NOM’s Schubert on gender and ethnic identity
August 14th, 2013
Frank Schubert, the national political director for National Organization for Marriage (theirs, not yours) and the architect of the campaign for Proposition 8 and other anti-gay amendments, has a new article on Red State, There is Only One Gender, in which he derides the idea of gender identity. Using the “what’s visible is all there is” argument, he claims that gender-identity is no more real than ethnic-identity.
You might look at my Caucasian features and wonder why I am claiming to be an African American. I may not be a natural descendent of African American lineage, but I feel black and have thus decided to identify as African American. Since I identify as African American, I am African American, and you must accept me as such. Because I claim my identity as an African American, I demand that the law recognize me as such and afford me all the rights and obligations of that ethnicity.
You may think that my decision to claim an African American identity is ridiculous. You would be right. Ethnicity is determined by ancestry and genetic lineage, not by someone’s identified perceptions and “feelings.” But it’s no more ridiculous than the latest craze from the left concerning something they call “gender identity.”
The truth, however, is that there is no such thing as “gender identity” any more than there is “ethnic identity.” There is only gender.
Well, no, I would not necessarily think that someone who looks white but who is claiming African American identity is ridiculous. Irrespective of whatever imaginary “rights and obligations” I might think come with being African-American, I understand that I don’t get to pick who is and who is not.
Perhaps it’s partly because I don’t live in a sheltered environment surrounded only by those who are just like me. Perhaps it’s because I know people who have a non-obvious ethnic identity. Perhaps because I’ve had all sorts of ethnicities assumed about me by other people.
But mostly it’s because of a personal experience.
Many years ago, I was working as an internal auditor for a major air and space company. As part of my job, I was assigned the task of auditing the company’s EEOC program to make certain that it was complying with regulations and policy.
I was working along with my randomly selected sample of employee files when I came across the file of a coworker in my own department. And while the paperwork seemed intact, there was one glaring problem. I knew this girl. And though she had checked “African American”, clearly she was not! Perhaps Latina. Perhaps some other ethnic mix or non-Western-European origin, but this girl wasn’t black.
Uncertain what to do, I discussed the problem with my supervisor, who clearly was black. And I learned something interesting, something that might have seemed counter-intuitive but made perfect sense. As far as the EEOC was concerned, race and ethnicity are not determined purely by the origins of one’s ancestors or the color of one’s skin. Culture, how one was raised, the people who you consider family, and many other factors come into play.
How one identifies is the preferred method under EEOC rules:
If I think I know an employee’s ethnicity, can I just write that in on the report?
A. No. The preferred method of identification is self-identification. Employers need to provide employees the opportunity to self-identify their own ethnicity. If an employee then refuses to do so, employment records or visual observation must be used.
Of course one must have a good reason for the ethnicity or race one adopts. And there is one exception; to legally be a Native American one has to trace to the Indian Rolls (which, due to politics dating back to the Trail of Tears, I cannot, but that’s another story).
But in this case, looks were deceiving. My supervisor knew my coworker’s family and although she “didn’t look African-American” her brothers did.
And as time went on, I met many other people who would not fit well in Schubert’s paradigm. I knew mixed race children adopted by all-white families. I knew two siblings, one of whom identified as German and the other as Black. And I learned that many of the people I meet in Los Angeles are as likely to have grandparents with four different ethnic identities than just one.
Perhaps in Frank Schubert’s world, things are segregated. Perhaps white is very easy to distinguish from black, good people from bad people, male from female. Perhaps he has limited his experiences to those which only fit his expectations.
But when he tries to discuss the real world in the terms of his own limitations, he reveals how truly ignorant he is.