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NOM’s Schubert on gender and ethnic identity

Timothy Kincaid

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.

Comments

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Reason
August 14th, 2013 | LINK

“Ethnicity is determined by ancestry and genetic lineage, ”

And the predominant belief in science is that the human species arose in Africa. By lineage and ancestry, all humans came from Africa.

Rick
August 14th, 2013 | LINK

In general, I support an individuals right to self-identification. If Mr. Schubert wishes to known as an African American – I certainly would have no problem with it. What he means by ‘rights and obligations’ I have no idea except in so far as all Americans have or should have the same rights and obligations (except as curtailed as punishment for criminal activity).

Tor
August 14th, 2013 | LINK

I recently met a “white” person from Zimbabwe. He currently lives in London, but his family has been in Africa for 200 years. Is he not an African-Englishman? Would he not be an African-American in the US regardless of his race?

andrewdb
August 15th, 2013 | LINK

Has he never heard of the concept of “passing”?

Back in the day (maybe even today) lighter skinned “blacks” would move to a different town and live as “white.”

Schubert is just stupid.

Hue-Man
August 15th, 2013 | LINK

I thought immediately of a PBS documentary on a family reunion of the Jefferson and Hemings families, particularly those of her descendants who have chosen to pass as white. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/jefferson/mixed/

Andrew
August 15th, 2013 | LINK

I work with a Filipino who was raised years ago on army bases where race was more binary – being non-white, he was effectively “black”, and that is largely the culture he adopts. He wouldn’t call himself african-american, but he does identify strongly with that culture.

I joke that I was lost in the suburbs and raised by Jews. I’m Irish-Italian, but frankly Jewish culture plays a crucial role in my development. I’m not sure I’d call myself Jewish, but I identify with the culture – both of these are contact identities. I can only imagine what happens in instances of adoption, biracial identity, or other complicated life stories.

The point is, it’s not for someone else to define us, it’s for us to define ourselves. NOM just likes getting into everyone else’s business. They can go pound sand.

Hunter
August 15th, 2013 | LINK

Well, we know what the next target of the “Christian” right is going to be, now that they’re losing on the anti-gay front. There’ve been intimations, but it’s nice to have it laid out clearly by the master of the hate campaign.

Ben in Oakland
August 15th, 2013 | LINK

Science, medicine, and the willingness of transgendered people to go through a great deal to achieve that goal might be considered to be major disagreement with Frank Schuberts beliefs.

But interestingly enough, his comments about transgendered people parallel the religious reich’s arguments about homosexuality. It’s all just feelings and temptations that you don’t need to give in to, not anything real, because everyone everywhere is obviously heterosexual.

Also interesting, Mr. Schubert is a catholic whose first marriage was annulled so that he could marry wife #2. Jesus said no divorce except for adultery, and never mentioned annulment.So maybe Mr. Schubert feels married, thinks he’s married, and is legally married to wife number 2, but is in fact merely another fornicating, adulterous, but piously hypocritical right winger.

Maybe. who am I to judge?

David Weintraub
August 15th, 2013 | LINK

“..there is no such thing as “gender identity”… There is only gender.”

If only he knew how right he is – although not in the way he thinks. “Gender identity” is just the common term for neurological gender, which is in the final analysis what gender *is*. “Gender” is objective and immutable, whereas gender of assignment, legal gender, etc, are inventions that can be in error (and can be corrected).

james
August 15th, 2013 | LINK

I can’t get past the title of the article — “There is Only One Gender.”

All these years, I was under the impression there were two.

Richard Rush
August 15th, 2013 | LINK

“The truth, however, is that there is no such thing as “gender identity” any more than there is “ethnic identity.” There is only gender.”

What Schubert means is that HE will look inside a person’s pants to determine their gender. Whatever goes on inside of the person is irrelevant. HE will decide.

Like everything with these religious fanatics, it’s all about thought and behavioral conformance with their doctrine and rules. It doesn’t matter if it’s authentic, just as long as the outward appearance is maintained. (Think ex-gays for example) Much of it is largely a performance. Take “Christian love” for example: They say they are “called to love the homosexual,” so they “do.” Does anyone seriously believe that this is anything more than a performance?

In a nutshell, these belligerently bossy busybodies are mandating conformance performance.

Regan DuCasse
August 15th, 2013 | LINK

Our friend Peterson Toscano is married to a South African named Glen Retief. Glen is white, but he IS African. Glen could effectively self identify as African American at some point too if became an American citizen and hyphenated his identity he wanted.

But let’s get real about why all of this is even a matter of discussion and why Schubert is an ass for pontificating about it the way he is.
There is the very real problem of how one is treated at FACE VALUE. What SKIN PRIVILEGE means.

Because I don’t appreciate hearing anything from the likes of Schubert as if he’s an expert on the motives of any of us that are abused by the societal hierarchies that force us into inferior status.

And the privilege he’s enjoyed just for being of the very ilk that entitles their own.
Schubert in his ignorance about men who relate to and as women, don’t know how brave that is precisely because of how tough it is to BE a woman.
As conversely for the reason why a woman would present as a man.
Every human being has a right to own their identity. Period. It’s THEIRS.
What isn’t right, is to be abused or have it taken away or decided on by someone else.
Especially the likes of ignorant bigots like Schubert.

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