, absolutely. Is it possible for a male to ingest hormones and drugs and undergo surgery to change their sex? Yes, clearly. Therefore it is also natural.
So can’t I just change my mind and disbelieve the present fiction? Sure, but that doesn’t change the fiction. In order to change the order that keeps humans collaborating in the large groups we do, enough people (millions) have to change. The way to get millions of people to cooperate effectively? A collective myth of fiction to unite strangers for a mutual cause. In this way, we change one fiction for another. Should we do that? Certainly, in my opinion. I may be sexist by design but I am a feminist by choice. That is what the Human Rights Movement is about. As a white male though, that doesn’t mean improving my lot, rather it means accepting less, making room for others. Asking anybody, anywhere, to accept less will be met with resistance. It will take conscious effort my entire life to live this way, because society on the whole believes in other, long-standing and self-perpetuating myths. I should state here that my perspective is that of a white gay man, and many of my specific rights were won from hard battles to change fictions, mostly by previous generations and with significant privileges due to the women’s rights movement. However, I’m still a white male. History shows us that privilege comes to the privileged, wealth to the wealthy, poverty to the impoverished and misery to the miserable. To complicate things (yay…), like many in the western world I too am raised in an individualist society. Generally I think I should be able to follow my own heart, love whom I choose, and do whatever I like with that which is my property. I also want equality for all people. The problem is, equality and individualism are not compatible values, so to coexist they must be mutable, each becoming a less complete ideology.
“Consistency is the playground of dull minds” – Yuval Noah Harari
So what to do? How to proceed? Personally speaking, I think a major step is to connect more truly at the individual level. Knowing that what sets us in our roles is fiction, we should approach our own relationships with an open heart to see and accept what is truly real, in that moment. Stating that you act a certain way because that’s the way it is just does not hold up. Your actions are real, but the reasons you enact them are not. If you want rights, believe in them.
“Biology enables, culture forbids” – Yuval Noah Harari