Disability Trouble (456-463)

brief summary and own opinion 

American Constructions of Race and Ethnicity, Sex and
Gender, Social Class, Sexuality, and Disability
A Text/Reader
Seventh Edition
Karen E. Rosenblum
George Mason University
Toni-Michelle C. Travis
George Mason University

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Published by McGraw-Hill Education, 2 Penn Plaza, New York, NY 10121. Copyright © 2016 by McGraw-Hill Education.
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Rosenblum, Karen Elaine.
The meaning of difference: American constructions of race and ethnicity, sex and gender, social class, sexuality, and disability /
Karen E. Rosenblum, George Mason University, Toni-Michelle C. Travis, George Mason University.—Seventh Edition.
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Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-07-802702-4 (pbk.)—ISBN 0-07-802702-0 1. United States—Social conditions—1980- 2. Cultural
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KAREN E. ROSENBLUM is a professor of sociology at George Mason
University in Fairfax, Virginia. She has served as the university’s vice
president for university life, was the founding director of its women’s studies
program, and was a Fulbright Lecturer in Japan and South Korea. Professor
Rosenblum received her PhD in sociology from the University of Colorado,
Boulder. Her areas of research and teaching include sex and gender, language,
and deviance.
TONI-MICHELLE C. TRAVIS is a professor of government and politics at
George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Travis received her PhD in
political science from the University of Chicago. Her areas of research and
teaching include race and gender dimensions of political participation,
Virginia politics, and American government. She is a former chair of the
African American Studies program and has served as the president of the
National Capital Area Political Science Association and the Women’s Caucus
of the American Political Science Association. In addition, Professor Travis
has been a fellow at the Rothermere American Institute, Oxford University.
A political analyst, she is a frequent commentator on Virginia and national
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Preface xi
1. “Race” and the Construction of Human Identity
Audrey Smedley 51
2. Who Is Black? One Nation’s Defi nition
F. James Davis 61
3. The Evolution of Identity
The Washington Post 70
Personal Account: A Loaded Vacation
Niah Grimes 71
4. Real Indians: Identity and the Survival of Native America
Eva Marie Garroutte 71
5. An Interlocking Panethnicity: The Negotiation of Multiple Identities among
Asian American Social Movement Leaders
Dana Y. Nakano 80
Personal Account: I Thought My Race Was Invisible
Sherri H. Pereira 89
6. Latino Racial Choices: The Effects of Skin Colour and
Discrimination on Latinos’ and Latinas’ Racial Self-Identifi cations
Tanya Golash-Boza and William Darity, Jr. 89
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vi Contents
7. Whiteness as an “Unmarked” Cultural Category
Ruth Frankenberg 101
8. Plus Ça Change . . . ? Multiraciality and the Dynamics of
Race Relations in the United States
Frank D. Bean and Jennifer Lee 107
Personal Account: The Price of Nonconformity
Julia Morgenstern 114
Personal Account: Basketball
Andrea M. Busch 115
9. The Olympic Struggle over Sex
Alice Dreger 115
10. All Together Now: Intersex Infants and IGM
Riki Wilchins 117
11. Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society,
and Neurosexism Create Difference
Cordelia Fine 123
12. What’s Class Got to Do with It?
Michael Zweig 127
13. The Silver Spoon: Inheritance and the Staggered Start
Stephen J. McNamee and Robert K. Miller Jr. 131
Personal Account: I Am a Pakistani Woman
Hoorie I. Siddique 135
14. The Great Divergence: America’s Growing Inequality
Crisis and What We Can Do about It
Timothy Noah 137
15. Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire
Lisa M. Diamond 142
16. The Biology of the Homosexual
Roger N. Lancaster 147
17. The Heterosexual Questionnaire
Martin Rochlin 158
18. Disability Defi nitions: The Politics of Meaning
Michael Oliver 159
Personal Account: Invisibly Disabled
Heather L. Shaw 163
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Contents vii
19. What Wounds Enable: The Politics of Disability and Violence
in Chicago
Laurence Ralph 163
20. Ethnicity, Ethics, and the Deaf-World
Harlan Lane 176
21 . Formulating Identity in a Globalized World
Carola Suárez-Orozco 225
Personal Account: Hair
Sarah Faragalla 236
Personal Account: The Americanization of a Reluctant Vietnamese-American
Hoai Huong Tran 239
22 . Latinos and the U.S. Race Structure
Clara E. Rodríguez 242
23 . Everybody’s Ethnic Enigma
Jelita McLeod 248
Personal Account: My Strategies
Eric Jackson 249
24 . From Friendly Foreigner to Enemy Race
John Tehranian 251
Personal Account: Master Status: Pride and Danger
Sumaya Al-Hajebi 258
25 . The Privilege of Teaching about Privilege
Michael A. Messner 261
26 . Proving Manhood
Timothy Beneke 267
Personal Account: Just Something You Did as a Man
Francisco Hernandez 271
27 . “I’m Not a Feminist, But . . .”: Popular Myths about Feminism
Penny A. Weiss 272
28 . Dude, You’re a Fag: Adolescent Male Homophobia
C. J. Pascoe 277
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29 . Gendered Sexuality in Young Adulthood: Double Binds and
Flawed Options
Laura Hamilton and Elizabeth A. Armstrong 287
Personal Account: Living Invisibly
Tara S. Ellison 297
30 . Sexual Orientation and Sex in Women’s Lives: Conceptual and
Methodological Issues
Esther D. Rothblum 297
31 . Cause of Death: Inequality
Alejandro Reuss 303
32 . Why Are Droves of Unqualifi ed, Unprepared Kids Getting into
Our Top Colleges? Because Their Dads Are Alumni
John Larew 307
Personal Account: That Moment of Visibility
Rose B. Pascarell 312
33 . The Myth of the “Culture of Poverty”
Paul Gorski 313
34 . Public Transit
John Hockenberry 317
35 . “Can You See the Rainbow?” The Roots of Denial
Sally French 325
36 . Not Blind Enough: Living in the Borderland Called Legal Blindness
Beth Omansky 331
Personal Account: A Time I Didn’t Feel Normal
Heather Callender 337
37 . Fourteen Key Supreme Court Cases and the Civil War Amendments 359
38 . Blink in Black and White
Malcolm Gladwell 390
Personal Account: Just Like My Mama Said
Anthony McNeill 395
39 . Safe Haven in America? Thirty Years after the Refugee Act of 1980
David W. Haines 395
viii Contents
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40 . Hispanics Are Forgotten in Civil Rights History
Nicholas Dauphine 398
41 . Balancing Identities: Undocumented Immigrant Asian American
Students and the Model Minority Myth
Tracy Poon Tambascia, Jonathan Wang, Breanne Tcheng,
and Viet T. Bui 399
Personal Account: Let Me Work for It!
Isabelle Nguyen 402
42 . Segregated Housing, Segregated Schools
Richard Rothstein 403
43 . Many Faces of Gender Inequality
Amartya Sen 405
Personal Account: He Hit Her
Tim Norton 410
44 . The Not-So-Pink Ivory Tower
Ann Mullen 411
45 . The Gender Revolution: Uneven and Stalled
Paula England 415
46 . Sex Education and the Promotion of Heteronormativity
Tanya McNeill 424
Personal Account: Learning My Own Privilege
Mireille M. Cecil 432
47 . Gaga Relations: The End of Marriage
J. Jack Halberstam 432
48 . Queers without Money: They Are Everywhere. But We Refuse
to See Them
Amber Hollibaugh 439
49 . Rethinking American Poverty
Mark R. Rank 443
50 . Tearing Down the Gates: Confronting the Class Divide
in American Education
Peter Sacks 447
51 . Wealth Stripping: Why It Costs So Much to Be Poor
James H. Carr 452
Contents ix
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52 . Disability Trouble
Bradley A. Areheart 456
53 . Learning Disabilities: The Social Construction of a Special
Education Category
Christine E. Sleeter 468
54 . (Re)Creating a World in Seven Days: Place, Disability, and Salvation
in Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
Emily Askew 473
55 . Adolescent Masculinity in an Age of Decreased Homohysteria
Eric Anderson 492
56 . What Can We Do? Becoming Part of the Solution
Allan G. Johnson 502
Personal Account: Parents’ Underestimated Love
Octavio N. Espinal 506
57 . In Defense of Rich Kids
William Upski Wimsatt 507
Personal Account: Where Are You From?
C.C. 511
58 . Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice
Paul Kivel 511
Credits C-1
Index I-1
x Contents
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The Meaning of Difference is an effort to understand how difference is con-
structed in contemporary American culture: How do categories of people come to
be seen as “different”? How does being different affect people’s lives? What does
difference mean at the level of the individual, social institution, or society? What
difference does “difference” make? What is shared across the most signifi cant
categories of difference in America—race, sex/gender, sexual orientation, social
class, and disability? What can be learned from their commonalities? That The
Meaning of Difference is now in its seventh edition makes us hopeful that this
comparative approach can be useful in understanding American conceptions and
constructions of difference.
The Meaning of Difference is divided into four sections. Each section includes an
opening Framework Essay and a set of readings, with the Framework Essay pro-
viding the conceptual structure by which to understand the readings. Thus, the
Framework Essays are not simply introductions to the readings; they are the “text”
portion of this text/reader.
The fi rst section’s Framework Essay and readings describe how categories of
difference are created; the second considers the experience of difference; the third
examines the meanings that are assigned to difference, focusing especially on
education, ideology, law, and public policy; and the fourth describes what people
can do to challenge and change these constructions of difference.
Each of the readings included in the volume has been selected by virtue of its
applicability to multiple categories of difference. For example, F. James Davis’s
conclusions about the construction of race (Reading 2) could be applied to a
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xii Preface
discussion of sexual identity or disability. How much of “x” does it take to locate
someone as gay or straight, disabled or nondisabled, Middle-Eastern or American?
Carola Suárez-Orozco’s discussion of identity formation in a globalized world
(Reading 21) can be applied toward an understanding of racial identity formation
and even to the formation of identities tied to sexuality. Similarly, Michael Oliver’s
rendering of an alternative Survey of Disabled Adults (Reading 18)—which
parallels Martin Rochlin’s classic Heterosexual Questionnaire (Reading 17)—
serves as an example of the insights that can be gained by a change of perspective.
In all, our aim has been to select readings that help identify both what is unique
and what is shared across our experiences of difference.
Five features make The Meaning of Difference distinctive:
• First, it offers a conceptual framework by which to understand the common-
alities among these categories of difference. This encompassing conceptual
approach makes The Meaning of Difference unique.
• Second, no other book provides an accessible and historically grounded discus-
sion of the Supreme Court decisions critical to the structuring of these categor-
ical differences.
• Third, The Meaning of Difference has been designed with an eye toward the
pedagogic diffi culties that often accompany this subject matter. In our experi-
ence, when the topics of race, sex and gender, social class, sexual orientation,
and disability are treated simultaneously , as they are here, no one group can be
easily cast as victim or victimizer.
• Fourth, no other volume includes a detailed discussion and set of readings on
how to challenge and change the constructions of difference.
• Finally, The Meaning of Difference is the fi rst book of its kind to incorporate
disability as a master status functioning in ways analogous to the operation of
race and ethnicity, sex and gender, sexual orientation, and social class.
This edition includes twenty-seven new readings, one new personal account,
and, in Reading 37, a discussion of two important new Supreme Court Cases:
U.S. v. Windsor (2013), which established federal recognition of the rights of
married same-sex couples and Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affi rmative
Action, Integration and Immigration Rights and Fight for Equality By Any
Means Necessary (BAMN) (2013), in which the Court upheld an amendment
to the Michigan state constitution banning affi rmative action in public employ-
ment, education, or contracting.
New to this volume are several readings that focus on education as a key site
for the construction of difference and inequality. Paul Gorski considers how the
myth of the culture of poverty affects teachers; Tracy Poon Tambascia , Jonathan
Wang, Breanne Tcheng, and Viet T. Bui refl ect on the impact of the model minority
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Preface xiii
myth on undocumented immigrant Asian American university students; Tanya
McNeill details the promotion of heterosexual monogamy in the policies of pub-
lic schools; Peter Sacks describes the processes by which, over the last thirty
years, American higher education has come to exclude poor and working-class
students; and Christine Sleeter places the emergence of the idea of learning
disability in the context of the educational reforms of the 1960s and 1970s. In
combination with John Larew’s timeless article on legacy admissions at elite
universities and coverage of several Supreme Court cases about affi rmative action
in higher education, we believe the volume now allows faculty the opportunity
for concentrated focus on education should they choose that.
Several readings new to this edition focus on the dramatic increase of economic
inequality in the United States and the still-unfolding outcomes of the Great
Recession. In “The Great Divergence,” Timothy Noah describes the nature and
extent of U.S. inequality; in “Wealth Stripping,” James Carr details the effect of
predatory “alternative” lending such as pay-day and auto-title loans; in “ Rethinking
American Poverty,” Mark Rank considers the structural factors that shape relatively
high rates of American poverty; and in “(Re)Creating a World in Seven Days,”
Emily Askew analyzes the messages about social class and disability embedded
in ABC’s hit television show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition .
In addition to the inclusion of new readings, we have, as always, concentrated
on updating the Framework Essays, as these are the “text” portion of this text/
reader. We aim for essays that offer a conceptual structure for thinking about (and
teaching) this material, but in this edition in particular we thought of the essays
as a place in which to grapple with how, increasingly, American constructions of
difference appear to be both fl uid and stable.
To highlight some of the changes in this edition, the fi rst framework essay now
considers the effects of our 21st century mapping of the human genome—an
accomplishment that many predicted would be the death knell of the idea of race.
What we see instead is that race is surprisingly resilient in both popular opinion
and science, albeit now framed and profi tably marketed as “geographic ancestry.”
In contrast to this persistence, however, the essay also examines the ways that
ideas about race have broadened, especially as revealed by the use of multi-racial
self-identifi cations. As discussed in this essay, increased breadth and fl uidity also
appears to characterize gender and sexuality categorizations, for example in the
increased visibility and acceptance of those who identify as transgender and the
emergence of bisexuality as a viable scientifi c and self-identifi cation category.
In this edition, the second Framework Essay gives special attention to the idea
of intersectionality, that is, the interaction of stigmatized statuses. Long a topic
in women’s studies scholarship, we have tried to make this complicated idea more
accessible to students while also showing the practical consequences of
acknowledging, or failing to acknowledge, intersectionality. Updates to the third
Framework Essay have included the topics of intermarriage and residential
segregation. The readings in the third section—focused on education, ideology,
law, and public policy—are now organized into the master-status subsections used
throughout the book.
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Several readings from the previous edition have been retained not only because
of their wide popularity among students and faculty, but also because they are
classics in the fi eld. Included in this category are F. James Davis’s “Who Is Black?
One Nation’s Defi nition”; Ruth Frankenberg’s “Whiteness as an ‘Unmarked’
Cultural Category”; Michael Oliver’s “Disability Defi nitions”; Sally French’s
“Can You See the Rainbow?”; John Hockenberry’s “Public Transit”; C. J. Pascoe’s
“Dude You’re a Fag”; and Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink in Black and White.” We
also believe several readings new to this edition will become classics: Cordelia
Fine’s “Delusions of Gender”; Lisa Diamond’s “Sexual Fluidity”; Laurence
Ralph’s “What Wounds Enable”; David Haines’s “Safe Haven in America?”;
Amartya Sen’s “The Many Faces of Gender Inequality”; and Eric Anderson’s
“Adolescent Masculinity in an Age of Decreased Homohysteria” all have this
Instructor’s Manual/Test Bank
An Instructor’s Manual and Test Bank accompany this volume. In this edition,
we have added a special section of advice on how to teach this material. Instructors
can access this password-protected material on the website that accompanies the
seventh edition of The Meaning of Difference at www.mhhe.com/rosenblum7e .
Many colleagues and friends have helped us clarify the ideas we present here.
David Haines has been unfailing in his willingness to help Karen think through
conceptual, technical, and ethical dilemmas. She could not imagine a colleague
more supportive or wise. Theodore W. Travis provided insight on Supreme Court
decisions, their relationship to social values, and their impact on American society.
Since this project fi rst emerged, Victoria Rader has been generous in sharing her
knowledge as a teacher and writer. Her wisdom especially guided our develop-
ment of the “Bridging Differences” section. We are also grateful to our colleague
and friend Beth Omansky for helping us understand the critical relationship of
disability to our work. As a friend and friendly editor, none could be better than
Sheila Barrows. Finally, we owe thanks to our students at George Mason University
for sharing their experiences with us.
For this edition, we again convey our appreciation to Joan Lester and the Equity
Institute of Emeryville, California, for their understanding of the progress that can
be made through a holistic analysis.
Jamie Daron of McGraw-Hill and Melanie Lewis of ansrsource shepherded this
volume to completion. Fred Courtright’s work on acquiring permissions was espe-
cially appreciated. As in previous editions, McGraw-Hill proved itself committed
to a thorough review process by putting together a panel of accomplished scholars
xiv Preface
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with broad teaching expertise. All offered detailed and insightful critiques, and
we are much in their debt:
Naomi Greyser, University of Iowa
Shepherd M. Jenks, Jr., Central New Mexico Community College
Earnest Perry, University of Missouri
Gloria L. Rowe, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College.
Karen Rosenblum
Toni-Michelle Travis
George Mason University
Preface xv
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2 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
In this book we consider how difference is constructed in contemporary American
society. We explore how categories of people are seen as signifi cantly different
from one another and how people’s lives are affected by these conceptions of
difference. The four sections of the book are organized around what we consider
to be the key questions about difference: how it is constructed, how it is experi-
enced by individuals, how meaning is attributed to difference, and how differences
can be bridged.
We believe that race, sex, social class, sexuality, and disability are currently
the primary axes of difference in American society—they are also what social
scientists would call master statuses. In common usage, the term status means
prestige or esteem. But for social scientists, the term status refers to positions in
a social structure. In this sense, statuses are like empty slots (or positions) that
individuals fi ll. The most obvious kinds of statuses are kinship, occupation, and
age. At any time an individual occupies multiple statuses, including those of race,
sex, social class, sexuality, and disability.
This latter set of statuses—the ones we focus on in this book—are signifi cantly
more powerful than most other social statuses. Social scientists refer to these as
master statuses because they so profoundly affect a person’s life: “in most or all
social situations master status will overpower or dominate all other statuses. . . .
Master status infl uences every other aspect of life, including personal identity.”

These master statuses may be said to “frame” how people are seen by others—
especially strangers—as well as how they see themselves and much of what they
experience in the world.
This does not mean, however, that people always under-
stand the impact of the master statuses or “frames” that they occupy. Indeed, much
of this book is about recognizing that impact.
This text will explore similarities in the operation of these master statuses.
Although there are certainly differences of history, experience, and impact, we
believe that similar processes are at work when people “see” differences of
color, sex and gender, social class, sexuality, and disability, and we believe
that there are similarities in the consequences of these master statuses for
individuals’ lives. Nonetheless, there are risks in our focus on similarities
across master statuses, not the least of which is the assumption that similarity
is a better ground for social change than a recognition of difference.
our focus on similarities across master statuses is literally only one side of
the story.
Racism, sexism, homophobia, and diversity have been pervasive topics for dis-
cussion in American society for at least the last fi fty years. Although the substance
of these conversations has changed in many ways—for example, the term diversity
once fl agged the need for equal opportunity but now functions more as a market-
ing tool—the intensity around most of these topics persists. Many Americans have
strong opinions on these subjects, and that is probably also the case for readers
of this text. Two perspectives—essentialism and constructionism—are core to this
book and should help you understand your own reaction to the material.
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Framework Essay 3
The Essentialist and Constructionist Perspectives
The difference between the constructionist and essentialist perspectives is illus-
trated in the tale of the three umpires, fi rst apparently told by social psychologist
Hadley Cantril:
Hadley Cantril relates the story of three baseball umpires discussing their profession.
The fi rst umpire said, “Some are balls and some are strikes, and I call them as they are.”
The second replied, “Some’s balls and some’s strikes, and I call ’em as I sees ’em.” The
third thought about it and said, “Some’s balls and some’s strikes, but they ain’t nothing
’till I calls ’em.”

The fi rst umpire in the story can be described as an essentialist. When he says,
“I call them as they are,” he assumes that balls and strikes exist in the world
regardless of his perception of them. For this umpire, balls and strikes are easily
identifi ed, and he is merely a neutral observer; he “regards knowledge as objective
and independent of mind, and himself as the impartial reporter of things ‘as
they  are.’”

Thus, the essentialist perspective presumes that items in a category all share
some “essential” quality, their “ball-ness” or “strike-ness.” For essentialists, race,
sex, sexual orientation, disability, and social class identify signifi cant, empirically
verifi able differences among people. From the essentialist perspective, each of
these exists apart from any social processes; they are objective categories of real
differences among people.
The second umpire is somewhat removed from pure essentialism. His statement,
“I call ’em as I sees ’em,” conveys the belief that while an independent, objective
reality exists, it is subject to interpretation. For him, the world contains balls and
strikes, but individuals may have different perceptions about which is which.
The third umpire, who says “they ain’t nothing ’till I calls ’em,” is a construc-
tionist. He operates from the belief that “conceptions such as ‘strikes’ and ‘balls’
have no meaning except that given them by the observer.”
For this constructionist
umpire, reality cannot be separated from the way a culture makes sense of
it; strikes and balls do not exist until they are constructed through social processes.
From this perspective, difference is created rather than intrinsic to a phenomenon.
Social processes—such as those in political, legal, economic, scientifi c, and
religious institutions—create differences, determine that some differences are
more important than others, and assign particular meanings to those differences.
From this perspective, the way a society defi nes difference among its members
tells us more about that society than the people so classifi ed. The Meaning of
Difference operates from the constructionist perspective, since it examines how
we have arrived at our race, sex, disability, sexuality, and social class categories.
Few of us have grown up as constructionists. More likely, we are essentialists
who believe that master statuses such as race or sex entail clear-cut, unchanging,
and in some way meaningful differences. Still, not everyone is an essentialist.
Those who grew up in multiple racial or religious backgrounds are familiar with
the ways in which identity is not clear-cut. They grow up understanding how
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4 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
defi nitions of self vary with the context; how others try to defi ne one as belong-
ing in a particular category; and how, in many ways, one’s very presence calls
prevailing classifi cation systems into question. For example, the experience Jelita
McLeod describes in Reading 23 of being asked “What are you?” is a common
experience for multiracial people. Such experiences make evident the social con-
structedness of racial identity.
Most of us are unlikely to be exclusively essentialist or constructionist. As
authors of this book, although we take the constructionist perspective, we have
still relied on essentialist terms we fi nd problematic. The irony of questioning
the idea of race but still talking about “blacks,” “whites,” and “Asians,” or of
rejecting a dualistic approach to sexual identity while still using the terms gay
and straight, has not escaped us. Indeed, we have sometimes used the cur-
rently favored essentialist phrase sexual orientation over the more construc-
tionist sexual preference because sexual preference is an unfamiliar phrase to
many people.

Further, there is a serious risk that a text such as this falsely identifi es people on
the basis of either their sex, race, sexuality, disability, or social class, despite the
fact that master statuses are not parts of a person that can be broken off from one
another like the segments of a Tootsie Roll.
All of us are always simultaneously
all of our master statuses, an idea encompassed by the concept of intersectionality
(a topic to which we will return in the Framework Essay for Section II).
While the readings in this section may make it seem as if these were separable
statuses, they are not. Indeed, even the concept of master status could mislead us
into thinking that there could be only one dominating status in one’s life.
Both constructionism and essentialism can be found in the social sciences.
Indeed, social science research routinely operates from essentialist assumptions:
when researchers report the sex, race, or ethnicity of their interviewees or
experimental subjects they are treating these categories as “real,” that is, as existing
independent of the researchers’ classifi cations. Both perspectives also are evident
in social movements, and those movements sometimes shift from one perspective
to the other over time. For example, some feminists and most of those opposed
to feminism hold the essentialist belief that women and men are inherently dif-
ferent. The constructionist view that sexual identity is chosen dominated the gay
rights movement of the 1970s,
but today, the essentialist view that sexual identity
is something one is born with appears to dominate. By contrast, some of those
opposed to gay relationships now take the constructionist view that sexuality is
chosen and could therefore be changed. In this case, language often signals which
perspective is being used. For example, sexual preference conveys active, human
decision making with the possibility of change (constructionism), while sexual
orientation implies something fi xed and inherent to a person (essentialism).
Americans are now about equally split between those who hold essentialist and
constructionist views on homosexuality—40 percent of those who responded to a
The term sexual identity seems now to be replacing sexual orientation . It could be used in either
an essentialist or a constructionist way.
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Framework Essay 5
2012 Gallup Poll answered that being gay was something a person was born with,
compared to 37 percent who said that being gay was the result of upbringing or
other social factors. Thirty-fi ve years ago those opinions were the reverse, with
56 percent saying sexuality was the result of upbringing or other environmental
This shift toward a more essentialist view of sexuality began in the late
1990s, when, as Roger Lancaster describes in Reading 16, the media focused on
the biological (i.e., essentialist) research on the origin of homosexuality, much of
which has now been discredited. Later in this chapter we will describe what
appears to be another change in attitudes about sexuality, which is a turn toward
a constructionist approach, at least among college students.
This example from journalist Darryl Rist shows the appeal that essentialist
explanations might have for gay rights activists:
[Chris Yates’s parents were] Pentecostal ministers who had tortured his adolescence with
Christian cures for sexual perversity. Shock and aversion therapies under born-again doctors
and gruesome exorcisms of sexual demons by spirit-fi lled preachers had culminated in a
plan to have him castrated by a Mexican surgeon who touted the procedure as a way to
make the boy, if not straight, at least sexless. Only then had the terrifi ed son rebelled.
Then, in the summer of 1991, the journal Science reported anatomical differences
between the brains of homosexual and heterosexual men. . . . The euphoric media—those
great purveyors of cultural myths—drove the story wildly. Every major paper in the country
headlined the discovery smack on the front page. . . . Like many others, I suspect, Chris
Yates’s family saw in this newly reported sexual science a way out of its wrenching impasse.
After years of virtual silence between them and their son, Chris’s parents drove several
hundred miles to visit him and ask for reconciliation. Whatever faded guilt they might have
felt for the family’s faulty genes was nothing next to the reassurance that neither by a per-
verse upbringing nor by his own iniquity was Chris or the family culpable for his urges and
actions. “We could never have condoned this if you could do something to change it. But
when we fi nally understood that you were born that way, we knew we’d been wrong. We
had to ask your forgiveness.”

Understandably, those who are discriminated against would fi nd essentialist
orientations appealing, just as the expansiveness of constructionist approaches
would be appealing in more tolerant eras. Still, either perspective can be used to
justify discrimination, since people can be persecuted for the choices they make
as well as for their genetic inheritance. As Lisa Diamond concludes in Reading 15,
on a topic as politicized as sexuality, there are no “safe” scientifi c fi ndings—any
fi nding can be used for just about any purpose.
Our inclusion here of disability as a social construction may generate an intense
reaction—many will want to argue that disability is about real physical, sensory,
or cognitive differences, not social constructs. However, two factors are at work
here. One involves impairment, that is, “the physical, cognitive, emotional or
sensory condition within the person as diagnosed by medical professionals.”
second is “the loss or limitation of opportunities to take part in the normal life
of the community on an equal level with others due to physical and social barri-
This latter dimension, called disability, has been the emphasis of what is
called the “social model” of disability, which contends that disability is created
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6 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
by social, political, and environmental obstacles—that is, that social processes
such as discrimination or lack of access to corrective technologies turn impair-
ments into disabilities.
This form of discrimination is sometimes called ableism.
In the historic words of Britain’s Union of the Physically Impaired against Seg-
regation (UPIAS), one of the fi rst disability liberation groups in the world and
the fi rst run by disabled people themselves:

It is society which disables physically impaired people. Disability is something imposed on
top of our impairment by the way we are unnecessarily isolated and excluded from full
participation in society. Disabled people are therefore an oppressed group in society.

That perspective is refl ected in the 2007 United Nations Convention on the
Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which reads in part:
[D]isability should be seen as the result of the interaction between a person and his or her
environment. Disability is not something that resides in the individual as the result of some
impairment. . . . Disability resides in the society, not in the person. [For example,] in a
society where corrective lenses are available for someone with extreme myopia (nearsight-
edness), this person would not be considered to have a disability, however someone with
the same condition in a society where corrective lenses were not available would be con-
sidered to have a disability, especially if the level of vision prevented the person from
performing tasks expected of this person. . . .

For example, John Hockenberry (Reading 34) describes how mass transit sys-
tems that are inaccessible to wheelchair users “disable” them by making it diffi cult
or impossible to work, attend school, or be involved in social activities. Beyond
architectural, educational, and occupational barriers, disability is also constructed
through cultural stereotypes and everyday interactions in which difference is
defi ned as undesirable. We once heard a student with spina bifi da tell a story
addressing this point: In her fi rst day at elementary school, other students kept
asking what was “wrong” with her. As she put it, she had always known she was
different, but she hadn’t thought she was “wrong.”
Not only can disability be understood as the result of disabling environments
and cultural stereotypes, the categories of impairment and disability are also them-
selves socially constructed through medical and legal processes. “[I]llness, dis-
ease, and disability are not ‘givens’ in nature . . . but rather socially constructed
categories that emerge from the interpretive activities of people acting together in
social situations.”
Learning disabilities are an example of this process.
Before the late 1800s when observers began to write about “word blindness,” learning dis-
ability (whatever its name) did not exist, although the human variation to which it ambiguously
refers did—sort of! People who today might be known as learning disabled may have formerly
been known as “slow,” “retarded,” or “odd.” But mostly they would not have been known as
unusual at all. The learning diffi culties experienced today by learning disabled youth have not
been experienced by most youth throughout history. For example, most youth have not been
asked to learn to read. Thus, they could not experience any reading diffi culties, the most com-
mon learning disability. As we have expected youth to learn to read and have tried to teach
them to do so, many youth have experienced diffi culty. However, until the mid-1960s we
typically did not understand those diffi culties as the consequences of a learning disability.

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Framework Essay 7
The social model of disability fi rst emerged out of the disabled people’s move-
ment in the 1970s in opposition to the “medical model,” which approached dis-
ability as a matter of individual defi ciencies or defects, rather than societal
responses. From the perspective of the medical model, individuals have problems
that need to be treated by medical specialists; from that of the social model, indi-
vidual problems are the result of social structures that need to be changed. Thus,
for adherents of the social model, the important questions are about civil rights
such as equal access. The survey questions posed by Mike Oliver in Reading 18
show how the world is perceived differently from these two perspectives. Still, as
Laurence Ralph describes in Reading 19, the social model of disability becomes
less relevant when we consider the numbers of young black and Hispanic men
disabled by gun violence (second to car accidents, gunshot wounds are the most
common source of disability in urban areas). Ralph describes the case of a group
of Chicago ex-gang members, now paralyzed by spinal cord injuries from gunshots.
Although the social model would argue that society has disabled these young men,
the men themselves operate from the medical model—in their mission to save
teenagers from a similar fate, they focus on the defects of their bodies.
Why have we spent so much time describing the essentialist and construction-
ist perspectives? Discussions about race, sex, disability, sexual identity, and social
class generate great intensity, partly because they involve the clash of essentialist
and constructionist assumptions. Essentialists are likely to view categories of
people as “essentially” different in some important way; constructionists are likely
to see these differences as socially created and arbitrary. An essentialist asks what
causes people to be different; a constructionist asks about the origin and conse-
quence of the categorization system itself. While arguments about the nature and
cause of racism, sexism, homophobia, and poverty are disputes about power and
justice, from the perspectives of essentialism and constructionism they are also
disputes about the meaning of differences in color, sexuality, and social class.
In all of this, the constructionist approach has one clear advantage. From that
perspective, one understands that all this talk has a profound signifi cance. Such
talk is not simply about difference; it is itself the creation of difference. In the
sections that follow, we examine how categories of people are named, dichoto-
mized, and stigmatized—all toward the construction of difference.
Difference is constructed fi rst by naming categories of people. Therefore, con-
structionists pay special attention to the names people use to refer to themselves
and others—the times at which new names are asserted, the negotiations that
surround the use of particular names, and those occasions when people are grouped
together or separated out.
Asserting a Name Both individuals and categories of people face similar issues
in the assertion of a name. A change of name involves, to some extent, the claim
of a new identity. For example, one of our colleagues no longer wanted to be called
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8 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
by her nickname because it had come to seem childish to her, so she asked people
to use her “real” name instead. It took a few times to remind people that this was
her new name, and with most that was adequate. One colleague, however, argued
that he could not adapt to the new name; she would just have to tolerate his con-
tinued use of the nickname. This was a small but public battle about who had the
power to name whom. Did she have the power to enforce her own naming, or did
he have the power to name her despite her wishes? Eventually, she prevailed.
A more disquieting example was a young woman who wanted to keep her
maiden name after she married. Her fi ancé agreed with her decision, recognizing
that he would be reluctant to give up his name were the tables turned. When his
mother heard of this possibility, however, she was outraged. In her mind, a rejec-
tion of her family’s name was a rejection of her family. She urged her son to
reconsider getting married.
Thus, asserting a name can create social confl ict. On both a personal and soci-
etal level, naming can involve the claim of a particular identity and the rejection
of others’ power to impose a name. For example, is one Native American,
American Indian, or Sioux; African American or black; girl or woman; Asian,
Asian American, Korean, or Korean American; gay or homosexual; Chicano,
Mexican American, Mexican, Latino/a, or Hispanic? For instance,
[j]ust who is Hispanic? The answer depends on whom you ask.
The label was actually coined in the mid-1970s by federal bureaucrats working under
President Richard M. Nixon. They came up with it in response to concerns that the government
was wrongly applying “Chicano” to people who were not of Mexican descent, and otherwise
misidentifying and underserving segments of the population by generally classifying those with
ancestral ties to the Spanish cultural diaspora as either Chicano, Cuban, or Puerto Rican.
Nearly three decades later, the debate continues to surround the term Hispanic and its
defi nition. Although mainly applied to people from Latin American countries with linguistic
and cultural ties to Spain, it also is used by the U.S. government to refer to Spaniards
themselves, as well as people from Portuguese-speaking Brazil.

Comedian Carlos Mencia (a Honduran-born American) captures this confusion
in a story about talking to college students twenty years ago, but its substance
applies just as easily today: “I said ‘Latinos,’ and they said, ‘We’re not Latin!’
And then I said ‘Chicano,’ and they said, ‘We’re not of Mexican descent.’ So I
said ‘I don’t know what to say—Hispanic? And they said, ‘There’s no such coun-
try as Hispania!’ ”
As of 2011, 33 percent of Hispanic/Latinos preferred His-
panic, 14 percent preferred Latino, but 53 percent had no preference. 21
Deciding what name to use for a category of people is not easy. It is unlikely
that all members of the category use the same name; the name members use for
one another may not be acceptable for outsiders to use; nor is it always advisable
to ask what name a person prefers. We once saw an old friend become quite angry
when asked whether he preferred the term black or African American. “Either one
is fi ne with me,” he replied, “ I know what I am.” To him, the question meant that
he was being seen as a member of a category, not as an individual.
Because naming may involve a redefi nition of self, an assertion of power, and
a rejection of others’ ability to impose an identity, social change movements often
claim a new name, while opponents may express opposition by continuing to use
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Framework Essay 9
the old name. For example, in the 1960s black emerged in opposition to Negro as
the Black Power movement sought to distinguish itself from the Martin Luther
King–led moderate wing of the civil rights movement. The term Negro had itself
been put forward by infl uential leaders such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T.
Washington as a rejection of the term colored that had dominated the mid- to late
19th century: “[D]espite its association with racial epithets, ‘Negro’ was defi ned to
stand for a new way of thinking about Blacks.”
Similarly, in 1988, Ramona H.
Edelin, president of the National Urban Coalition, proposed that African American
be substituted for black. Now both terms are used about equally. b Among blacks
who have a preference, Gallup polls suggest a gradual trend toward the label “Afri-
can American.” Still, “a clear majority of blacks say they don’t care which label is
and some still prefer the term Negro. “The immediate reason the word
Negro is on the [2010] Census is simple enough: in the 2000 Census, more than
56,000 people wrote in Negro to describe their identity—even though it was already
on the form. Some people, it seems, still strongly identify with the term, which
used to be a perfectly polite designation,” but is now considered by many an insult.

Each of these name changes—from Negro to black to African American —was
fi rst promoted by activists as a way to demonstrate their commitment to a new
social order. A similar theme is refl ected in the history of the terms Chicano and
Chicanismo. Although the origin of the terms is unclear, the principle was the
same. As reporter Ruben Salazar wrote in the 1960s, “a Chicano is a Mexican-
American with a non-Anglo image of himself.”
( Anglo is a colloquialism for
white used in the southwestern and western United States.)
Similarly, the term homosexual was fi rst coined in 1896 by a Hungarian physi-
cian hoping to decriminalize same-sex relations between men. It was incorporated
into the medical and psychological literature of the time, which depicted nonproc-
reative sex as pathological. In the 1960s, activists rejected the pathological char-
acterization along with the name associated with it, turning to the terms gay c and
lesbian rather than homosexual (and using gay to refer to men, or both men and
women). Later, the 1990s group Queer Nation transformed what had been a com-
mon epithet into a slogan—“We’re here! We’re queer! Get used to it!”
Well, yes, “gay” is great. It has its place. . . . [But] using “queer” is a way of reminding
us how we are perceived by the rest of the world. It’s a way of telling ourselves we don’t
have to be witty and charming people who keep our lives discreet and marginalized in the
straight world.  . . . Queer, unlike gay, doesn’t mean male. . . . Yeah, queer can be a rough
word but it is also a sly and ironic weapon we can steal from the homophobe’s hands and
use against him.

Thus, one can fi nd Black Studies, Afro-American Studies, and African American Studies programs
in universities across the country.
In the 17th century, gay became associated with an addiction to social dissipation and loose moral-
ity, and was used to refer to female prostitutes (e.g., gay girl ). The term was apparently fi rst used in
reference to homosexuality in 1925 in Australia. “It may have been both the connotations of feminin-
ity and those of immorality that led American homosexuals to adopt the title ‘gay’ with some self-
irony in the 1920s. The slogan ‘Glad to Be Gay,’ adopted by both female and male homosexuals,
and the naming of the Gay Liberation Front, which was born from the Stonewall resistance riots
following police raids on homosexual bars in New York in 1969, bear witness to a greater self-
confi dence.”

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10 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
Now, all terms—homosexual, gay and lesbian, gay as including both women
and men or just men, queer, and the acronyms GLBTQ (gay, lesbian, bisexual,
transgender, and questioning) and LGBTQ—appear to be in common use. People
who identify as asexual, that is, not experiencing sexual attraction, also appears
to be a growing category, with the likelihood that the LGBTQ umbrella will
someday expand to LGBTQA. While “queer” maintains some of its history as
both pejorative and defi ant, it was apparently acceptable enough to serve as the
title of a popular reality show, Queer Eye, that aired from 2003 to 2007.
Just as each of these social movements has involved a public renaming that
proclaims pride, the women’s movement has asserted woman as a replacement for
girl. A student who described a running feud with her roommate illustrates
the  signifi cance of these terms. The student preferred the word woman, arguing
that girl, when applied to females past adolescence, was insulting, almost as if
one could never grow up. Her female roommate just as strongly preferred the term
girl and regularly applied it to the females she knew. Each of them had such
strong feelings on the matter that it was clear they would not last as roommates.
How could these two words destroy their relationship? It appears that English
speakers use the terms girl and woman to refer to quite different qualities. Woman
is understood to convey adulthood, power, and sexuality; girl connotes youth,
powerlessness, and irresponsibility. (The same qualities of age, power, responsibil-
ity, and sexuality operate in the choice between boy and man. ) The two roommates
were asserting quite different places for themselves in the world. One claimed
adulthood; the other saw herself as not having achieved that yet. This explanation
is offered by many females: It is not so much that they like being girls, as that
they value youth and/or do not yet feel justifi ed in calling themselves women.
But  the effort to remain a “girl” can create its own inconsistencies. We once
overheard a woman describe a friend as a “girl”—the friend was fi fty and about
to adopt a child.
It seems to us that college students now often refer to themselves as “girls”
and “boys.” Sociologist Michael Kimmel argues that the use of boys, but more
importantly, guys, speaks to the development of a new age demographic for
American males, specifi cally an extended period in which they are neither depen-
dent (like boys) or responsible (like men). On the use of woman, some of our
students have said that they avoid the word because it is associated with feminism,
and they are right to conclude that it is. After all, it is called the women’s move-
ment, not the girls’ movement! The name conveys an identity: “we cannot be girls
anymore, we must be women.” In a now classic essay, political philosopher Penny
Weiss (Reading 27) “diagnoses” the phrase that has been used by women for at
least the last fi fty years: “I’m not a feminist, but. . . .”
In all, different categories of people may claim a wide range of names for
themselves. A name may refl ect the analysis and aspirations of a social movement,
and it may be the battleground for competing conceptions of the world. The name
invoked by movement activists may have no immediate bearing on the language
used by people in the streets, or everyday language may come to be shaped
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Framework Essay 11
by policymakers external to the social movement. Sometimes, a variety of names
may be in use—each with a constituency that feels strongly that only some words
are appropriate.
Of all the master statuses we are considering in this book, the naming of those
with disabilities is perhaps the least settled. The term handicapped, which pre-
dominated in the period following World War II, shifted to disabled with the
emergence of the disability rights movement in the 1970s. As we have seen,
theorists from the British social model draw a distinction between impairment,
referring to “the physical, cognitive, emotional or sensory condition within the
person as diagnosed by medical professionals,” and disability, which is reserved
for the social processes that disable a person
—but the U.S. disability rights
movement uses disability to cover both of these features. The style guide for the
American Psychological Association urges a “people fi rst” approach, as in “people
with disabilities” rather than “disabled people,” and “people fi rst” terminology has
been formally authorized by some state and local governments. By contrast, one
of the founders of the British disability rights movement—Mike Oliver—argued
that disabled people is ultimately more appropriate:
It is sometimes argued, often by [nondisabled] professionals and some disabled people, that
“people with disabilities” is the preferred term, for it asserts the value of the person fi rst
and the disability then becomes an appendage. This liberal and humanist view fl ies in the
face of reality as it is experienced by disabled people themselves who argue that far from
being an appendage, disability is an essential part of the self. In this view, it is nonsensical
to talk about the person and the disability separately, and consequently, disabled people are
demanding acceptance as they are, disabled people.

In all, the names that we call ourselves and others are rarely a matter of indif-
ference; they are often carefully chosen to refl ect worldview and aspirations, and
they can materially shape our lives.
Creating Categories of People While individuals and groups may assert
names for themselves, governments also have the power to categorize. The history
of the race and ethnicity questions asked in the U.S. Census illustrates this process.
Every census since the fi rst one in 1790 has included a question about race.
By 1970, the options for race were white, Negro or black, American Indian (with
a request to print the name of the enrolled or principal tribe), Japanese, Chinese,
Filipino, Hawaiian, Korean, and Other with the option of specifying. The 1970
census began the practice of allowing the head of the household to identify the
race of household members: before that, the census taker had made that decision.
Thus, in 1970 the Census Bureau began treating race as primarily a matter of
self -identifi cation. Still, it was assumed that a person could only be a member
of one racial group, so respondents were allowed only one option for each house-
hold member.
The 1970 census also posed the fi rst ethnicity question, asking whether the
individual was of Hispanic or non-Hispanic ancestry. (Ethnicity, which generally
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12 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
refers to national or cultural ancestry, is a subject we will return to shortly.) The
Hispanic/non-Hispanic question was added at the recommendation of the Census
Bureau’s Hispanic Advisory Committee as a way to correct for the differential
undercount of the Hispanic population. A differential undercount means that
more people are undercounted in one category than in another; for example, the
census yields a larger undercount of those who rent their homes than of those
who own them. Undercounting primarily affects the data on low-income residents
of inner cities. This is the case because the poor often move and are thus diffi cult
to contact; are more likely to be illiterate or non-English speakers (there was no
Spanish-language census form until 1990); and are more likely to be illegal
immigrants afraid to respond to a government questionnaire. (The Constitution
requires a count of all the people in the United States, not just those who are
citizens or legal residents.) Because census data affect the distribution of billions
of dollars of federal aid, undercounting has a signifi cant impact. Apart from the
apportionment of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, the census helps
“determine how more than $400 billion dollars of federal funding each year [will
be] spent on infrastructure and services like hospitals, job training centers,
schools, senior centers, bridges, tunnels and other-public works projects, and
emergency services.”

Most important for our purposes, census data can be used to identify patterns
of discrimination and support the enforcement of civil rights. Thus, to improve
the collection of this data, in the 1970s the Commission on Civil Rights reviewed
the race categorization practices of federal agencies, concluding that while “the
designations do not refer strictly to race, color, national or ethnic origin,” the
categories were nonetheless what the general public understood to be minority
groups who were subject to discrimination. 31
This understanding of the meaning of “minority group” was part of a remark-
able bipartisan consensus that characterized the decade following the 1964 Civil
Rights Act.
It was a bipartisan project, including from both parties liberals and conservatives. . . . In
the signature minority rights policy, affi rmative action, the federal government went
beyond African Americans and declared that certain groups were indeed “minorities”—an
undefi ned term embraced by policymakers, advocates, and activists alike—and needed new
rights and programs for equal opportunity and full citizenship. In the parlance of the
period, minorities were groups seen as “disadvantaged” but not defi ned by income or
education. African Americans were the paradigmatic minority, but there were three other
ethnoracial minorities: Latinos, Asian Americans, and American Indians. Immigrants,
women, and the disabled of all ethnic groups were also included and won new rights
during this revolutionary period.

In this context, in 1977, the Offi ce of Management and Budget (OMB)
issued Statistical Directive No. 15, “Race and Ethnic Standards for Federal
Statistics and Administrative Reporting,” which established standard categories
and defi nitions for all federal agencies, including the Bureau of the Census.
Directive No. 15 defi ned four racial and one ethnic category: American Indian
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Framework Essay 13
or Alaskan Native, Asian or Pacifi c Islander, Negro or Black, White, and
Hispanic. “The questions [on the census] follow the categories required by
the  federal Offi ce of Management and Budget for federal statistics.”
the question about Hispanic origin remains the only ethnicity question on the
decennial census. (A question asking respondents to identify their “ancestry
or national origin” is, however, included in the Census Bureau’s annual
American Community Survey, which samples U.S. households). Reading 3,
“The Evolution of Identity,” shows how census questions on race and ethnicity
changed between 1860 and 2000.

Figure  1 shows the relevant questions in the
2010 census.
F I G U R E 1
Questions from the 2010 Census.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 Census.
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14 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
For our purposes, the most notable recent change in the census has been
recognition that a person may identify himself or herself as being a member of
more than one racial group, although the census did not include a category called
multiracial. This change was one outcome of a comprehensive review and revision
of OMB’s Directive No. 15 that included public hearings, sample surveys of
targeted populations, and collaboration among the more than thirty federal agen-
cies that collect and use data on race and ethnicity. While this change was spurred
by activists who identifi ed themselves as multiracial, the Bureau’s pretesting also
indicated that less than 2 percent of respondents would mark more than one race
for themselves, and thus the historical continuity with previous censuses would
not be compromised. The Bureau’s expectation was close to the mark for the 2000
census—2.4 percent of the population, 6.8 million people, marked two or more
races for themselves. But by the 2010 census, that fi gure had risen to 2.9 percent,
or 9 million people.

One change that has not been made in the census, however, is the inclusion of
an ethnic category called Arab or Middle Eastern, because public comment did
not indicate agreement on a defi nition for this category. For census purposes, white
“refers to a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the
Middle East, or North Africa. It includes people who indicated their race(s)[on
the Census] as “white” or reported entries such as Irish, German, Italian, Lebanese,
Arab, Moroccan, or Caucasian.”

As in previous censuses, undercounting remains an important fi scal and polit-
ical issue, given the disproportionate undercounting of people of color and the
poor. Still, gay couples may well be the most undercounted population. Since
the 1990 census, the form has provided unmarried partner as a possible answer
to the question of how the people in the household are related to one another.
The 2010 census showed 131,729 same-sex couples who identifi ed as spouses
(which is a rate of 2.3 same-sex spouses per 1,000 male/female spouses) and
514,735 same-sex couples who identifi ed themselves as unmarried partners (a
rate of 70 same-sex, unmarried partners for every 1,000 unmarried male/female
Certainly the unmarried, same-sex partner category is a signifi cant
undercount, attributable to respondents’ reluctance to report.
We end this phase of our discussion with three cautions. First, on a personal
level, many of us fi nd census categorizations objectionable. But as citizens, we
still seek the benefi ts and protections of the laws and policies based on these
data—and as citizens we share the goal of eliminating discriminatory practices.
For example, in the case of racial discrimination,
[r]eliable racial data are crucial to enforcing our basic laws against intentional racial dis-
crimination, which enjoy broad public support. For example, in order to demonstrate that
an employer is engaging in a broad-based “pattern or practice” of discrimination in viola-
tion of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a plaintiff must rely on statistical proof that goes
beyond the plight of an individual employee. Supreme Court precedent in such cases
requires plaintiffs to show a statistically signifi cant disparity between the proportion of
qualifi ed minorities in the local labor market and the proportion within the employer’s
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Framework Essay 15
work force. A disparity of more than two standard deviations creates a legal presumption
that intentional discrimination is occurring, since a disparity of that magnitude almost never
occurs by accident.
Demographic information, in other words, provides the “big picture” that places indi-
vidual incidents in context. Voting rights cases require similar proof, as do many housing
discrimination cases and suits challenging the discriminatory use of federal funds. Without
reliable racial statistics, it would be virtually impossible for courts or agencies to detect
institutional bias, and antidiscrimination laws would go unenforced. More fundamentally,
we simply cannot know as a society how far we’ve come in conquering racial discrimination
and inequality without accurate information about the health, progress and opportunities
available to communities of different races.

Second, we need to remember that although the census is a fairly direct count
of how people classify themselves, many other “counts” are taking place that may
not be consistent with census categorization. For example, a student who describes
herself as of multiple race and ethnic ancestry will be considered “Hispanic” by
the federal Department of Education if even one of those categories can be classed
as that, but she will be classifi ed as Asian and Hispanic by the National Center
for Health Statistics. Her birth certifi cate may have no racial designation or an
option for multiple designations; these designations may be assigned by her
mother or by the attending nurse or doctor. In all, we cannot expect consistency
across data collection instruments.

Last, when considering offi cial counts of the population, we must be careful
not to assume that what is counted is real. Although census data contribute to the
essentialist view that the world is populated by distinct, scientifi cally defi ned
categories of people, this brief history demonstrates that not even those who
collect the data make that assumption. As even the Census Bureau notes, “The
concept of race as used by the Census Bureau refl ects self-identifi cation by people
according to the race or races with which they most closely identify. These
categories are socio-political constructs and should not be interpreted as being
scientifi c or anthropological in nature. Furthermore, the race categories include
both racial and national-origin groups.”

Aggregating and Disaggregating
The federal identifi cation policies we have been describing collapse nonwhite
Americans into three categories—American Indians, Blacks, and Asian or Pacifi c
Islanders—and recognize one “ethnic group,” that is, Hispanics. In effect, this
process aggregates categories of people; that is, it combines, or “lumps together,”
different groups. For example, the ethnic category Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish
origin includes 28 different census categories. d While census data distinguishes
The Census Bureau’s Hispanic or Latino origin categories are Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban,
Dominican; Costa Rican, Guatemalan, Honduran, Nicaraguan, Panamanian, Salvadoran, and Other
Central American; Argentinian, Bolivian, Chilean, Colombian, Ecuadorian, Paraguayan, Peruvian,
Uruguayan, Venezuelan, and Other South American; and fi nally Other Hispanic or Latino, including
Spaniard, Spanish, Spanish American, and All other Hispanic or Latino.

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16 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
many of these groups, in public discussion the more common reference is to
“Hispanics and Latinos,” which both aggregates all those categories and masks
which groups predominate. (The Census Bureau’s 2011 American Community
Survey found that 65 percent of U.S. Hispanics identify themselves as of Mexican
origin, 9 percent as of Puerto Rican origin, 4 percent as of Salvadoran origin,
4 percent as of Cuban origin, and 3 percent as of Dominican origin.)
On top of
that, the category “Hispanic and Latino” is used to encompass recent immigrants,
Puerto Ricans (who are U.S. citizens), and those from some of the earliest settle-
ments in what is now the United States.
The diffi culty with determining who counts as Hispanic is that Hispanics do not appear to
share any properties in common. Linguistic, racial, religious, political, territorial, cultural,
economic, educational, social class, and genetic criteria fail to identify Hispanics in all
places and times. . . .
[Nonetheless], we are treated as a homogeneous group by European Americans and
African Americans; and even though Hispanics do not in fact constitute a homogeneous
group, we are easily contrasted with European Americans and African Americans because
we do not share many of the features commonly associated with these groups.

The groups that are lumped together in this aggregate have historically regarded
one another as different, and thus in people’s everyday lives the aggregate cate-
gory is likely to disaggregate, or fragment, into its constituent national-origin
elements. For example, a 2013 survey of adults found that “when describing their
identity, more than half (54%) of Hispanics say they most often use the name of
their ancestors’ Hispanic origin (such as Mexican, Dominican, Salvadoran or
Cuban).” Only 20 percent said they most often described themselves as “Hispanic”
or “Latino.” (Twenty-three percent reported most often describing themselves as
Not surprisingly, 69 percent of Latinos surveyed in the 2011 Cen-
sus Bureau’s American Community Survey said that they do not share a common
culture with other Latinos.

And how do “Hispanics” identify themselves by race? In 2011, census data
showed that 36 percent identifi ed themselves as white, 10 percent identifi ed them-
selves as black, 26 percent identifi ed themselves as some other race, and 25  percent
identifi ed their race as Hispanic/Latino.
Indeed, most of those who choose “some
other race” on the Census are Latinos.
Nonetheless, as Tanya Golash-Boza and
William Darity, Jr. write in Reading 6, the way that Latinos describe their race is
changeable, because it is responsive to their skin color and experiences of dis-
crimination, and—for those who are recent immigrants—also responsive to defi ni-
tions of race in their home country. All of these factors interact, and not
necessarily in predictable ways.
In the same way that many differences are masked by the terms Latino and
Hispanic, the category Asian Pacifi c American or Asian American includes groups
with different languages, cultures, and religions, and sometimes centuries of mutual
hostility. Like Hispanic / Latino, the category Asian American is based more on geog-
raphy than on any cultural, racial, linguistic, or religious commonalities. “Asian
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Framework Essay 17
Americans are those who come from a region of the world that the rest of the world
has defi ned as Asia.”


Much the same can be said for the terms Middle East and Middle Eastern. As
John Tehranian writes in Reading 24, the term Middle East emerged at the begin-
ning of the 20th century as part of political strategies. As a region that encom-
passes multiple continents, languages, ethnic groups, and religions, “the term is
riddled in ambiguity, sometimes encompassing the entire North African coast,
from Morocco to Egypt and other parts of Africa, including the Sudan and
Somalia, the former Soviet Caucasus Republics of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and
Armenia, and occasionally Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkistan. The Middle East
is therefore a malleable geopolitical construct of relatively recent vintage.”
Aggregate classifi cations have also been promoted by social movements; terms
such as Latino or Asian American were not simply the result of federal classifi ca-
tions. Student activists inspired by the Black Power and civil rights movements
fi rst proposed the terms. Asian American, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, and Latino
are examples of panethnic terms, that is, classifi cations that span national-origin
identities. Student activists inspired by the Black Power and civil rights move-
ments supported (and sometimes initiated) these panethnic classifi cations as a way
to highlight the experiences of discrimination that groups within each classifi ca-
tion shared. Thus, panethnic terminology often signaled the development of bridg-
ing organizations and other forms of solidarity across groups.
The concept of panethnicity is useful at many levels, but unstable in practice.
“The elites representing such groups fi nd it advantageous to make political demands
by using the numbers and resources panethnic formations can mobilize. The state,
in turn, can more easily manage claims by recognizing and responding to large
blocs as opposed to dealing with the specifi c claims of a plethora of ethnically
defi ned interest groups.”
At the same time, competition and historic antagonisms
make such alliances unstable. “At times it is advantageous to be in a panethnic
bloc, and at times it is desirable to mobilize along particular ethnic lines.”

The disability movement is similar to panethnic movements in that it has
brought together people with all types of impairments. This approach was a
In census classifi cation, the category Asian includes Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese,
Korean, Vietnamese; Other Asian includes Bangladeshi, Bhutanese, Burmese, Cambodian, Hmong,
Indo-Chinese, Indonesian, Iwo Jiman, Laotian, Malaysian, Maldivian, Mongolian, Nepalese,
Okinawan, Pakistani, Singaporean, Sri Lankan, Thai, and Taiwanese. The category Pacifi c Islander
includes Native Hawaiian, Guamanian or Chamorro, Samoan; Other Pacifi c Islander includes
Carolinian, Chuukese, Fijian, Kirabati, Kosraean, Mariana Islander, Marshallese, Melanesian,
Micronesian, New Hebridian, Palauan, Papua New Guinean, Pohnpeian, Polynesian, Saipanese,
Solomon Islander, Tahitian, Tokelauan, Tongan, and Yapese.

In 1980, Asian Indians successfully lobbied to change their census classifi cation from white to
Asian American by reminding Congress that historically, immigrants from India had been classed as
Asian . With other Asians, those from India had been barred from immigration by the 1917 Immigra-
tion Act, prohibited from becoming naturalized citizens until 1946, and denied the right to own land
by 1920 Alien Land Law. Indeed, in 1923 the U.S. Supreme Court (in U.S. v. Thind ) ruled that Asian
Indians were nonwhite, and could therefore have their U.S. citizenship nullifi ed.
Thus, for most of
their history in the United States, Asian Indians had been classed as Asian .
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18 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
historic “fi rst,” running counter both to the tradition of organizing around specifi c
impairments and to the fact that the needs of people with different impairments
are sometimes in confl ict. For example, some of the curb cuts that make wheel-
chair access possible can make walking more diffi cult for blind people who need
to be able to feel the edges of a sidewalk with their canes. The aggregating of
disabled people that began with the disability rights movement was reinforced in
the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The terms Native American and African American are also aggregate classifi ca-
tions, but in this case they are the result of conquest and enslavement.
The “Indian,” like the European, is an idea. The notion of “Indians” was invented to distin-
guish the indigenous peoples of the New World from Europeans. The “Indian” is the person
on shore, outside of the boat. . . . There [were] hundreds of cultures, languages, ways of
living in Native America. The place was a model of diversity at the time of Columbus’s
arrival. Yet Europeans did not see this diversity. They created the concept of the “Indian”
to give what they did see some kind of unifi cation, to make it a single entity they could
deal with, because they could not cope with the reality of 400 different cultures.


Conquest made “American Indians” out of a multitude of tribes and nations
that had been distinctive on linguistic, religious, and economic grounds. It was
not only that Europeans had the unifying concept of Indian in mind—after all,
they were suffi ciently aware of cultural differences to generate an extensive body
of specifi c treaties with individual tribes. It was also that conquest itself—
encompassing as it did the appropriation of land, the forging and violation of
treaties, and policies of forced relocation—structured the lives of Native Ameri-
cans along common lines. Whereas contemporary Native Americans still identify
themselves by tribal ancestry, rather than “Native American” or “American Indian,”
their shared experience of conquest also forged the common identity refl ected in
the collective name, Native American.
Similarly, the capture, purchase, and forced relocation of Africans, and their
experience of forcibly being moved from place to place as personal property, cre-
ated the category now called African American. This experience forged a single
people out of a culturally diverse group; it produced an “oppositional racial con-
sciousness,” that is, a unity-in-opposition. “Just as the conquest created the ‘native’
where once there had been Pequot, Iroquois, or Tutelo, so too it created the ‘black’
where once there had been Asante or Ovimbundu, Yoruba or Bakongo.”

Even the categories of gay and straight, male and female, people of color,
and poor and middle class are aggregations that presume a commonality by
virtue of shared master status. For example, the category gay and lesbian assumes
that sharing a sexual identity binds people together despite all the issues that
The idea of Europe and the European is also a constructed, aggregate category. “Physically, Europe
is not a continent. Where is the water separating Europe from Asia? It is culture that separates Europe
from Asia. Western Europe roughly comprises the countries that in the Middle Ages were Latin
Christendom, and Eastern Europe consists of those countries that in the Middle Ages were Eastern
Orthodox Christendom. It was about A.D. 1257 when the Pope claimed hegemony over the secular
emperors in Western Europe and formulated the idea that Europeans, Christians, were a unifi ed
ethnicity even though they spoke many different languages.”

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Framework Essay 19
might divide them as men and women, people of color, or people of different
social classes. And, just as in the cases we have previously discussed, the forma-
tion of alliances between gays and lesbians will depend on the circumstances
and specifi c issues.
Still, our analysis has so far ignored one category of people. From whose
perspective do the categories of Native American, Asian American, African
American, Middle Eastern American, Arab American, and Latino / Hispanic exist?
Since “difference” is always “difference from, ” from whose perspective is “dif-
ference” determined? Who has the power to defi ne “difference”? If “we” are in
the boat looking at “them,” who precisely are “we”?
Every perspective on the social world emerges from a particular vantage point,
a particular social location. Ignoring who is in the boat treats that place as if it
were just the view “anyone” would take. Historically, the people in the boat were
European; at present, they are white Americans. As Ruth Frankenberg frames it
in Reading 7, in the United States “whites are the nondefi ned defi ners of other
people,” “the unmarked marker of others’ differentness.” Failing to identify the
“us” in the boat means that “white culture [becomes] the unspoken norm,” a
category that is powerful enough to defi ne others while itself remaining invisible
and unnamed.
[F]or most whites, most of the time, to think or speak about race is to think or speak about
people of color, or perhaps, at times, to refl ect on oneself (or other whites) in relation to
people of color. But we tend not to think of ourselves or our racial cohort as racially distinc-
tive. Whites’ “consciousness” of whiteness is predominantly unconsciousness of whiteness.

Because whites do not usually identify themselves by race, they do not easily
understand the signifi cance of racial identities.
In all, those with the most power
in a society are best positioned to have their own identities left unnamed, thus
masking their power.
The term androcentrism describes the world as seen from a male-centered
perspective. For example, if we defi ne a good employee as one who is willing to
work extensive overtime, we are thinking from a male-centered perspective, since
women’s child-care responsibilities often preclude extra work commitments. We
may also describe Eurocentric and physicalist 57 perspectives, that is, viewpoints
that assume everyone is of European origin or physically agile. Similarly, the term
heteronormativity turns our attention to the ways that heterosexuality is built into
the assumptions and operation of all aspects of daily life, both sexual and non-
Heteronormativity is one of a set of terms that has emerged to describe
individual- and societal-level treatment of homosexuality. In 1972, in Society and
the Healthy Homosexual, psychologist George Weinberg offered the term
homophobia to describe the aversion to homosexuals that he found among people
at the time. As he said later, “It was a fear of homosexuals which seemed to be
associated with a fear of contagion, a fear of reducing the things one fought
for—home and family. . . . [I]t led to great brutality as fear always does.”
term was a watershed; it defi ned the problem as heterosexual intolerance, not
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20 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
Weinberg was not thinking of homophobia in clinical terms,
for example, pho-
bias are usually experienced as “unpleasant and dysfunctional,” which is not the
case with “homophobia.” Nonetheless, the term is now pervasive and routinely
identifi ed as part of the triumvirate, “sexism, racism, and homophobia.” One prob-
lem with that, however, is that homophobia focuses on individual prejudices rather
than societal structures. Thus, in 1990, psychologist Gregory Herek offered the word
heterosexism to describe “an ideological system that denies, denigrates, and stigma-
tizes any nonheterosexual form of behavior, identity, relationship or community.”

A decade later, he suggested that the term sexual prejudice replace homophobia. 62
The more recent concept of heteronormativity turns our attention to all the ways
in which heterosexuality is presumed to be the natural, normal, and inevitable
structure of society. It is the “view from the boat.” First put forward by English
professor Michael Warner, heteronormativity describes heterosexuality as akin to
an “offi cial national culture”;
a “sense of rightness—embedded in things and
not just in sex—is what we call heteronormativity.”
People are constantly encouraged to believe that heterosexual desire, dating, marriage, repro-
duction, childrearing, and home life are not only valuable to themselves, but the bedrock
on which every other value in the world rests. Heterosexual desire and romance are thought
to be the very core of humanity. It is the threshold of maturity that separates the men from
the boys (though it is also projected onto all boys and girls). It is both nature and culture.
It is the one thing celebrated in every fi lm plot, every sitcom, every advertisement. It is the
one thing to which every politician pays obeisance, couching every dispute over guns and
butter as an effort to protect family, home, and children. What would a world look like in
which all these links between sexuality and people’s ideas were suddenly severed? Nonstan-
dard sex has none of this normative richness, this built-in sense of connection to the mean-
ingful life, the community of the human, the future of the world.

. . . [F]rom senior proms to conjugal rights in prison, from couples’ discounts at hotels to
the immediate immigration rights of foreign marital partners, from a nonchalant goodbye
kiss at the airport to incessant male-female couples grinning down from billboards, to fairy
tales with princes rescuing princesses. It is, indeed, diffi cult to fi nd any aspect of modern
life that does not include men desiring women and women desiring men as a premise, as
necessary to being human as thinking and breathing.

In all, naming andocentrism, Eurocentrism, physicalism, and heteronormativity
helps us recognize them as particular social locations, like the other master sta-
tuses we have considered. Indeed, it is possible to argue that, no matter what their
master statuses, all Americans operate from these particular biases because they
are built into the basic fabric of our culture.
Many forces promote the construction of aggregate categories of people. Frequently,
these aggregates emerge as dichotomies. Sociologists have argued that the creation
of dichotomized categories is a regular feature of social life because it is a way
to resolve life’s routine problems, for example, allocating tasks by gender. More
important, dichotomization inevitably yields categories that will be unequally
valued and rewarded; in social life, the two parts of a dichotomy will never be
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Framework Essay 21
“equal.” Categorical inequalities emerge and persist because some benefi t from
them and because there is a societal cost to transitioning out of their use. Thus,
inequality between categories of people becomes “durable” over interactions, time,
space, and lifetimes. The extent of inequality between dichotomous pairs may
vary, the grounds on which categories are established may differ, and the efforts
directed at reducing such inequalities may change, but dichotomized categorical
inequalities are likely a constant of social life.

But to dichotomize is not only to divide something into two parts; it is also to
see those parts as mutually exclusive and in opposition. Dichotomization encourages
the sense that there are only two categories, that everyone fi ts easily in one or the
other, and that the categories stand in opposition to each other. In contemporary
American culture, we appear to treat the master statuses of race, sex, class, sexual
identity, and disability as if each embodied “us” and “them”—as if for each master
status, people could be easily sorted into two mutually exclusive, opposed groupings.

Dichotomizing Race Perhaps the clearest example of the historic and continu-
ing dichotomization of race is provided by the “one-drop rule,” which is described
by F. James Davis in Reading 2. This “rule” became a law but now operates only
as an informal social practice, holding that people with any traceable African
heritage should classify themselves as black. President Barack Obama’s identifi ca-
tion of himself as African American on the 2010 census is consistent with this
practice. The rule, which is unique to the United States and South Africa, grew
out of the efforts of southern whites to enforce segregation after the Civil War,
but over time came to be endorsed by both blacks and whites. Consistent with
this practice, only about 4 percent of black Americans identify themselves as
having ancestry from more than one race, even though a much larger percentage
have Native American and/or white ancestry.

While the one-drop rule applied to the identifi cation of who was black, the
three racial categories identifi ed by the census throughout the 19th century—
White, Negro, and Indian— were functionally collapsed into a white/nonwhite
binary. For example, in 1854, the California Supreme Court in People v . Hall held
that blacks, mulattos, Native Americans, and Chinese were “not white” and there-
fore could not testify for or against a white man in court. (Hall, a white man, had
been convicted of killing a Chinese man on the testimony of one white and three
Chinese witnesses; the Supreme Court overturned the conviction.) The same
dichotomization can be seen in the Supreme Court’s decision in Plessy v. Ferguson
(1896) described in Reading 37.
At the insistence of the Mexican government, Mexican residents of the south-
west territories ceded to the United States in the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe
Hidalgo were placed on the “white” side of the ledger, and accorded the political-
legal status of “free white persons.”
European immigrants such as the Irish were
initially treated as nonwhite, and lobbied for their inclusion in American society
on the basis of the white/nonwhite distinction.
Springer and Deutsch (1981) coined the term dichotomania to describe the belief that there are male
and female sides of the brain. We think that term also fi ts our discussion.
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22 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
[Immigrants struggled to] equate whiteness with Americanism in order to turn argu-
ments  over immigration from the question of who was foreign to the question of who was
white. . . .
Immigrants could not win on the question of who was foreign. . . . But if the issue
somehow became defending “white man’s jobs” or “white man’s government” . . . [they]
could gain space by defl ecting debate from nativity, a hopeless issue, to race, an ambiguous
one. . . . After the Civil War, the new-coming Irish would help lead the movement to bar
the relatively established Chinese from California, with their agitation for a “white man’s
government,” serving to make race, and not nativity, the center of the debate and to prove
the Irish white.

Thus, historically, American has meant white, as many contemporary Americans
of Asian ancestry learn when they are complimented on their English—a compli-
ment that presumes that someone who is Asian could not be a native-born
A story from the 1998 Winter Olympics illustrates the same point. At
the conclusion of the fi gure skating competition, MSNBC posted a headline that
read “American Beats Out Kwan for Women’s Figure Skating Title.” The refer-
ence was to Michelle Kwan, who won the silver medal, losing the gold to Tara
Lapinsky. But both Kwan and Lapinsky are Americans. While Kwan’s parents
immigrated from Hong Kong, she was born and raised in the United States, is a
U.S. citizen, and was a member of the U.S. team. The network attributed the
mistake to overworked staff and apologized. But for Asian American activists, this
was an example of how people of Asian descent have remained perpetual foreign-
ers in American society.
African American novelist Toni Morrison would describe this as a story about
“how American means white ”:
Deep within the word “American” is its association with race. To identify someone as South
African is to say very little; we need the adjective “white” or “black” or “colored” to make
our meaning clear. In this country it is quite the reverse. American means white, and
Africanist people struggle to make the term applicable to themselves with . . . hyphen after
hyphen after hyphen.

Insofar as American means white, those who are not white are presumed to be
recent arrivals and often told to go “back where they came from.” Thus, we appear
to operate within the dichotomized racial categories of American / non – American —
these are racial categories, because they effectively mean white / nonwhite.
Yet it is possible that the “white/nonwhite dichotomy” is in the midst of an
ironic transformation, into what Lee and Bean in Reading 8 characterize as a
“black/nonblack” dichotomy. Unlike Latinos and Asian Americans who, with suc-
cess, have come to be seen as similar to whites, African Americans are seen by
whites as dissimilar no matter what their success, just as the children of black-
white parentage are perceived by both blacks and whites as black. This black/
Since the historic American ban on Asian immigration remained in place until 1965, it is the case
that a high proportion of Asian Americans—about 75 percent—are foreign born (although the
percentage who are foreign-born varies by national origin).

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Framework Essay 23
nonblack dichotomy argues for an “African American exceptionalism” to the
incorporation of minority groups into whiteness.
Defi ning Race and Ethnicity But what exactly is race? First, we need to
distinguish race from ethnicity. Social scientists defi ne ethnic groups as categories
of people who are distinctive on the basis of national origin or heritage, language,
or cultural practices. “Members of an ethnic group hold a set of common memo-
ries that make them feel that their customs, culture, and outlook are distinctive.”

Indeed, in Reading 20, Harlan Lane argues that there is a Deaf-World ethnic group
distinct from those for whom deafness is a hearing impairment.
Thus, ethnicity is very much about the intensity of people’s feelings, and
these may be inconsistent, as well as, change over time. For example, being an
Italian American in the 1920s involved much more intensity of feeling, interac-
tion, and political organization than it does now, and being a Jew has become
an ethnic, rather than a religious, identity for many. For others, such as Bosnian
refugees, ethnic identity can involve a painful choice between religion and
nationality—are they Bosnian, Bosnian Muslim, or Muslim, or do they reject
ethnic identity altogether since “ethnic cleansing” made them refugees in the
fi rst place?

Finally, even though ethnic identity is often more important to people than race,
it can be obscured by race. For example, focusing only on race would hide the
important differences between African Americans, Haitians, Somalis, Ethiopians,
or Jamaicans—all black American ethnic groups. Similarly, Americans with
Middle Eastern heritage (who are classifi ed as white in the census) are often
misdescribed as Arabs, which includes only those from Arabic-speaking countries.
A scene in the movie Crash made this point: in vandalizing the store of an Iranian
grocer, the looters left behind graffi ti about “Arabs,” but Iranians speak Farsi and
do not consider themselves Arabic. In all, beneath panethnic terms such as Middle
Eastern, Arab American, Latino, or Asian American, one will fi nd strong ethnic
attachments based on national origin or religion.
The term race fi rst appeared in the Romance languages of Europe in the
Middle Ages to refer to breeding stock. A race of horses described common
ancestry and a distinctive appearance or behavior. Race appears to have been fi rst
applied to New World peoples by the Spanish in the 16th century. Later it was
adopted by the English, again in reference to people of the New World, and it
generally came to mean people, nation, or variety. By the late 18th century,
“when scholars became more actively engaged in investigations, classifi cations,
and defi nitions of human populations, the term race was elevated as the one
major symbol and mode of human group differentiation employed extensively
for non-European groups and even those in Europe who varied in some way from
the subjective norm.”

Though elevated to the level of science, the concept of race continued to refl ect
its origins in animal breeding. Farmers and herders had used the concept to
describe stock bred for particular qualities; scholars used it to suggest that human
behaviors could also be inherited. “Unlike other terms for classifying people . . .
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24 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
the term ‘race’ places emphasis on innateness, on the inbred nature of whatever
is being judged.”
Like animal breeders, scholars also presumed that appearance
revealed something about potential behavior. Just as the selective breeding of
animals entailed the ranking of stock by some criteria, scholarly use of the concept
of race involved the ranking of humans. Differences in skin color, hair texture,
and the shape of head, eyes, nose, lips, and body were developed into an elaborate
hierarchy of merit and potential for “civilization.”
As described by Audrey Smedley in Reading 1, the idea of race emerged
among all the European colonial powers, although their conceptions of it varied.
However, only the British in colonizing North America and South Africa con-
structed a system of rigid, exclusive racial categories and a social order based on
race , a “racialized social structure.” 76 “[S]kin color variations in many regions of
the world and in many societies have been imbued with some degree of social
value or signifi cance, but color prejudice or preferences do not of themselves
amount to a fully evolved racial worldview.”

This racialized social structure—which in the United States produced a race-
based system of slavery and subsequently a race-based distribution of political, legal,
and social rights—was a historical fi rst. “Expansion, conquest, exploitation, and
enslavement have characterized much of human history over the past fi ve thousand
years or so, but none of these events before the modern era resulted in the develop-
ment of ideologies or social systems based on race.”
Although differences of color
had long been noted, societies had never before been built on those differences.
The sciences that emerged from this racialized social structure were also racial-
ized; because scientists presumed that “race” involved more than just color, they
sought the biological distinctivness of race categories. Their belief that they had
found such differences followed from their fl awed assumptions and research meth-
ods. By the early 20th century, anthropologists discovered that the physical fea-
tures that had been used to distinguish the races such as height, stature, and head
shape could be changed by environment and nutrition. Thus, the certainties about
“race” and what it meant—at least in the sciences—began to be questioned.

In effect, science was confronting a kind of “bottom line” about race: while
there are many ways humans can be grouped, those do not correspond to tradi-
tional notions of race.
If our eyes could perceive more than the superfi cial, we might fi nd race in chromosome 11:
there lies the gene for hemoglobin. If you divide humankind by which of two forms of the
gene each person has, then equatorial Africans, Italians and Greeks fall into the “sickle-cell
race”; Swedes and South Africa’s Xhosas (Nelson Mandela’s ethnic group) are in the healthy
hemoglobin race. Or do you prefer to group people by whether they have epicanthic eye
folds, which produce the “Asian” eye? Then the !Kung San (Bushmen) belong with the
Japanese and Chinese. . . . [D]epending on which traits you pick, you can form very surpris-
ing races. Take the scooped-out shape of the back of the front teeth, a standard “Asian” trait.
Native Americans and Swedes have these shovel-shaped incisors, too, and so would fall in
the same race. Is biochemistry better? Norwegians, Arabians, north Indians and the Fulani
of northern Nigeria . . . fall into the “lactase race” (the lactase enzyme digests milk sugar).
Everyone else—other Africans, Japanese, Native Americans—form the “lactase-deprived
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Framework Essay 25
race” (their ancestors did not drink milk from cows or goats and hence never evolved the
lactase gene). How about blood types, the familiar A, B, and O groups? Then Germans and
New Guineans, populations that have the same percentages of each type, are in one race;
Estonians and Japanese comprise a separate one for the same reason. . . . The dark skin of
Somalis and Ghanaians, for instance, indicates that they evolved under the same selective
force (a sunny climate). But that’s all it shows. It does not show that they are any more
closely related in the sense of sharing more genes than either is to Greeks. Calling Somalis
and Ghanaians “black” therefore sheds no further light on their evolutionary history and
implies—wrongly—that they are more closely related to each other than either is to some-
one of a different “race.”

As one anthropologist has put it, “Classifying people by color is very much
like classifying cars by color. Those in the same classifi cation look alike . . . but
the classifi cation tells you nothing about the hidden details of construction or
about how the cars or people will perform.”

By the late 1960s, a “no race” position came to be widely accepted in physical
anthropology and human genetics. This perspective argues that “(1) Biological
variability exists but this variability does not conform to the discrete packages
labeled races. (2) So-called racial characteristics are not transmitted as complexes.
(3) Races do not exist because isolation of groups has been infrequent; popula-
tions have always interbred.”
Yet while there is a kind of “commonsense” under-
standing in the social sciences that race is a social construction, that recognition
has not especially shaped the substance of social science research.
[I]t will suffi ce to point out that virtually all scholars who write about “race and intelligence”
assume that the “races” which they study are distinguished on the basis of biologically
relevant criteria. So accepted is this fact that most scholars engaged in such research never
consider it necessary to justify their assignment of individuals to this or that “race.” . . .
[Thus], the layman who reads the literature on race and racial groupings is justifi ed in
assuming that the existent typologies have been derived through the application of theories
and methods current in disciplines concerned with the biological study of human variation.
Since the scientifi c racial classifi cations which a layman fi nds in the literature are not too
different from popular ones, he can be expected to feel justifi ed in the maintenance of his
views on race.

The complexities of incorporating a “no race” position into social science
research is highlighted by how the professional associations in anthropology and
sociology treat the concept. In 1998, the American Anthropological Association
(AAA) adopted an unambiguous “Statement on Race”: “Racial beliefs constitute
myths about the diversity in the human species and about the abilities and behavior
of people homogenized into ‘racial’ categories.” But for the American Sociological
Association (ASA), that does not mean we should stop collecting data on race: its
2002 statement, “The Importance of Collecting Data and Doing Social Scientifi c
Research on Race,” urges the continued study of race as a social phenomenon
because it affects major aspects of social life—including employment, housing,
education, and health. The title of the ASA’s press release on the topic reads,
“Would ‘Race’ Disappear if the United States Offi cially Stopped Collecting Data
on It?” Their answer to that is clearly “no”; anthropologists would certainly agree.
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26 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
Still, the assumption that racial categories are biologically distinctive has not
disappeared—indeed, it gathered strength with the mapping of the human genome
at the beginning of the 21st century. Completion of the Human Genome Project
was met with pronouncements that, fi nally, our notions of race could be put to
rest since humans were found to share shared 99.9 percent of all genetic material.
Yet attention quickly shifted to fi nding groupings within that genetic material and
determining the signifi cance of the 0.1 percent difference. (Because humans and
chimpanzees share 98.7 percent of their genes, for example, that 0.1 percent dif-
ference could make a difference.)
By 2002, in a landmark article published in Science, “researchers announced
that they had ‘identifi ed six main genetic clusters, fi ve of which correspond to
major geographic regions.’” Although race was not mentioned, the “major geo-
graphic regions” that matched the genetic clusters they discovered—Africa,
Eurasia, East Asia, Oceania, and America—were quickly translated into tradi-
tional racial divisions.”
Other research along this line followed, using similar
sampling techniques and contributing to a burgeoning data set. Thus, as legal
scholar Dorothy Roberts frames it, “geographic ancestry” emerged as a proxy
for race.
Yet each decision in this research—sampling isolated (and thereby “pure”)
populations rather than regions like India where people are not easily classifi able,
“cherry picking” population samples that fi t preexisting conceptions of race rather
than pursuing a random sample of the global population, deciding that the statis-
tical analysis of a huge data set is best captured by a model of six rather than
twenty geographic regions, as in the Science article—draws on preexisting con-
ceptions of race.
[R]emember, the number of genetic clusters is dictated by the computer user, not the com-
puter program. . . . Rosenberg [lead author of the Science article] later revealed that his
team also analyzed the data set using six to twenty clusters. . . . The larger number of
clusters identifi ed by the study could just as easily have been highlighted to demonstrate
the diffi culty of dividing human beings into genetic races. There is nothing in the team’s
fi ndings to suggest that six clusters represent human population structure better than ten, or
fi fteen, or twenty.

The six groupings mapped onto conventional notions of race—indigenous people
from fi ve continents plus one isolated group in Northern Pakistan. Instead of talk-
ing about race, we could talk about ancestry.
New marketing opportunities for “ancestry” fl ourish; each reinforces the idea
of biological races. For example, many students in high school learn about DNA
by sending a sample to a company that analyzes it for the geographic origins of
the student’s family (using the same questionable sampling and data sets described
earlier). Because those geographic groupings are broken down into the continents
we associate with race, it is not surprising that the results are read as being one’s
“racial” composition, as if there were “pure” racial groups and we are some mix
of these (“I am 43 percent European, 26 percent Sub-Saharan African, and
31  percent East Asian,” sounds very much like white, black, and Asian).
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Framework Essay 27
But many more lucrative opportunities exist in the realm of race-specifi c med-
ications, the fi rst of which was BiDil, a 2004 drug for heart disease and the fi rst
race-targeted medication approved by the FDA. (BiDil is a combination of two
generic drugs and thus could be patented as something new.) If race were not
“real,” how could the drug be more effective for African Americans, as the man-
ufacturer claimed? Actually, whether BiDil has a differential effect by race remains
unknown. The fi rst clinical trial of the drug found that a small subsample of
African Americans did better than whites. On that basis, the drug went to a full-
scale clinical trial, but only on self-identifi ed African Americans; there was no
comparison with other groups. Why not? Because the drug’s manufacturer,
NitroMed, “had a fi nancial disincentive for fi nding that BiDil worked regardless
of race—its patent (and market monopoly) applied only to its use by African
American patients.”
Ultimately, BiDil was neither especially prescribed nor
used; NitroMed went out of business in 2009.

Certainly, the search for “race”-based drugs continues. These efforts to fi nd the
biological distinctiveness of racial categories function much as earlier efforts did,
that is, as a distraction from the social factors that affect the quality and length
of people’s lives.
By looking at what’s in the blood, [geneticists] avoid the messy stuff that happens when
humans interact with each other. It’s easier to look inside the body because genes, proteins,
and SNP [single nucleotide polymorphisms] patterns are far more measurable than the com-
plex dynamics of society. . . .
When you’re talking about genetic diseases, there’s usually something in the environment
that triggers their onset. Shouldn’t we be talking about the trigger?
Take the case of black men and prostate cancer. African-American males have twice
the prostate cancer rate that whites do. Right now, the National Cancer Institute is search-
ing for cancer genes among black men. They’re not asking, How come black men in the
Caribbean and in sub-Saharan Africa have much lower prostate cancer rates than all
American men?
A balanced approach might involve asking, Is there something in the American environ-
ment triggering these high rates? Is it diet, stress or what?

The primary signifi cance of race is as a social concept. We “see” race; we
expect it to tell us something signifi cant about a person, and we organize social
policy, law, and the distribution of wealth, power, and prestige around it. From
the essentialist position, race is assumed to exist independently of our perception
of it; it is assumed to signifi cantly distinguish one group of people from another.
From the constructionist perspective, race exists because we have created it as a
meaningful category of difference among people.
Race has been characterized as a biological fiction, but a social fact. Yet
the strength of this fiction suggests that it functions like a contemporary folk
Most Americans do not deduce that biological races exist from sound scientifi c evidence
and reasoning. They are inculcated with this belief in the same way a child is raised in a
religion. Children in the United States learn to divide all people into racial groups and come
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28 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
to have faith in race as a self-evident truth, like a traditional creation story that explains
how the world works.
According to folklorist Judith Neulander, for a folk story to persist it must contain “ele-
ments that can be modifi ed without changing what the tale is about,” enabling it “to dodge
later discreditation” Science has been responsible for giving racial folklore its superfi cial
plausibility by updating its defi nitions, measurements, and rationales without changing what
the tale is about: once upon a time human beings all over the world were divided into large
biological groups called races.
Believing in race can be compared to believing in astrology. People who have faith in
astrology fi nd constant confi rmation that horoscope predictions are reliable and that astro-
logical signs determine personality types.

Dichotomizing Sexuality Many similarities have existed in the construction of
race and sexuality categories. First, historically both have been dichotomized—
into black/white, white/nonwhite, or gay/straight—and individuals have been
expected to fi t easily into one category or the other. Scientists have also sought
biological differences between gay and straight people just as they have looked
for such differences between the “races.” Usually the search has been for what
causes same-sex attraction, rather than for what causes heterosexuality—the point
made by Martin Rochlin’s Heterosexual Questionnaire (Reading 17). But, as with
investigations of race difference, the research is suspect here as well, because we
are unlikely to fi nd any biological structure or process that all gay people share
but no straight people have. Still, as Roger Lancaster describes in Reading 16,
the conviction that such differences must exist propels the search and leads to the
popularization of questionable fi ndings.
As with race, sexual identity appears more straightforward than it really is.
Because sexuality encompasses physical, social, and emotional attraction, as
well as fantasies, self-identity, and actual sexual behavior over a lifetime, deter-
mining one’s sexual “identity” may require emphasizing one of these features
over the others. Further, there is no necessary correspondence between identity
and sexual behavior (which Esther Rothblum explores for women in Reading 30).
Someone who self-identifi es as gay is still likely to have had some heterosexual
experience; someone who self-identifi es as straight may have had some same-sex
experience; and even those who have had no sexual experience may lay claim
to being gay or straight. Identity is not always directly tied to behavior. Indeed,
a person who self-identifi es as gay may have had more heterosexual experience
than someone who self-identifi es as straight. Yet just as the system of racial
classifi cation asks people to pick one race, the sexual-identity system has so far
required that all the different aspects of sexuality be distilled into one of two
For example, an acquaintance described the process by which he came to self-
identify as gay. In high school and college he had dated and been sexually active
with women, but his relationships with men had always been more important to
him. He looked to men for emotional and social gratifi cation, as well as for relief
from the “gender games” he felt required to play with women. He had been
engaged to be married, but when that ended, he spent his time exclusively with
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Framework Essay 29
other men. Eventually, he established a sexual relationship with another man and
came to identify himself as gay. His experience refl ects the varied dimensions of
sexuality and shows the resolution of those differences by choosing a single sex-
ual identity.
Until recently, “gay” and “straight” would have been his only real options.
Despite commonplace use of the term, bisexuality has rarely been taken seriously
by sex researchers or those in the gay and lesbian communities, where bisexual-
ity has been demeaned as a phase, a form of homophobia, or simple promiscuity.
The possibility of male bisexuality has especially been discounted by self- identifi ed
gay men.
Describing “biphobia” and “bi erasure,” a newly emerging movement of self-
identifi ed bisexuals has been supported by survey and sexuality research. In 2011,
the Williams Institute, which specializes in LGBT research, reported on their
review of eleven surveys, fi nding that “among adults who identify as L.G.B.,
bisexuals comprise a slight majority.”
Indeed, one of the larger surveys the
Williams Institute reviewed found that more American adults identifi ed them-
selves as bisexual than as gay/lesbian (3.1 percent compared to 2.5 percent).
Similarly, as population sampling and sexuality research methods have broad-
ened, it has become possible to demonstrate patterns of arousal that are bisex-
with one possibility that “what makes a bisexual person may be less about
what they’re strongly attracted to and more about what they’re not averse to.”

While sexual fl uidity has long been seen as a characteristic of women but not
men, even the author of one of our readings, Lisa Diamond, has revised her
opinion. Five years after the publication of her 2009 book (from which our read-
ing is taken), she presented a paper titled “I Was Wrong! Men are Pretty Darn
Sexually Fluid, Too!”

Why has bisexuality been so systematically “erased”? The convenience of
dichotomous thinking, fear of prejudice (people who identify as straight appear
to have more negative attitudes about those who are bisexual than about those
who are gay or lesbian);
lack of visible bisexuals (only 28 percent of people
who identify as bisexual say they are open about it);
and the very contentious
debate about whether sexuality is fi xed and innate or changeable, would all have
contributed to the invisibility of bisexuality. Finally, people may simply want to
reduce the complexity of their lives: “To come out as bisexual now would be like
starting over in a way. My mom and dad would fall over. It was hard enough to
convince them that I was gay.”

To return to our initial comparison of sexual identity and race, one last analogy
bears discussion. Most Americans would not question the logic of this sentence:
“Tom has been married for 30 years and has a dozen children, but I think he’s
really gay.” In a real-life illustration of the same logic, a young man and woman
were often seen kissing on our campus. When this became the subject of a class
discussion, a suggestive ripple of laughter went through the room: Everyone
“knew” that the young man was really gay.
How could they “know” that? For such conclusions to make sense, we
must believe that someone could be gay irrespective of his or her actual behavior.
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30 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
Just as it is possible in this culture for one to be “black” even if one looks “white,”
apparently one may be gay despite acting straight. Just as “black” can be estab-
lished by any African heritage, “gay” is apparently established by displaying any
behavior thought to be associated with gays, especially for men. Indeed, “gay”
can be “established” by reputation alone, by a failure to demonstrate heterosexu-
ality, or even by the demonstration of an overly aggressive heterosexuality. There-
fore, “gay” can be assigned no matter what one does. In this sense, “gay” can
function as an essential identity, 97 that is, an identity assigned to an individual
irrespective of his or her actual behavior, as in “I know she’s a genius even
though she’s fl unking all her courses.” Because no behavior can ever conclusively
prove one is not gay, this label is an extremely effective mechanism of social
In all, several parallels exist between race and sexuality classifi cations. At least
until recently, we have assumed there are a limited number of possibilities—
usually two, but no more than three—and we have assumed individuals can easily
fi t into one option. We have treated both race and sexuality as encompassing
populations that are internally homogeneous and profoundly dissimilar from each
other. In both cases, this presumption of difference has prompted a wide-ranging
search for the biological distinctiveness of the categories. Different races and
sexualities have been judged superior and inferior to one another, and members
of each category historically have been granted unequal legal and social rights.
Finally, we have assumed that sexual orientation, like skin color, tells us some-
thing meaningful about a person.
You may notice we used the past tense in the previous paragraph. This is
because it seems to us that the traditional race and sexuality systems are undergo-
ing change, although probably not to the same extent. As with the increasing
presence of people who identify as multiracial, bisexuality has emerged as a
category around which people organize. The outstanding question, however, is
whether bisexuality will emerge as a “third” option, or upend our notions of
sexuality altogether. College students and perhaps young people generally appear
to have an increasing desire to move away from gender and sexuality labels.
Accompanying the increased visibility and acceptance of both gay and transgen-
der people—and the conceptual system that understands these as separate deci-
sions, one about sexuality and the other about sex—there is a case that youth
especially are less inclined to sexuality/gender classifi cations and more open in
their own sexual behavior. We are not sure how widespread this change is, but
have included in the readings an article by Eric Anderson (Reading 55), who
contends that we are now past the era of “homohysteria.” Anderson’s conclusions
are at odds with other readings in this volume, but we think this speaks to the
real lack of clarity about the future of American sexuality and gender systems.
We turn now to the topic of dichotomies in gender.
Dichotomizing Sex and Gender As is the case for sexuality, the meanings of
the terms sex and gender have also become destabilized. Traditionally, research in
the social sciences used sex to refer to females and males—that is, to chromosomal,
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Framework Essay 31
hormonal, anatomical, and physiological differences—and gender to describe the
socially constructed roles associated with each sex, that is, masculinity and femi-
ninity. Over the last thirty or so years, however, gender has come to be used in
popular culture to encompass both biological differences and social behavior. For
example, it has become common to see descriptions of male and female voting
patterns as gender differences, rather than as sex differences. In this same period,
many scholars in the humanities and social sciences began conceptualizing sex in
ways similar to gender, that is, they came to the conclusion that biological sex,
like masculinity and femininity, was socially created. Thus, the language of schol-
arship also turned toward gender and away from sex.
Like sexuality, even physiological/biological sex refers to a complex set of
attributes that may sometimes be inconsistent with one another or with individu-
als’ sense of their own identity. As Alice Dreger in Reading 9 describes, even
those on the Olympic Committee who want to use a hormone-based system to
identify the sex of athletes (rather than letting the athletes self-identify), under-
stand that determining sex is very complicated. As Dreger writes, “There’s no one
magical gene, chromosome, hormone, or body part that can do for us the hard
work of sharp division into male and female leagues.” Ultimately, biological/
physiological sex is the product of a decision.
But in day-to-day life, rather than recognize the complexity of sex, we have
commonly assumed that there are two and only two sexes and that people can be
easily classifi ed as one or the other. Despite the popularity of the word gender,
apart from scholars the language of gender has not signaled a move away from
the idea of biological sex as fi xed and dichotomous. Rather, just as with race and
sexuality categories, people are assigned as male or female irrespective of incon-
sistent or ambiguous evidence. Indeed, as Riki Wilchins describes in Reading 10,
we have tried to make bodies “at the margins” fi t into our existing categories. Out
of the imperative that there be consistency between the physical and the psycho-
logical, some people pursue sex change surgery to produce a body consistent with
their self-identity. Others pursue psychotherapy to fi nd a self-identity consistent
with their body. In either case, it has made more sense to use surgery and/or
therapy to create consistency than to accept inconsistency.
All of this now seems up for discussion. A move away from the idea of bio-
logical sex as unitary, binary, and fi xed has been spurred by transgender activism,
which encompasses people who live as a gender different from their birth assign-
ment, who identify with neither of the currently available biological sexes, who
feel themselves to be both genders simultaneously or sequentially, whose biologi-
cal/physiological sex is inconsistent, who have undergone sex reassignment hor-
mone treatment or surgery, and/or who cross dress occasionally or regularly.
Since the early 1990s when the term was coined, the category trans-gender has come to be
understood as a collective category of identity which incorporates a diverse array of male-
and female-bodied gender variant people who had previously been understood as distinct
kinds of persons, including self-identifi ed transexuals and transvestites. . . . In its collectiv-
ity, the capacity of transgender to incorporate all gender variance has become a powerful
tool of activism and personal identifi cation. And, even more remarkably, in the period since
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32 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
the early 1990s it has already become institutionalized in a vast range of contexts, from
grassroots activism, social service provision, and individual identifi cation, to journalistic
accounts. . . . Most importantly, transgender identifi cation is understood across these
domains to be explicitly and fundamentally different in origin and being from homosexual
identifi cation. . . . In short, “transgender” has changed the terms by which U.S. Americans
understand and differentiate between gendered and sexual variance.

Although it is not yet “mainstream” to treat sex as neither fi xed nor dichoto-
mous, it is not marginal either. For example, in 2014 Facebook added an option
that provided about fi fty different terms people could use to identify their sex;
advertisements run by luxury retailer Barneys New York featured transgender
models; newspaper space was devoted to the experience of parents whose young
children rejected gender binaries; and courts ruled on which bathrooms transgen-
der elementary students may use. Perhaps most important, “transgender” (rather
than transgender ed , which connotes directionality) has become a way to identify
oneself. Intrinsic to that self-identifi cation is movement beyond the simple gender/
sex binary that has predominated until now.
Dichotomizing Class Any discussion of social class in the United States must
begin with the understanding that Americans “almost never speak of themselves
or their society in class terms. In other words, class is not a central category of
cultural discourse in America.”
Indeed, considering the time and attention
Americans devote to sexual orientation, sex/gender, or race, it is hard not to con-
clude that discussion of social class is “the last taboo.”
Because social class is
so seldom discussed, the vocabulary for talking about it is not well developed.
Class analyses . . . are not curricular themes covered in schools at the primary or secondary
level and are seldom included in university-level courses. . . . Every major U.S. daily news-
paper includes a separate business section, but none includes a separate “class” or even
“labor” section. . . . Politicians typically avoid class-based rhetoric, especially the use of
language and policy labels that might openly emphasize or reveal the confl icting economic
and political interests of working-class versus privileged-class members. . . . [P]olitical
candidates, especially presidential candidates, who violate what amounts to an unwritten
rule against framing class inequalities as legitimate public policy issues, risk being accused
of promoting divisive and disruptive “class warfare” by privileged-class-based mainstream
media pundits. . . . Only two exceptions exist to the taboo on public discussions of class
issues. First, it is acceptable to discuss the “middle class” and problems faced by this class.
Because large numbers of Americans identify themselves as middle class, references to
this  group actually serve to disguise and mute class differences because the term is so
inclusive. . . . The second exception to avoidance of class issues includes mass media
glimpses into the lives of the privileged class, as well as tours of the excluded class. . . .
The glamour of life at the top is routinely showcased on both conventional and tabloid style
TV news magazines. . . . The grim realities of life-at-the-bottom experiences turn up most
often on occasional PBS or cable TV documentaries. . . .

Despite its relative invisibility, as Michael Zweig notes in Reading 12, social
class operates in ways quite similar to race and sex. That is, just as American culture
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Framework Essay 33
offers interpretations of what differences in color or sex mean, it also provides
interpretations about what differences in income, wealth, or occupation might mean.
As sociologists Perrucci and Wysong noted in the quote above, social class is also
often dichotomized, usually into those called poor and those called middle class.
What is especially interesting about this language of “poor” and “middle class”
is the degree to which it masks the real polarization of income in American society,
which now can be described as between the rich and everyone else. As Timothy
Noah writes in Reading 14, the share of total income going to the top earners
increased steadily after the 1970s, while the share going to middle- and low-
earners shrank. Social scientists have been aware of this change for some time; it
is especially signifi cant since it reverses the closing of the income gap that took
place between the 1930s and 1970s. As Noah notes, no one would have expected
an advanced industrial democracy to become more unequal over time. The growth
of this gap seems to have been unaffected by the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009:
from 2009 to 2011 the income of the top 1 percent of families grew by 11.2  percent,
while the income of the bottom 99 percent shrunk by 0.4 percent.

Thus, “In simple but stark terms, by the end of the twentieth century all of the
declines in inequality achieved in the New and Fair Deals had been wiped out
and the United States had unambiguously returned to levels of inequality not seen
since the laissez-faire era of the 1920s.”
Despite the recent Great Recession,
the fl eeting Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011, and the fact that the vast
majority of Americans have been negatively affected by change in income distri-
bution over the last thirty years, it still can be argued that class is not a central
category of cultural discourse in America. How can this be the case?
Just as American culture offers interpretations of what differences in color or
sex mean, it also provides interpretations about what differences in income,
wealth, or occupation might mean. In the Framework Essay for Section III we
will more thoroughly discuss the concept of ideology —culturally dominating
beliefs which, though widely shared, refl ect the experience of only a few—but
ideology certainly helps understand why social class remains an underdeveloped
concept in American culture.
For example, it is a commonplace American belief that social class refl ects a
person’s merit rather than social or economic forces. Surveys show that over half
of the American public believes “that lack of effort by the poor was the principal
reason for poverty, or a reason at least equal to any that was beyond a person’s
control. . . . Popular majorities did not consider any other factor to be a very
important cause of poverty—not low wages, or a scarcity of jobs, or discrimina-
tion, or even sickness.”

The belief that merit is rewarded—and, conversely, that the lack of merit is
punished—stands as a uniquely American belief. As Noah writes, surveys consis-
tently show that Americans— more than people of any other country —believe that
people are rewarded for their intelligence, skill, and effort. The American attach-
ment to this belief is particularly ironic, since, as Noah discusses, virtually every
developed nation in the world has more income mobility than the United States.
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34 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
That Americans could persist in a belief so detached from reality speaks to the
power of ideology.
But Americans have not always thought this way. In the early part of the 20th
century, those who were poor were more likely to be considered hardworking,
economically productive, constrained by artifi cial barriers, and probably in the
majority. Today, however, “many of the least well off are not regarded as produc-
tive in any respect”
; popular opinion and even social science research are more
likely to explain social class standing in terms of individual attributes and values
rather than economic changes or discrimination.
Although it is beyond the scope
of this text, these ideologies changed in response to new economic assumptions
and policies (generally called neoliberalism). Thus, while ideologies are embed-
ded in social context, but they are not outside historical change.
This attribution of poverty and wealth to individual merit hides not only the
complex reality of American social class, it is an essentialist myth that legitimates
the dramatic and increasing inequality of American society.
Dichotomization and Disability Our discussion of race, sexuality, sex and
gender, and social class has emphasized that each of these categories encompasses
a continuum of behavior and characteristics rather than a fi nite set of discrete or
easily separated groupings. It has also stressed that difference is a social creation—
that differences of color or sex, for example, have no meaning other than what is
attributed to them.
Can the same be said about disability? It is often assumed that people are eas-
ily classed as disabled or nondisabled, but that is no more true in this case than
it is for the other master statuses. Sociologist Irving Zola provided the classic
critique of how our use of statistics contributes to this misconception.
The way we report statistics vis-à-vis disability and disease is generally misleading. If we
speak of ratio fi gures for a particular disease as 1 in 8, 1 in 14, etc., we perpetuate what
Rene Dubos (1961) once called “The Mirage of Health.” For these numbers convey that if
1 person in 10 does get a particular disease, that 9 out of 10 do not. This means, however,
only that those 9 people do not get that particular disease. It does not mean that they are
disease-free, nor are they likely to be so. . . .
Similarly deceptive is the now-popular fi gure of “43 million people with a disability” . . .
for it implies that there are over 200 million Americans without a disability. . . . But the
metaphor of being but a banana-peel slip away from disability is inappropriate. The issue
of disability for individuals . . . is not whether but when , not so much which one but how
many and in what combination. 107
Apart even from how we count the disabled, how do we determine the dis-
ability of any particular person, on any particular day? Zola describes his experi-
ence of being able to work longer hours than others on an assembly line because
his torso was in a brace;
although he was “disabled,” on the line he was also
less disabled than others. This situation, where impairment is relative, is more the
rule than the exception and thus undermines notions about fi xed distinctions
between disability and nondisability.
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Framework Essay 35
Constructing the “Other”
We have seen how the complexity of a population may be reduced to aggregates
and then to a simplistic dichotomy. Aggregation assumes that those who share a
master status are alike in “essential” ways. It ignores the multiple and confl icting
statuses any individual inevitably occupies. Dichotomization especially promotes
the image of a mythical other who is not at all like us. Whether in race, sex,
sexuality, social class, or disability, dichotomization yields a vision of “them” as
profoundly different. Ultimately, dichotomization results in stigmatizing those
who are less powerful. It provides the grounds for whole categories of people to
become the objects of contempt.
Constructing “Others” as Profoundly Different The expectation that “others”
are profoundly different can be seen most clearly in the signifi cance that has been
attached to sex differences. In this case, biological differences between males and
females have been the grounds from which to infer an extensive range of nonbio-
logical differences. Women and men are assumed to differ from each other in behav-
ior, perception, and personality, and such differences are used to argue for different
legal, social, and economic roles and rights. The expectation that men and women
are not at all alike is so widespread that we often talk about them as members of the
“opposite” sex; indeed, it is not unusual to talk about the “war” between the sexes.
While this assumption of difference undergirds everyday life, few signifi cant
differences in behavior, personality, or even physical ability have been found
between men and women of any age. Indeed, there are more differences within
each sex than between the sexes. Psychologist Susan Basow illustrates this point
in the following:
The all-or-none categorizing of gender traits is misleading. People just are not so simple
that they either possess all of a trait or none of it. This is even more true when trait dispo-
sitions for groups of people are examined. Part [a] of Figure 2 [next page] illustrates what
such an all-or-none distribution of the trait “strength” would look like: all males would be
strong, all females weak. The fact is, most psychological and physical traits are distributed
according to the pattern shown in Part [b] of Figure 2 with most people possessing an aver-
age amount of that trait and fewer people having either very much or very little of that trait.
To the extent that females and males may differ in the average amount of the trait they
possess (which needs to be determined empirically), the distribution can be characterized by
overlapping normal curves, as shown in Part [c] of Figure 2 . Thus, although most men are
stronger than most women, the shaded area indicates that some men are weaker than some
women and vice versa. The amount of overlap of the curves generally is considerable. Another
attribute related to overlapping normal curves is that differences within one group are usually
greater than the differences between the two groups. Thus, more variation in strength occurs
within a group of men than between the average male and the average female.

The lack of difference between women and men is especially striking given
the degree to which we are all socialized to produce such differences. Thus, while
boys and girls, and men and women, are often treated differently as well as social-
ized to be different, this does not mean they inevitably become different. Yet, even
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36 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
though decades of research have confi rmed few sex differences, the search for
difference continues and some suggest it may even have been intensifi ed by the
failure to fi nd many differences.
The same expectation that the “other” differs in personality or behavior emerges
in race, class, and sexuality classifi cations. Race differences are expected to
involve more than just differences of color, those who are “gay” or “straight” are
expected to differ in more ways than just their sexual orientation, and social
classes are expected to differ in more than their income. In each case, scientifi c
research is often directed toward fi nding such differences.
Sanctioning Those Who Associate with the “Other” There are also simi-
larities in the sanctions against those who cross race, sex, class, or sexual orien-
tation boundaries. Parents sometimes disown children who marry outside of their
racial or social class group, just as they often sever connections with children who
are gay. Those who associate with the “other” are also in danger of being labeled
a member of that category.
For example, during the Reconstruction period following the Civil War, the fear
of invisible black ancestry was pervasive among southern whites, because that
heritage would subject them to a restricted life based on de jure segregation.
“Concern about people passing as white became so great that even behaving like
blacks or willingly associating with them were often treated as more important
it 100
a. All-or-none distribution
b. Normal distribution
c. Overlapping normal curves
Weak Strong
Weak Strong
F I G U R E 2
Three types of distribution for the trait “strength.” (Basow, 1992:8; Figure 1 )
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Framework Essay 37
than any proof of actual black ancestry.”
Thus, southern whites who associated
with blacks ran the risk of being defi ned as black.
A contemporary parallel can be found in gay/straight relations. Those who
associate with gays and lesbians or defend gay rights are often presumed—by
gays and straights alike—to be gay. Many men report that when they object to
homophobic remarks, they simply become the target of them. Indeed, the prestige
of young men in fraternities and other all-male groups often rests on a willingness
to disparage women and gays.
Similarly, few contemporary reactions are as strongly negative as that against
men who appear feminine. Because acting like a woman is so disparaged, boys
learn at an early age to control their behavior or suffer public humiliation. This
ridicule has its greatest effect on young men; the power and prestige usually
available to older men reduces their susceptibility to such accusations. Young men
must avoid a long list of behaviors for fear of being called feminine or gay: don’t
be too emotional, watch how you sit, don’t move your hips when you walk, take
long strides, don’t put your hands on your hips, don’t talk too much, don’t let
your voice show emotion, don’t be too compliant or eager to please, and so on.
Because boys and men who exhibit such traits are often assumed to be gay,
they become targets for verbal and physical abuse. In Reading 28, for example,
C.J. Pascoe describes the ubiquity and function of the “fag trope” in an American
high school:
Fag talk and fag imitations serve as a discourse with which boys discipline themselves and
each other through joking relationships. Any boy can temporarily become a fag in a given
social space or interaction. This does not mean that boys who identify as or are perceived
to be homosexual aren’t subject to intense harassment. Many are. But becoming a fag has
as much to do with failing at the masculine tasks of competence, heterosexual prowess, and
strength or in any way revealing weakness or femininity, as it does with a sexual identity.
This fl uidity of the fag identity is what makes the specter of the fag such a powerful disci-
plinary mechanism. It is fl uid enough that boys police their behaviors out of fear of having
the fag identity permanently adhere. . . .
The popular linkage of effeminate behavior with gay sexuality is so strong that
it may be the primary criterion most Americans use to decide who is gay:
A  “ masculine” man must be straight; a “feminine” man must be gay. But gender
and sexual orientation are separate phenomena. Knowing that someone is a mas-
culine man or a feminine woman does not tell us what that person’s sexual ori-
entation is—indeed, our guesses are most likely to be “false negatives”; that is,
we are most likely to falsely identify someone as straight. Because we do not
know who among us is gay, we cannot accurately judge how gay people behave.
In the world of mutual “othering,” being labeled one of “them” is a remarkably
effective social control mechanism. Boys and men control their behavior so that
they are not called gay. Members of racial and ethnic groups maintain distance
from one another to avoid the criticism that might be leveled by members of their
own and other groups. These social controls are effective because all parties con-
tinue to enforce them.
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38 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
The term stigma comes from ancient Greece, where it meant a “bodily sign
designed to expose something unusual and bad about the moral status of [an
individual].” Such signs were “cut or burnt into the body to advertise that the
bearer was a slave, a criminal, or a blemished person, ritually polluted, to be
avoided, especially in public places.”
Stigmatized people are those “marked”
as bad, unworthy, and polluted because of the category they belong to: for exam-
ple, because of their disability, or their race, sex, sexuality, or social class category.
The core assumption behind stigma is that internal merit is revealed through
external features—for the Greeks, that a brand or a cut showed a person’s lack
of moral worth. This is not an unusual linkage. For example, physically attractive
people are often assumed to possess a variety of positive attributes. We often
assume that people who look good must be good.
Judgments of worth based on membership in certain categories have a self-
fulfi lling potential. Those who are judged superior by virtue of their membership
in some category are given more opportunity to prove themselves; those who are
judged less worthy by virtue of membership in a stigmatized category have dif-
fi culty establishing their merit no matter what they do. For example, social psy-
chology experiments show that many whites perceive blacks as incompetent,
regardless of evidence to the contrary: white subjects were “reluctant or unable
to recognize that a black person is higher or equal in intelligence compared to
This would explain why many whites react negatively to affi rma-
tive action programs. If they cannot conceive of black applicants being more
qualifi ed than whites, they will see such programs as mandates to hire the less
qualifi ed.
Stigma involves objectifi cation and devaluation. Objectifi cation means treating
people as if they were objects, members of a category rather than possessors of
individual characteristics. In objectifi cation, the “living, breathing, complex indi-
vidual” ceases to be seen or valued.
In its extreme, those who are objectifi ed
are “viewed as having no other noteworthy status or identity. When that point is
reached, a person becomes nothing but ‘a delinquent,’ ‘a cripple,’ ‘a homosexual,’
‘a black,’ ‘a woman.’ The indefi nite article ‘a’ underlines the depersonalized
nature of such response.”

Examples of Stigmatized Master Statuses: Women, Poor People, and Disabled
People Sociologist Edwin Schur argues that because women are subject to both
objectifi cation and devaluation, they are discredited, that is, stigmatized. First, con-
sidering objectifi cation, Schur argues that women are seen
as all alike, and therefore substitutable for one another; as innately passive and objectlike;
as easily ignored, dismissed, trivialized, treated as childlike, and even as a non-person; as
having a social standing only through their attachments to men (or other non-stigmatized
groups); and as a group which can be easily victimized through harassment, violence, and

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Framework Essay 39
Objectifi cation occurs when women are thought of as generally indistinguish-
able from one another; for example, when someone says, “Let’s get the woman’s
angle on this story.” It also occurs when women are treated as nothing more than
their body parts, for example, when young girls are assumed to be sexually pro-
miscuous because they are big-breasted; they are nothing more than their cup size;
they are objects.
The T-shirt designed for a 2012 fraternity party at Amherst College exemplifi es
both objectifi cation and devaluation:
[W]hen a fraternity at self-described “elite” Amherst College in Massachusetts (not a big
university in the South where we stereotypically assume these things occur) designed a
T-shirt for their pig roast party of a pig smoking a cigar and watching a naked woman roast
on a spit with the words ROASTING FAT ONES SINCE 1847, the guys didn’t understand
why that was such a problem. Here’s Dana Bloger, a female student at Amherst, explaining
why the T-shirt is a problem:
The woman on the shirt is depicted as an animal—or rather, as inferior to an animal,
since she has not only replaced the pig on the spit but is being roasted by it. She is
objectifi ed as a literal piece of meat, whose thoughts, feelings, and humanity are rendered
nonexistent and her consent therefore irrelevant. The hypersexualization of her body links
violence with sex, thus perpetuating the notion that violence is sexy and sexuality violent.
While I am not suggesting that this image would ever directly cause the infl iction of
violence on any individual woman, dehumanization is always the fi rst step toward justi-
fying such violence.

African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and gay/lesbian people are often
similarly treated as indistinguishable from one another. Indeed, hate crimes have
been defi ned by precisely this quality of interchangeability, such as an attack on
any black family that moves into a neighborhood or the assault of any woman or
man who looks gay. Hate crimes are also marked by excessive brutality and per-
sonal violence rather than property destruction—all of which indicate that the
victims have been objectifi ed.
Some members of stigmatized categories objectify themselves in the same
ways that they are objectifi ed by others. Thus, women may evaluate their own
worth or the worth of other women in terms of physical appearance. In the process
of self-objectifi cation, a woman “joins the spectators of herself”; that is, she views
herself as if from the outside, as if she were nothing more than what she looked
While young men are also objectifi ed in terms of their bodies, over their
lifetime they are likely to be objectifi ed in terms of wealth and power.
There is a strong case that American women as a category continue to remain
devalued, a conclusion drawn from the characteristics most frequently attributed
to men and women. Research conducted over the last forty years has documented
a remarkable consistency in those attributes. Both sexes are described as possessing
valued qualities, but the characteristics attributed to men are more valued in the
culture as a whole. For example, the female-valued characteristics include being
talkative, gentle, religious, aware of the feelings of others, security oriented, and
attentive to personal appearance. Male-valued traits include being aggressive,
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40 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
independent, unemotional, objective, dominant, active, competitive, logical,
adventurous, and direct.

(Remember that these attributes are only people’s
beliefs about sex differences.)
In many ways, the characteristics attributed to women are inconsistent with
core American values. Although American culture values achievement, individual-
ism, and action—all understood as male attributes—women are expected to sub-
ordinate their own desires for individual achievement to the needs of their family.
Therefore, “women are asked to become the kind of people that this culture does
not value.”
Thus, it is more acceptable for women to display masculine traits,
since these are culturally valued, than it is for men to display the less-valued
feminine characteristics.
Much of what we have described about the stigmatization of women applies
to people who are poor as well. Indeed, being poor is a much more obviously
shameful status than being female. The category poor is intrinsically devalued.
As Paul Gorski describes in Reading 33, it is presumed that there is little com-
mendable to be said about people who are poor; “they” are primarily constructed
as a “problem.” Poor people are also objectifi ed; they are described as “ the poor,”
as if they were all alike, substitutable for and interchangeable with one another.
Most of the writing about poor people, even by sympathetic observers, tells us that they are
different, truly strangers in our midst: Poor people think, feel, and act in ways unlike
middle-class Americans. . . .
We can think about poor people as “them” or as “us.” For the most part, Americans have
talked about “them.” Even in the language of social science, as well as in ordinary conver-
sation and political rhetoric, poor people usually remain outsiders, strangers to be pitied or
despised, helped or punished, ignored or studied, but rarely full citizens, members of a larger
community on the same terms as the rest of us. They are . . . “those people,” objects of
curiosity, analysis, prurience, or compassion, not subjects who construct their own lives and
history. Poor people seem cardboard cutouts, fi gures in single dimension, members of infe-
rior categories, rarely complex, multifaceted, even contradictory in the manner of other

And, like women, those who are poor are not expected to display attributes valued
in the culture as a whole.
Everything that we have described about stigma also applies directly to the expe-
rience of disabled people. The concept of stigma was initially developed by soci-
ologist Erving Goffman with disabled people in mind, and there are so many ways
that the term applies that it is diffi cult to select a single focus. From assumptions
that one is pitiable, sick, unhappy, incompetent, dependent, childlike, unattractive,
“Compared with White women, Black women are viewed as less passive, dependent, status conscious,
emotional and concerned about their appearance. . . . Hispanic women tend to be viewed as more
‘feminine’ than White women in terms of submissiveness and dependence. . . . [A] similar stereotype
holds for Asian women, but with the addition of exotic sexuality. . . . Native-American women
typically are stereotyped as faceless . . . drudges without any personality. . . . Jewish women are
stereotyped as either pushy, vain ‘princesses’ or overprotective, manipulative ‘Jewish mothers’ . . .
working-class women are stereotyped as more hostile, confused, inconsiderate and irresponsible than
middle-class women . . . and lesbians are stereotyped as possessing masculine traits.”

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Framework Essay 41
and sexually undesirable, to notions that disability is a punishment for sin, disabled
people are cast as essentially unworthy.
In addition to the stigma, those who are disabled—like many others in stigma-
tized categories—must also manage the paternalism of those who are not disabled.
Taken from the position of a father toward his children, paternalism is the auto-
matic assumption of superiority.
Paternalism is often subtle in that it casts the oppressor as benign, as protector. . . . Paternal-
ism often must transform its subjects into children or people with childlike qualities. . . .
Paternalism is experienced as the bystander grabs the arm of a blind person and, without
asking, ‘helps’ the person across the street. . . . It is most of all, however, the assumption
that people with disabilities are intrinsically inferior and unable to take responsibility for
their own lives.

For those of us outside the stigmatized group, a paternalistic attitude is
dangerous because it keeps us from actually seeing the person in front of us:
“A person who cannot see or is using a wheelchair for mobility may be a happy,
prosperous, well-adjusted person, but most people encountering him or her
immediately feel pity.”

Stereotypes About People in Stigmatized Master Statuses Finally, in an
effort to capture the general features of what “we” say about “them,” let us con-
sider fi ve common stereotypes about individuals in stigmatized master statuses.
First, they are presumed to lack the values the culture holds dear. Neither
women nor those who are poor, disabled, gay, black, Asian American, or Latino
are expected to be independent, unemotional, objective, dominant, active, com-
petitive, logical, adventurous, or direct. Stigmatized people are presumed to lack
precisely those values that nonstigmatized people are expected to possess.
Second, stigmatized people are likely to be seen as a problem. Certainly black,
Latino, and Native American men and women, gay and lesbian people of all
colors, white women, all disabled people, and people living in poverty are con-
structed as having problems and being problems. Often the implication is that
they are also responsible for many of our national problems. While public celebra-
tions often highlight the historic contributions of such groups to the culture, little
in the public discourse lauds their current contributions. Indeed, those in stigma-
tized categories are often constructed as nothing but a problem, as if they did not
exist apart from those problems. This was once illustrated by a black student who
described her shock at hearing white students describe her middle-class neighbor-
hood as a “ghetto.”
Ironically, this depiction of stigmatized people as nothing but a problem is often
accompanied by the trivialization of those problems. For example, there is a sig-
nifi cant gap between black and white assessments of the persistence of race dis-
crimination. The same gap holds in terms of the perception of sex discrimination:
On the one hand, men and women largely agree that discrimination against women was
much greater in the past compared to the present. . . . [On the other hand], men perceive
the discrimination gap (the relative degrees of discrimination facing women versus men) to
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42 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
be smaller at all time periods than women do. Moreover, men believe that there is now
relatively little difference in the amount of discrimination facing men versus women.

Similarly, despite the participation of thousands of people in annual Gay Pride
marches throughout the country, images from the parades typically trivialize par-
ticipants by focusing on the small number in drag or leather. Indeed, much of
what is disparaged as “gay lifestyle” has been forged by gay and lesbian people
who have been excluded from mainstream, heterosexual society. Finally, despite
dramatic federal reductions in the cash assistance programs to poor people begun
in 1994 under President Bill Clinton’s pledge to “end welfare as we know it,”
stereotypes about poor people getting government “handouts” persist. In all, the
problems that stigmatized categories of people create for those in privileged sta-
tuses are highlighted, while the problems they experience are discounted, espe-
cially those problems created by “us.”
Third, people in stigmatized master statuses are often stereotyped as lacking
self-control; they are characterized as being lustful, immoral, and carriers of dis-
Currently, such accusations hold center stage in the depiction of gay men,
but historically such charges have been leveled at African American, Latino, and
Asian American men (e.g., Chinese immigrants in the late 19th century). Poor
women and women of color have been and continue to be depicted as promiscu-
ous, while poor men and women are presumed to be morally irresponsible.
Fourth, people in stigmatized categories are often marked as having too much
or too little intelligence, and in either case as tending to deception or criminality.
Many stigmatized categories of people have been assumed to use their “excessive”
intelligence to unfair advantage. This was historically the charge against Jews,
and now appears to be a characterization of Asian Americans.
[T]he educational achievement of Asian American students was, and continues to be,
followed by a wave of reaction. The image of Asian Americans as diligent super-students
has often kindled resentment in other students. Sometimes called “damned curve raisers,” a
term applied fi rst to Jewish students at elite East Coast colleges during the 1920s and 1930s,
Asian American students have increasingly found themselves taking the brunt of campus
racial jokes.

Fifth, people in stigmatized categories are depicted as both childlike and
savagely brutal. Historically, characterizations of Native Americans, enslaved
Africans, and Chinese immigrants refl ected these conceptions. Currently, the same
is true for the poor in their representation as both pervasively violent and
irresponsible. A related depiction of women as both “virgins and whores” has
been well documented in scholarship over time.
Perhaps because people in stigmatized master statuses are stereotyped as devi-
ant, it appears that those who commit violence against them are less severely
punished. For example, “most murders in the USA are intra-racial, that is, the
alleged perpetrator and the victim are of the same race. . . . Yet of the 845
prisoners executed between 17 January 1977 and 10 April 2003, 53 percent were
whites convicted of killing whites and 10 percent were blacks convicted of killing
Although a number of factors are operating here, one conclusion is
that  stigmatized minority victims are valued less than white victims. The same
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conclusion could be reached in terms of the punishment meted out to those
accused of sexual assault. “Major offenses against women, which we profess to
consider deviant, in practice have been responded to with much ambivalence.”

Indeed, some have argued that one way to recognize a stigmatized category of
people is that the violence directed at them is not treated seriously.
Overall, individuals in stigmatized master statuses are represented not only as
physically distinctive but also as the antithesis of the culture’s desired behaviors
and attributes. Such characterizations serve to dismiss claims of discrimination and
unfair treatment, affi rming that those in stigmatized categories deserve such treat-
ment, that they are themselves responsible for their plight. Indeed, many of these
stereotypes are also applied to teenagers, whom the media depict as violent, reck-
less, hypersexed, ignorant, out of control, and the cause of society’s problems.

A Final Comment
It is disheartening to think of oneself as a member of a stigmatized group, just
as it is disheartening to think of oneself as thoughtlessly perpetuating stigma. Still,
there are at least two important points to bear in mind. First, the characteristics
attributed to stigmatized groups are similar across a great variety of master
statuses. They are not tied to the actual characteristics of any particular group; in
a way, they are quite impersonal. Second, people who are stigmatized have often
formed alliances with those who are not stigmatized to successfully lobby against
these attributions.
As we said at the outset of this essay, our hope is to provide you with a frame-
work by which to make sense of what sex, disability, race, social class, and
sexuality mean in contemporary American society. Clearly, these categorizations
are complex; they are tied to emotionally intense issues that are uniquely American;
and they have consequences that are both mundane and dramatic. From naming,
to aggregating, to dichotomizing, and ultimately to stigmatizing, difference has a
meaning for us. The readings in Section I will explore the construction of these
categorizations; the readings in Section II examine how we experience them; the
readings in Section III address the meaning that is attributed to difference; and
the readings in Section IV describe how we can bridge these differences.
ableism Analogous to racism and sexism, a  system of
cultural, institutional, and individual discrimination
against people with impairments. Disablism is the
British term; disability oppression is  synonymous.
(page 6)
aggregate To combine or lump together (verb); some-
thing composed of different elements (noun).
(pages  15)
-centrism or -centric Suffi x meaning centered around,
focused around, taking the perspective of. Thus,
androcentric means focused around or taking the
perspective of men; heterocentric means taking the
perspective of heterosexuals; and Eurocentric means
having a European focus. (page 19)
constructionism The view that reality cannot be sepa-
rated from the way a culture makes sense of it—that
meaning is “constructed” through social, political,
legal, scientifi c, and other practices. From this per-
spective, differences among people are created
through social processes. (page 3)
Framework Essay 43
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44 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
dichotomize To divide into two parts and to see those
parts as mutually exclusive. (page 20)
differential undercount In the census, undercounting
more of one group than of another. (page 12)
disability The loss or limitation of opportunities to
take part in the normal life of the community on an
equal level with others because of physical and
social barriers (page 3)
disaggregate To separate something into its constitu-
ent elements. (pages 16)
essential identity An identity that is treated as core
to a person. Essential identities can be attributed to
people even when they are inconsistent with actual
behavior. (page 30)
essentialism The view that reality exists independently
of our perception of it, that we perceive the meaning
of the world rather than construct that meaning. From
this perspective, there are real and important (essential)
differences among categories of people. (page 3)
ethnic group, ethnicity Those who share a sense of
being a “people,” usually based on national origin,
language, or religion. (page 23)
gender Masculinity and femininity; the acting out of
the behaviors thought to be appropriate for a particu-
lar sex. (page 30)
heteronormativity All the beliefs, norms, and social
structures that contribute to the presumption that
heterosexuality is the natural, normal, and inevitable
structure of society (page 19)
impairment Physical, cognitive, emotional, or sensory
conditions within the person as diagnosed by medi-
cal professionals (page 5)
intersectionality Consideration of the ways that mas-
ter statuses interact and mutually construct one
another. (page 4)
master status A status that has a profound effect on
one’s life, that dominates or overwhelms the other
statuses one occupies. (page 2)
objectifi cation Treating people as if they were
objects, as if they were nothing more than the attri-
butes they display. (page 38)
Other A usage designed to refer to those considered
profoundly unlike oneself. (page 11)
panethnic A classifi cation that spans ethnic identities.
(page 17)
race The conception that people can be classifi ed into
groups based on skin color, hair texture, shape of
head, eyes, nose, and lips. (pages 3)
sex The categories of male and female. (page 3)
status A position in society. Individuals occupy mul-
tiple statuses simultaneously, such as occupational,
kinship, and educational statuses. (page 2)
stigma An attribute for which someone is
considered bad, unworthy, or deeply discredited.
(pages 38)
transgender People who systematically ignore or vio-
late gender expectations; sometimes includes people
who are transsexual. (page 32)
1. Scott and Marshall, 2009:452–53.
2. Ridgeway, 2011. Ridgeway argues that gender “fram-
ing,” i.e., the processes by which behavior is interpreted
through the “lens” of gender, accounts for the contem-
porary inability to fully eliminate inequalities between
women and men.
3. For example see Janet Jacobsen, “Queers Are Like Jews,
Aren’t They? Analogy and Alliance Politics,” in Queer
Theory and the Jewish Question edited by Daniel Boya-
rin, Daniel Itzkovitz, and Ann Pellegrini. New York: Co-
lumbia University Press, 2003, 64–90; Tina Grillo and
Stephanie M. Wildman. “Obscuring the Importance of
Race: The Implication of Making Comparisons between
Racism and Sexism or other Isms,” in Critical Race
Feminism edited by Adrien Katherine Wing. New York:
NYU Press, 1997; Barbara F. Reskin, “Including Mech-
anisms in Our Models of Ascriptive Inequality,” Ameri-
can Sociological Review, 2003, v. 68 Feb: 1–21.
4. Henshel and Silverman, 1975:26.
5. Pfuhl, 1986:5.
6. Ibid.
7. Spelman, 1988.
8. Faderman, 1991; Armstrong, 2002.
9. Saad, 2012.
10. Rist, 1992: 425–26.
11. Omansky, 2006:27.
12. Disabled People’s International, 1982.
13. Barnes and Mercer, 2003; Oliver, 1990, 1996, 2009.
14. Hunt, 2001.
15. Union of Physically Impaired Against Segregation, 1973:4.
16. United Nations, 2007.
17. Schneider, 1988:65.
18. Higgins, 1992:53.
19. Schmidt, 2003.
20. Grigsby Bates, 2014.
21. Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project, 2013.
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22. Smith, 1992:497–98.
23. Gallup, 2007.
24. Kiviat, 2010.
25. Shorris, 1992:101.
26. Queer Nation Manifesto, 1990.
27. Mills, 1989:102.
28. Omansky, 2006:27.
29. Oliver, 1990:xiii.
30. U.S. Census, 2010.
31. U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 1973:39.
32. Skrentny, 2002:2.
33. U.S. Census, 2010.
34. U.S. Census, 2012.
35. Ibid.
36. Gates and Cook, nd.
37. Jenkins, 1999:15–16.
38. Saulny, 2011.
39. U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2010a.
40. U.S. Census Bureau, 2006–2008, American Community
41. Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project, 2013.
42. Gracia, 2000:204–5.
43. Lopez, 2013.
44. Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project, 2013.
45. Ibid.
46. Cohn, 2012.
47. Hu-Dehart, 1994.
48. U.S. Census Bureau, 2001.
49. Espiritu, 1992:124–25.
50. Omi, 1996:180.
51. Omi, 1996:181.
52. Mohawk, 1992:440.
53. Omi and Winant, 1994:66.
54. Mohawk, 1992:439–40.
55. Flagg, 1993:970.
56. Okizaki, 2000:483.
57. Russell, 1994.
58. Warner, 1993.
59. Herek, 2004:7.
60. Ibid.
61. Herek, 1990:316.
62. Herek, 2000.
63. Berlant and Warner, 1998:547.
64. Warner, 1999:47.
65. Dennis, 2004:383.
66. Tilly, 1999.
67. Lee and Bean, 2004.
68. Omi and Winant, 1994.
69. Roediger, 1994:189–90.
70. Morrison, 1992:47.
71. Pew Research Social and Demographic Trends, 2012.
72. Blauner, 1992.
73. Haines, 2007.
74. Smedley, 1993:39.
75. Ibid.
76. Omi and Winant, 1994.
77. Smedley, 1993:25.
78. Ibid.
79. Gould, 1981.
80. Begley, 1995:67, 68.
81. Cohen, 1998:12.
82. Lieberman, 1968:128.
83. Marshall, 1993:117, 121.
84. Roberts, 2011:59 Emphasis added.
85. Ibid., p. 60.
86. Ibid., p. 172.
87. Zuger, 2012.
88. Dreifus, 2005.
89. Roberts, 2011:78.
90. Gates, 2011.
91. Rosenthal, et al, 2011:112–115.
92. Denizet-Lewis, 2014.
93. Ibid.
94. Ibid.
95. Pew Research Center, 2013.
96. Denizet-Lewis, 2014.
97. Katz, 1975.
98. Valentine, 2007:80.
99. Ortner, 1991:169.
100. Perrucci and Wysong, 2008.
101. Perrucci and Wysong, 2008:48–50.
102. Saez, 2013.
103. Massey, 2007:35–6.
104. Schwarz and Volgy, 1992:11.
105. Arrow, Bowles, and Durlauf, 2000:x.
106. Kahlenberg, 1997; Mincey, 1994.
107. Zola, 1993:18.
108. Ibid.
109. Basow, 1992:8.
110. Davis, 1991:56.
111. Goffman, 1963:1.
112. Gaertner and Dovidio, 1986:75.
113. Allport, 1958:175.
114. Schur, 1984:30–1.
115. Ibid., 33.
116. Wiseman, 2013:20.
117. Berger, 1963:50.
118. Baron and Byrne, 2004; Sczesny et al., 2008.
119. Basow, 1992:4.
120. Richardson, 1977:11.
121. Katz, 1989:6, 126.
122. Charlton, 2000:53.
123. Ibid., 55.
124. Bosson, Vandello, Michniewicz & Lenes,
125. Gilman, 1985, 1991.
126. Takagi, 1992:60
127. Amnesty International, 2003.
128. Schur, 1984:7.
129. Males, 1994.
Framework Essay 45
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Bullock. September. Retrieved March 23, 2014.
/c2010br-13 .
U.S. Census Bureau, American FactFinder. 2006–2008
data set. American Community Survey 3-Year
Estimates, Hispanic or Latino Origin. Retrieved
May  28, 2010. http://factfi nder.census.gov/servlet
Valentine, David. 2007. Imagining Transgender: An
Ethnography of a Category. Durham, NC: Duke
University Press.
Warner, Michael. 1999. The Trouble with Normal: Sex,
Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life. Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press.
Framework Essay 49
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50 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
Weinberg, George. 1973. Society and the Healthy
Homosexual. Garden City, NY: Anchor.
Wiseman, Rosalind. 2013. Masterminds and Wingmen:
Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power,
Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules
of Boy World . New York: Harmony Books.
Zola, Irving K. 1993. Disability Statistics, What We
Count and What It Tells Us: A Personal and Political
Analysis. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 4:
Zuger, Abigail. 2012. From Bang to Whimper: A
Heart Drug’s Story, New York Times, December 24.
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READING 1: “Race” and the Construction of Human Identity 51
new social identities, and ethnic identity itself was
fl uid and malleable.
Until the rise of market capitalism, wage labor,
the Protestant Ethic, private property, and posses-
sive individualism, kinship connections also oper-
ated as major indices that gave all peoples a sense
of who they were. Even in the technologically and
politically most advanced societies of the ancient
world such as in Rome, kinship was the important
diacritic of connectedness to the social system. In
all of the mostly patrilineal societies of the Middle
East. Africa, and the Mediterranean, the normal
person was identifi ed by who his or her father was.
The long list of names of who begat whom in the
Old Testament (Book of Genesis) attests to the
importance, especially at the tribal and chiefdom
levels, of genealogical identity.
Another important diagnostic of identity was
occupation. Whether one was a farmer, carpenter,
fi sherman, tanner, brass worker, herdsman, philoso-
pher, government offi cial, senator, poet, healer,
warrior, or harlot, was signifi cantly salient in the
eyes of the ancient world to require the label.
Occupations determined to some extent how people
were viewed and treated, as well as underscored
their contribution to the society.
Throughout much of the period of the early im-
perial states, numerous groups were in contact with
one another, and individuals often traveled from
one region to another as traders, warriors, crafts-
men, travelers, geographers, teachers, and so forth.
From one end of the Mediterranean to another, in
spite of the lack of modern forms of transportation,
many men and women were interacting in an inter-
ethnic melange that included a wide range of cul-
tures and peoples. From time to time, a conquest
state would expand outward and incorporate some
or most of this great variety. Populations did not
necessarily lose any form of ethnic identity, but
change was clearly understood as virtually inevita-
ble as each society learned something new from the
cultures of others. . . .
R E A D I N G 1
“Race” and the Construction
of Human Identity
Audrey Smedley
Historical records, including the Old and New
Testaments of the Bible, evince scenarios of inter-
ethnic interaction that suggest some very different
principles in operation throughout much of human
Ethnic groups have always existed in the
sense that clusters of people living in demarcated
areas develop lifestyles and language features that
distinguish them from others and they perceive
themselves as being separate societies with distinct
social histories. Although some confl icts among
different groups have been characteristic from the
earliest recorded histories, hostilities were usually
neither constant nor the basis on which long-term
relationships were established.
One factor separates many in the contemporary
world, at least some of our understandings of it,
from earlier conceptions of human identity. That
is that “ethnic” identity was not perceived as in-
eluctably set in stone. Individuals and groups of
individuals often moved to new areas or changed
their identities by acquiring membership in a dif-
ferent group. People of the ancient world seemed
to have understood that cultural characteristics
were external and acquired forms of behavior, and
that “barbarians” could learn to speak the lan-
guage of the Romans or the Greeks and become
participants in those cultures, and even citizens of
these states. Languages were indeed avenues to
Audrey Smedley is professor emeritus of anthropology at
Virginia Commonwealth University.
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52 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
When Alexander conquered peoples and lands all
the way to the Indus Valley in India, interacting with
“civilized” populations, nomadic pastoralists, settled
villagers, and a variety of hunting and fi shing peo-
ples, he exhorted his warriors to intermarry with the
peoples they conquered in order to learn their lan-
guages and cultures. Garrisons of military men were
stationed all over the Roman world, from Brittany to
the Danube and the Black Sea, from Gibraltar to the
Tigris/Euphrates valley and the Indian Ocean, and
soldiers often took local women as wives. When
the armies of the Moroccan king brought down the
Songhai empire in 1591, his soldiers stayed on the
Western Sudan frontier area and intermarried with
the local people. Most of northern Africa, including
Egypt of the Delta, has been periodically invaded
and ruled by outsiders for the last three thousand
years or so. Hittites and Hyksos from the mountainous
areas of Turkey, Assyrians, Persians, Syrians, Phoe-
nicians, Greeks, Babylonians, Romans, and various
more recent Turkish and Arabian groups have settled
in the towns of the coasts and interacted with the in-
digenous Berbers and other peoples like the Libyan
groups, the Garamantes, the Carthaginians, Syngam-
brians, and many others. Less well known is the fact
that both the Greeks and the Romans used mercenar-
ies from inner Africa ( Nubians, Ethiopians, Kushites,
among others) in confl icts such as the Persian and
Peloponnesian wars (Herodotus, in Godolphin

Peoples of different cultures coexisted for the
most part without strife, with alien segments often
functioning in distinct roles in the larger cities.
One-third of the population of Athens were
foreigners as early as the Classical period, fi ve
hundred years before the Christian era (Boardman
et al. 1986:222). And the city of Alexandria was
(and still is) a heterogeneous, sophisticated, and
complex community under the Greeks, Romans,
Christians, and Arabs. Carthage was founded in
North Africa by Phoenicians, but peoples from all
over the Mediterranean world and other parts of
Africa made their residence, or served as slaves, in
this great trading city. Moreover, men and women
of different ethnic groups intermarried frequently,
largely because marriage was often used as a
political or economic strategy. Men gave their
daughters and sisters to other men, the historians
tell us, because they desired political and/or eco-
nomic alliances with powerful and wealthy men,
without regard to ethnic origins. Timotheus was the
son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father. Samson
married a Philistine woman; Moses married an
Ethiopian woman; and many leaders, and lesser
men, of the Greeks and Romans married women
not from their own societies.
Different societies and localized segments of
larger societies were known either by their ethnic
name for themselves or by the region, town, or vil-
lage of their origins. That identities of this type
were fl uid is indicated by the depictions of indi-
vidual lives. Paul of Tarsus traveled and preached
extensively throughout much of the known Medi-
terranean world during the early Christian era and
encountered individuals of different ethnic back-
grounds. He even identifi ed himself as a Roman on
occasion when it was useful to do so. There are
other examples of individuals in ancient writings
who changed their ethnic identities for personal or
private reasons.
Scholars who have studied African societies, es-
pecially African history, have also been aware of the
malleability of ethnic identity on that continent. New
ethnic groups have emerged out of the colonial pe-
riod, and individuals have been known to transform
themselves according to their ethnic or religious mi-
lieus. One may be a Christian in one context, and a
Muslim in another, with no sense of ambivalence or
deception. I have encountered this phenomenon
myself. Most Africans spoke several different lan-
guages, and this facilitated the molding of multiple
ethnicities by providing immediate access to cultural
knowledge. In situations of potential or real confl ict,
allegiances could be fi rmly established without de-
nial of the extrinsic nature of social/ethnic identities
(Connah 1987; Davidson 1991).
In addition to identities that are predicated on
place of birth, membership in kin groups, or descent
in the male or female line from known ancestors,
language spoken, and lifestyle to which individuals
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READING 1: “Race” and the Construction of Human Identity 53
have been conditioned, another feature critical to
individual identity in the state systems was social
position. Aristocrats seemed to have been recog-
nized even beyond the boundaries of their immedi-
ate societies. And certain men were widely famed
for their specialized skills or crafts that set them
above others. Every society had its large body of
commoners and usually a great number of slaves
captured in war or traded in when this enterprise
became a common regional feature. Slaves were
usually outsiders, but slavery was not considered
by law and custom a permanent condition as slaves
could be manumitted, redeemed by kinspeople,
or  could purchase their own freedom (Smedley
[1993]1999: ch. 6). While enslavement was consid-
ered an unfortunate circumstance and most slaves
did the menial and onerous tasks of society, the
roles of slaves varied widely. There are numerous
examples of slaves rising to political power in the
ancient states of the Mediterranean and in the
Muslim world. Often they held positions as gener-
als who led armies of conquest and were frequently
rewarded for their successes. Whole slave dynasties
like the Mamluks in Egypt reigned in various areas
of the Muslim world (Hitti 1953).
With the appearance of the proselytizing univer-
sal religions, Christianity and later Islam, that be-
came competitors with one another for the souls of
all human groups, a new focus of identity was grad-
ually and increasingly placed on membership in a
religious community. During the Middle Ages of
Europe, Christians and Muslims were competing
not only for land and souls, but for political power
and infl uence. And various sects that developed
within each large religious community complicated
matters by fostering internal dissension and even
warfare inter alia . Whether one was Sunni or Shiite,
Protestant or Catholic, was a critical determinant of
one’s identity locally and in the wider world. As with
other aspects of ethnicity and ethnic differences,
individuals often changed their religious affi liation
under circumstances prompted by self-interest, or
self-preservation, as in the case of the 300,000 or
more Jews who were forced to convert to Catholi-
cism in Medieval Spain during the Inquisition
(Castro 1971). Yet Christians, Jews, and Muslims
had lived together in relative amity, and even inter-
married, for several hundred years after the Muslim
conquests and before the rise of the Christian king-
doms to challenge Muslim power.
What was absent from these different forms of
human identity is what we today would perceive as
classifi cations into “racial” groups, that is, the orga-
nization of all peoples into a limited number of un-
equal or ranked categories theoretically based on
differences in their biophysical traits. There are no
“racial” designations in the literature of the ancients
and few references even to such human features as
skin color. Frank Snowden has demonstrated that
ever since at least the second millennium b.c. the
peoples of the Mediterranean world have interacted
with other groups having a variety of physical traits
that differed from the Italians and Greeks. Artistic
depictions of Africans of clear “negroid” features
have been found, and numerous statues and paint-
ings throughout the classical era show that physical
variations in different populations were recognized
and accurately depicted (Snowden 1983).
Except for indigenous Americans, members of
all three of the large geographic areas that came to
be categorized as “races” in the nineteenth and
twentieth centuries (Mongoloid, Negroid, and
Caucasoid) interacted in the ancient world. Chinese
porcelain vases have been found widely distributed
in the East African coastal trading cities, indicating
trade between these peoples at least two thousand
years old. The peoples of the Malagasy Republic
represent a mixture of African and Asian (Indone-
sian) ancestry dating back several thousand years.
Greek sailors sailed down the Red Sea into the
Indian Ocean and met East Africans long before the
Christian era. The peoples of the Mediterranean
regularly traded with dark-skinned peoples of the
upper Nile valley (and all those in between) north-
west Africa, and the contrasting lighter-skinned
peoples of Northern Europe. Various states of the
Mediterranean called upon and used Ethiopian
warriors as mercenaries in their armies, as we have
seen. Some of the more desired slaves were very
fair-skinned Slavs (from whom the term slave was
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54 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
external physical features. We have been socialized
to an ideology about the meaning of these differ-
ences based on a notion of heredity and perma-
nence that was unknown in the ancient world and in
the Middle Ages.
In the eighteenth century this new mode of structur-
ing inequality in human societies evolved in the
American colonies and soon was present through-
out the overseas territories of the colonizing coun-
tries of Western Europe. “Race” was a form of
social identifi cation and stratifi cation that was
seemingly grounded in the physical differences of
populations interacting with one another in the
New World, but whose real meaning rested in so-
cial and political realities. The term race had been
used to refer to humans occasionally since the six-
teenth century in the English language but was
rarely used to refer to populations in the slave trade.
It was a mere classifi catory term like kind, type, or
even breed, or stock, and it had no clear meaning
until the eighteenth century. During this time, the
English began to have wider experiences with var-
ied populations and gradually developed attitudes
and beliefs that had not appeared before in Western
history and which refl ected a new kind of under-
standing and interpretation of human differences.
Understanding the foundations of race ideology is
critical to our analysis.
English settlers in North America failed to as-
similate the peoples whom they conquered; indeed
they generally kept them at great length and social
distance from themselves (Morgan 1975; Nash
1982). Indigenous Indians were different in both
cultural and biological features, but this was not the
necessary and suffi cient reason for the English hab-
its and policies of separateness. They had had
a  long history of enmity with earlier peoples,
especially the Irish, on their very borders and had
derived) who were traded down the Danube by
German tribesmen. Northern European slaves were
shipped as far away as Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia,
and the Muslim capital at Baghdad (Davis 1966).
What seems strange to us today is that the bio-
logical variations among human groups were not
given signifi cant social meaning. Only occasionally
do ancient writers ever even remark on the physical
characteristics of a given person or people. Herodo-
tus, in discussing the habits, customs, and origins
of different groups and noting variations in skin
color, specifi cally tells us that this hardly matters.
The Colchians are of Egyptian origin, he wrote, be-
cause they have black skins and wooly hair “which
amounts to but little, since several other nations are
so too.”
Most writers explained such differences as
due to natural environmental factors such as the hot
sun causing people to be dark skinned. No structur-
ing of inequality, whether social, moral, intellec-
tual, cultural or otherwise, was associated with
people because of their skin color, although all
“barbarians” varied in some ways from the somatic
norm of the Mediterranean world. But barbarians
were not irredeemably so, and, as we have seen,
nothing in the values of the public life denied
the transformability of even the most backward of
We in the contemporary Western world have
often found it diffi cult to understand this phenom-
enon and assume that differences in skin color must
have had some important meaning. Historians have
tried to discover “racial” meanings in the literature
of the ancients, assuming that these writers had the
same attitudes and beliefs about human differences
found in nineteenth- and twentieth-century North
America. The reason for our myopia has to do with
our deeply entrenched conditioning to the racial
worldview (Smedley 1993, 1998). When “race” ap-
peared in human history, it brought about a subtle
but powerful transformation in the world’s percep-
tions of human differences. It imposed social mean-
ings on physical variations among human groups
that served as the basis for the structuring of the
total society. Since that time many people in the
West have continued to link human identity to
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READING 1: “Race” and the Construction of Human Identity 55
“Race” emerged as a social classifi cation that re-
fl ected this greatly expanded sense of human separ-
ateness and differences. Theodore Allen (1997)
argues that the “invention” of the white race took
place after an early, but unsuccessful, colonial revolt
of servants and poor freedmen known as Bacon’s
Rebellion in 1676. Colonial leaders subsequently de-
cided it would be useful to establish a division among
the masses of poor to prevent their further collabora-
tion against the governmental authorities. As African
servants were vulnerable to policies that kept them in
servitude indefi nitely, and European servants had the
protection of English law, colonial leaders developed
a policy backed by new laws that separated African
servants and freedmen from those of European back-
ground. Over the next half century, they passed nu-
merous laws that provided resources and benefi ts to
poor, white freedmen and other laws that restricted
the rights of “Africans,” “mulattoes,” and “Indians.”
Calling upon the model of the Chain of Being, and
using natural differences in physical features, they
created a new form of social identity. “Race” devel-
oped in the minds of some Europeans as a way to
rationalize the conquest and brutal treatment of Na-
tive American populations, and especially the reten-
tion and perpetuation of slavery for imported
Africans. As an ideology structuring social, eco-
nomic, and political inequality, “race” contradicted
developing trends in England and in Western Euro-
pean societies that promoted freedom, democracy,
equality, and human rights. Europeans justifi ed this
attitude toward human differences by focusing on
the physical features of the New World populations,
magnifying and exaggerating their differences, and
concluding that the Africans and Indians and their
descendants were lesser forms of human beings, and
that their inferiority was natural and/or God-given.
The creation of “race” and racial ideology im-
posed on the conquered and enslaved peoples an
identity as the lowest status groups in society.
Myths about their inferior moral, intellectual, and
behavioral features had begun to develop and these
facilitated proscription of any competition with
Europeans. By the mid-eighteenth century, Negroes
had been segregated from poor whites in the laws
generated out of their hostility with the Irish an
image of “savagery” that became institutionalized
as a major part of public consciousness about “the
other.” The policies and practices of the English in
Ireland functioned to keep those Irish who refused
to accept English domination segregated from
themselves. Failing to even attempt an understand-
ing of Irish customs and institutions, the English
expressed an abiding contempt and hatred for both
Irish culture and people that reached a crescendo
during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
when the English were also settling in the New
World. It was an extreme form of ethnocentrism or
ethnic chauvinism that some historians believe
came close to being racial (Allen 1994; Canny
1973; Liggio 1976).
“Savagery” was an image about human differ-
ences that became deeply embedded in English life
and thought and provided a foil against which they
constructed their own identity as “civilized” Eng-
lishmen. They brought this image of what savagery
was all about with them to the New World where it
was soon imposed on the native populations when
they, too, began to resist English encroachment.
Savagery carried with it an enormous burden of
negative and stereotypic characteristics grotesquely
counterposed against the vision that the English
had of themselves as a civilized people. Every new
experience, along with a growing technological su-
periority, widened the differences and denigrated
all other peoples who were not part of the civilized
world. The concept of “civilized” polities in con-
trast to savagery and barbarism was beginning to
take hold in much of Western Europe, and in this
sense Englishmen were not much different from the
rest of the Western world. But English notions of
their own superiority were enhanced by their tech-
nological, material, and political successes, by their
earlier successful split from the Catholic realm, by
the early rise of merchant capitalism, the develop-
ment of new forms of wealth, notions about indi-
vidual freedom, property rights, and self-suffi ciency,
and by a growing sense of their own uniqueness
even among other Europeans. This was summed up
in the myth of Anglo-Saxonism (Horsman 1981).
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56 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
longer possible. American society had made “race”
(and the physical features connected to it) equiva-
lent to, and the dominant source of, human identity,
superseding all other aspects of identity.
The problems that this has entailed, especially for
the low-status “races,” have been enormous, im-
mensely complex, and almost intractable. Constant
and unrelenting portrayals of their inferiority condi-
tioned them to a self-imagery of being culturally
backward, primitive, intellectually stunted, prone to
violence, morally corrupt, undeserving of the benefi ts
of civilization, insensitive to the fi ner arts, and (in the
case of Africans) aesthetically ugly and animal-like.
Because of the cultural imperative of race ideology,
all Americans were compelled to the view that a ra-
cial status, symbolized by biophysical attributes, was
the premier determinant of their identity. “Race”
identity took priority over religion, ethnic origin,
education and training, socioeconomic class, occupa-
tion, language, values, beliefs, morals, lifestyles, geo-
graphical location, and all other human attributes that
hitherto provided all groups and individuals with a
sense of who they were. The dilemma for the low-
status races was, and still is, how to construct a posi-
tive identity for themselves in the light of the “racial”
identity imposed on them by the dominant society.
In recent decades, one response to this dilemma
on the part of some African Americans has been
Afrocentrism (which is not the same as an older
version of “Negritude” that black intellectuals had
developed earlier in this century). And for some
Indians a new form of “Nativism” has emerged, har-
kening back to a Native American lifestyle. Afro-
centrism seeks to reidentify with the peoples and
cultures of Africa and to elevate Africans to a posi-
tion of esteem by emphasizing valuable aspects of
African cultures. Some Afrocentrists also make
assertions about the positive qualities of African
people and seek to recognize and objectify African-
isms in the behavior of African-descended peoples
who have been scattered all over the New World.
Many assume or operate on the premise that all
peoples who descended from Africans during the
diaspora maintain certain behaviorisms that mark
them off from other peoples. Their arguments seem
of most colonies and transformed into property as
slaves in a state of permanent bondage.
Edmund Morgan (1975) also interpreted the ac-
tions of the early colonists in the process of estab-
lishing “racial” identities as stemming from the
propertied colonists’ fear of poor whites and pos-
sibly slaves engaging in rebellions together. Colo-
nial leaders consciously formulated policies that
would separate poor whites from Indians, blacks,
and mulattoes and proceeded to provide the white
poor, whom they had hitherto treated with contempt
and hatred, with some privileges and special advan-
In time, class divisions diminished in the
minds of poor whites and they saw themselves as
having something in common with the propertied
class, symbolized by their light skins and common
origins in Europe. With laws progressively
continuing to reduce the rights of blacks and
Indians, it was not long before the various European
groups coalesced into a white “racial” category
whose high-status identity gave them access to
wealth, power, opportunity, and privilege.

By the mid-nineteenth century virtually all
Americans had been conditioned to this arbitrary
ranking of the American peoples, and racial ideol-
ogy had diffused around much of the world, includ-
ing to the colonized peoples of the Third World and
among Europeans themselves.
In the United States the biophysical features of
different populations, which had become markers
of social status, were internalized as sources of
individual and group identities. After the Civil War,
although slavery ended, race and racial ideology re-
mained and were strengthened. African Americans
particularly had to grapple with the reality of being
defi ned as the lowest status group in American soci-
ety and with the associated stereotyping that be-
came increasingly part of the barriers to their
integration into American society (Conrad 1969).
And Native Americans had to try to reinvent their
identities, whether in towns or isolated on remote
reservations where traditional lifestyles were no
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READING 1: “Race” and the Construction of Human Identity 57
Historically, “race” was grounded in the myth of
biologically separate, exclusive, and distinct popu-
lations. No social ingredient in our race ideology
allowed for an identity of “mixed-races.” Indeed
over the past century and a half, the American pub-
lic was conditioned to the belief that “mixed-race”
people (especially of black and white ancestry)
were abnormal products of the unnatural mating of
two species, besides being socially unacceptable in
the normal scheme of things. The tragedy for
“mixed” people is that powerful social lie, the as-
sumption at the heart of “race,” that a presumed
biological essence is the basis of one’s true identity.
Identity is biology, racial ideology tells us, and it is
permanent and immutable. The emphasis on and
signifi cance given to “race” precludes any possibil-
ity for establishing our premier identities on the
basis of other characteristics. In this sense it may be
argued that the myth of “race” has been a barrier to
true human identities.
The unfortunate consequence of race ideology
is  that many of the people with this “mixed-race”
background have also been conditioned to the
belief in the biological salience of “race.” Their
efforts to establish a “Mixed-Race” category in the
American census forms show a total misunder-
standing of what “race” is all about, and this is, of
course, a major part of the tragedy. Their arguments
imply a feeling of having no identity at all because
they do not exist formally (that is, socially) as a
“biological” category.
The fact is that from the standpoint of biology,
there have been “mixed” people in North America
ever since Europeans fi rst encountered indigenous
Americans and the fi rst Africans were brought to
the English colonies in the 1620s. The average
African American has about one-quarter of his or
her genes from non-African (nonblack) ancestors,
although most estimates are likely to be conserva-
tive (cf. Marks 1995; Reed 1969). There is a greater
range of skin colors, hair textures, body sizes, nose
shapes, and other physical features among black
Americans than almost any other people identifi ed
as a distinct population. Virtually all of them could
identify as of “mixed-race.” But the physical
similar to that of the biological determinists in the
dominant society, but most would probably not go
so far as to assert a genetic basis to certain “African”-
originated behaviors. Those who take the position
asserting a common African personality or behavior
refl ect the degree to which the ideology of “race”
has been implanted in them. Like most Americans,
they fi nd it diffi cult to think beyond the racial world-
view and draw upon the same strategies as white
racists in claiming superior features for “African”
people. At the same time, there are many Afrocen-
trists who are very conscious of the fact that theirs is
a political position and that they are using the same
biological arguments as racists, the people whom
they theoretically oppose. They fail to realize that
operating within the racial worldview, accepting its
premises that biologically distinct races exist, each
with unique cultural/behavioral features, and simply
denying inferiority while asserting African superior-
ity does nothing to change the racism in our society.
However, we also must understand that what
Afrocentrism is really intended to do is to restore a
sense of pride and dignity to ordinary African
Americans, regardless of how whites and others
regard their positions. By looking to the “real”
Africa, studying her history, learning about and
being involved in certain rituals and festivals that
focus on African arts, dance, dress, music, and so
on, some activists feel that they are engendering
this pride and helping to remove the contempt and
denigration that has accompanied our ideas about
Africa in the past. They understand that for too long
African Americans have been conditioned to the
same negative beliefs about Africa and Africans as
have whites and others and that there is a need to
eliminate the self-deprecation and self-hatred that
black Americans have experienced with regard to
their African ancestry. . . .
One of the more tragic aspects of the racial world-
view has been the seeming dilemma of people
whose parents are identifi ably of different “races.”
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58 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
including American culture, have changed, some
of them drastically, during that time. Cultures con-
stantly change without any corresponding changes
in biological features.
Americans should understand clearly that hu-
mans learn cultural features from one another all the
time because that has been one of the most profound
experiences of human, and especially American,
history. What prevents us from understanding this is
that component in the ideology of “race,” as we
have seen, that holds that each race has separate,
biologically determined patterns of cultural behav-
ior. The racial worldview, with its emphasis on as-
sumptions of innateness and immutability, makes it
possible to interpret all forms of human behavior as
hereditary. In fact, it almost mandates such a per-
spective because of powerful forces within our cul-
ture that preserve and promote hereditarian ideas.
The belief in racially determined cultural behavior,
despite all evidence to the contrary, is perpetuated in
American society by the popular media and as a part
of folk wisdom about human differences. Witness
the inordinate attention to and sales of Herrnstein
and Murray’s The Bell Curve (1994). This belief has
been a necessary component of the ideology of
“race,” because it helps to perpetuate the notion that
major differences between “races” exist.
People who consider themselves of “mixed race”
and experience some form of psychic stress be-
cause they feel they have no identity in American
society, perhaps more than most, need to have un-
derstanding of this history. . . .
Today scholars are beginning to realize that “race”
is nothing more and nothing less than a social in-
vention. It has nothing to do with the intrinsic, or
potential, qualities of the physically differing popu-
lations, but much to do with the allocation of power,
privilege, and wealth among them. This conceptual
separation of actual physical variations within the
markers of race status are always open to interpre-
tation by others. “Race” as social status is in the eye
of the beholder. “Mixed” people will still be treated
as black if their phenotypes cause them to be so
perceived by others. Insistence on being in a sepa-
rate classifi cation will not change that perception or
the reaction of people to them.
What compounds and complicates matters is an-
other lie that is one of the basic tenets, or constitu-
ent components, of the racial worldview: the myth
that biology has some intrinsic connection to cul-
ture. Some advocates of a new “mixed-race” cate-
gory have argued that they want to recognize the
“culture” of their other parent. For example, in a
black/white mixed marriage, a black parent pre-
sumably has “black” culture, and the white parent
has “white” culture. These advocates fail to realize
what anthropologists have long known, that there is
no relationship between one’s culture or lifestyle
and one’s genes or biological features. All native-
born Americans share some basic cultural similari-
ties, and the ancestors of modern African Americans
have been “American” longer than the ancestors of
most European Americans.
It is the ideological
myths of the racial worldview that prevent us from
seeing how very much alike culturally black and
white Americans are. (This is not to suggest that
there are not differences in the way blacks and
whites experience our culture and lifestyle varia-
tions that refl ect social-class differences and the
isolation of inner-city populations.)
On the other hand, if one parent did come from
a very different cultural background (e.g., recently
emigrated from Asia), a child does not automati-
cally have that culture because of the biology of
the parent. Humans acquire culture; it is learned
behavior. In order for Tiger Woods (a golfi ng star)
to have Thai culture, he would have to learn the
language and the elements of Thai culture. One can
learn these without having a single gene from a
Thai parent. Moreover, there is no reason why one
should learn the cultures of ancestors merely
because of some genetic or genealogical connec-
tions. None of us have the cultures of any of our
ancestors two centuries ago because all cultures,
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READING 1: “Race” and the Construction of Human Identity 59
Hazel O’Leary (just appointed as U.S. Secretary of
Energy) and Thurgood Marshall, Justice of the
United States Supreme Court, identifi ed as “black”
in American society when it was obvious that they
were not. I explained some of the history of the
idea of “race” and the interactions among peoples
in the New World. I also pointed out that there is a
great deal more to the identifi cation of African
Americans than similarities in physical traits, that
in fact, biological variations have little to do with
the social categories of race. Indeed the people of
the African Diaspora are a biogenetically diverse
category of people who have an identity derived
from common experiences of exploitation and rac-
ism. It is far more accurate and more fruitful to
scholarship, and possibly to the future of human-
kind, to defi ne African American people by their
sense of community, consciousness, and commit-
ment than by some mystical “racial” essence. It is
the Community into which they were born and
reared, a Consciousness of the historical realities
and shared experiences of their ancestors, and a
Commitment to the perspectives of their “black-
ness” and to the diminishing of racism that is criti-
cal to the identities of the Thurgood Marshalls and
Hazel O’Learys of our society. The social catego-
ries of “race” have always encompassed more than
mere physical similarities and differences. Theo-
dore Allen tells us in the acknowledgements to his
two-volume excoriation of white racism that he has
learned to say, “I am not white” (1994).
Even without all of the intermixtures of peoples,
some Americans have already experienced a high
level of uncertainty about the “racial” status of indi-
viduals with whom they have had some interaction.
Many peoples in the world, from Morocco to the
Persian Gulf, to the islands in the South Pacifi c
Ocean, have physical features that cause them to be
“mistaken” for black Americans. In that broad band
of the earth called the tropics we fi nd indigenous
peoples with tan to brown to dark brown skins, and
hair that may be frizzly, kinky, curly, or straight. As
more and more of these peoples either travel to the
United States or are encountered by Americans on
missions abroad, Americans must deal with their
species from the socially invented characterizations
of them represents a major paradigm shift in how
many scholars now think about the human experi-
ence. Anthropologists and biologists no longer see
“races” as discrete populations defi ned by blood-
group patterns or “types” defi ned by averages of
statistical measurements. Biophysical variations
are seen as continuous and gradual, overlapping
population boundaries, fl uid, and subject to evolu-
tionary changes. In like manner, scholars honestly
examining the history of American attitudes toward
human differences have concluded that “race” was
a social invention of the eighteenth century that
took advantage of the superfi cial physical differ-
ences among the American population and the so-
cial roles that these peoples played, and transposed
these into a new form of social stratifi cation. The
symbols of race identity became the substance.
Recognizing the reality of the racial worldview
and how it developed as a sociocultural reality re-
quires a whole new way of looking at human diver-
sity in all of its many forms. It means that (1) we
can better recognize and comprehend accurately
and objectively the natural causes of human physi-
cal variations around the world without attempting
to homogenize people into limited “racial” catego-
ries; (2) we can liberate ourselves from the need to
utilize physical differences in apprehending human
identities; (3) freed from the myths of racial deter-
minism, we can now improve our understanding of
the true nature of culture and cultural differences
and begin to view the processes of cultural change
in a more accurate light; and (4) we can begin to
understand the real nature of “race” as a social con-
struct and to deal with the problems that racial
identities have imposed on people.
For example, using this new perspective, we
would be able to avoid the problems encountered
when scholars examine the African Diaspora and
attempt to determine which peoples are legiti-
mately black products of this massive process of
displacement. Several years ago, two Asian stu-
dents who had recently immigrated to the United
States came to me confi dentially after class with a
puzzle. They wanted to know why were people like
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60 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
found around the world. Fast foods, music, dance,
dress, Hollywood fi lms, whole industrial complexes
(including the world of computers), and a wide
range of political, religious, and social beliefs have
diffused around the world. Few cultures have not
experienced the impact of such massive infusion of
new traits.
The peoples who have resulted from all this con-
tinuous blending of genetic features and cultural
traits are truly “universal” human beings, regard-
less of what languages they speak or cultures they
participate in. The concept of “universal” human
beings might very well in time obviate racial cate-
gories (but not ethnic identities) and may help to
bring about the elimination of all such designa-
tions. Many persons will come to recognize them-
selves as “universal” human beings, and there
should be perhaps an early census category that
proclaims this reality. What anthropologists must
do is to make sure that the ideas of “ethnicity” and
“ethnic identity” do not become perceived as
hereditary, permanent, and unalterable, but remain
fl uid forms of identity that will make us all
“ multicultural.”
1. Why was the social classifi cation of race
2. Is Afrocentrism a response to racism?
1. Reference materials for this section were taken largely
from the following: Boardman et al. (1986), Godolphin
(1942), and Snowden (1983). But I have read widely in
ancient history and am aware that such materials are not
generally considered part of the anthropological reper-
toire. We need to realize that historical materials are
widely available to all, and we should encourage stu-
dents to avail themselves of them, especially since
American students have been shown to be woefully ig-
norant of history and geography.
2. Herodotus lists more than two dozen different nations
that fought on the different sides in the  Persian wars:
Arabians, Ethiopians, Armenians, Thracians, Libyans,
and many others.
3. The Persian Wars, Book II, p. 130, in Godolphin (1942).
perceptions of these peoples. Some time ago, in the
space of about eight months, I met a Samoan, a
person from the New Guinea area, and a number of
Arabs who in the course of conversations have indi-
cated that they have been “mistaken” for blacks.

Many peoples from the southern regions of Saudi
Arabia look very much like their neighboring
Africans across the Red Sea, having evolved in the
same climate and latitude (and having intermingled
over eons of time). To try to maintain racial catego-
ries based on physical features in the face of the
real world of human biological diversity, I suspect,
will be increasingly diffi cult.
There is another option, one that we have not
yet claimed in the establishing and referencing of
our human identities. We cannot ignore the fact
that since the fi fteenth century, what has happened
in the Americas, and to varying degrees in many
parts of the Third World, has been the fusion of
genetic materials from all of the great continents.
So-called “racial” mixture has occurred exten-
sively in Latin America, and to a lesser extent in
North America, so that most people are descen-
dants of ancestors from Europe, Africa, and the
Americas, and in many places like the Caribbean,
from Asia also (Graham 1990: Morner 1967).
Throughout the colonial world, complex genetic
mixtures among various peoples have taken place;
and increasingly Europeans at home are partici-
pants in, and products of, new genetic combina-
tions with individuals absorbed into their societies
from distant lands.
In addition to the increasing genetic heterogene-
ity of individuals and groups, there is the obvious
fact that cultural features have traveled all over the
world independently of the spread of genetic mate-
rial. In the midst of the Sahara desert, signs pro-
claim “Coca-Cola,” everyone from the Siberian
tundra to the Melanesian forests wears “jeans,”
African clothing and designs are found from Paris
to Sydney, Australia, and Americans eat more piz-
zas and tacos (burritos, tortillas, etc.) than almost
any other people outside of Italy and Mexico. White
boys wear dreadlocks, and Chinese and other Asian,
and increasingly African, ethnic restaurants are
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READING 2: Who Is Black? One Nation’s Defi nition 61
Morgan, Edmund S. 1975 American Slavery: American
Freedom . New York: W. W. Norton and Co.
Mörner, Magnus 1967 Race Mixture in the History of Latin
America. Boston: Little, Brown.
Morsy, Soheir 1994 Beyond the Honorary “White”
Classifi cation of Egyptians: Societal Identity in Historical
Context. In Race . S. Gregory and R. Sanjek, eds. Pp. 175–
198. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Nash, Gary 1982 Red, White, and Black: The Peoples of
Early America. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Reed, T.E. 1969 Caucasian Genes in American Negroes.
Science 165 (3,895): 762–768.
Smedley, Audrey [1993]1999 Race in North America: Origin
and Evolution of a Worldview. 2nd edition, revised and
enlarged. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Snowden, Frank M., Jr. 1983 Before Color Prejudice. Revised
edition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
R E A D I N G 2
Who Is Black? One Nation’s
Defi nition
F. James Davis
In a taped interview conducted by a blind, black
anthropologist, a black man nearly ninety years old
said: “Now you must understand that this is just a
name we have. I am not black and you are not black
either, if you go by the evidence of your eyes. . . .
Anyway, black people are all colors. White people
don’t look all the same way, but there are more dif-
ferent kinds of us than there are of them. Then too,
there is a certain stage [at] which you cannot tell
who is white and who is black. Many of the people
I see who are thought of as black could just as well
be white in their appearance. Many of the white
people I see are black as far as I can tell by the way
they look. Now, that’s it for looks. Looks don’t
mean much. The things that makes us different is
how we think. What we believe is important, the
ways we look at life” (Gwaltney, 1980:96).
How does a person get defi ned as a black, both
socially and legally, in the United States? What is
4. Morgan claims that the Virginia Assembly “deliberately
did what it could to foster the contempt of whites for
blacks and Indians” (1975:331).
5. For insightful analysis of this process, see also Allen
(1994, 1997).
6. Bohannan and Curtin (1995:13) have observed that half
the ancestors of African Americans were already here in
the United States by 1780 while the median date for the
arrival of European ancestors was “remarkably late,
1890s.” We need more of this kind of honesty in recog-
nizing historical realities on the part of scholars in all
7. See Morsy (1994). When Arabs began to migrate to the
Detroit area several generations ago, many were fre-
quently mistaken for blacks. This became an acute prob-
lem in the area around Dearborn, Michigan, where many
of them settled. There had long been a law in Dearborn
that prohibited blacks from being in the city after sun-
down. The Dearborn police, among others, were often
very confused.
Allen, Theodore W. [1994]1997 The Invention of the White
Race , vols. 1 and 2, London: Verso.
Boardman, John, J. Griffi n, and O. Murray, eds. 1986 The
Oxford History of the Classical World . Oxford: Oxford
University Press.
Canny, Nicholas P. 1973 The Ideology of English Colonial-
ization: From Ireland to America. William and Mary
Quarterly (3rd ser.) 30:575–598.
Castro, Americo 1971 The Spaniards . Berkeley: University
of California Press.
Connah, Graham 1987 African Civilizations. New York:
Cambridge University Press.
Conrad, Earl 1969 The Invention of the Negro. New York:
Paul S. Erikson.
Davidson, Basil 1991 African Civilization Revisited.
Trenton, NJ: African World Press.
Davis, David Brion 1966 The Problem of Slavery in Western
Culture . Middlesex, England: Penguin.
Godolphin, Francis R. B., ed. 1942 The Greek Historians ,
vols. 1 and 2. New York: Random House.
Graham, Richard, ed. 1990 The Idea of Race in Latin
America, 1870–1940 . Austin: University of Texas Press.
Hitti, Phillip 1953 History of the Arabs. London: Macmillan
Publishing Co.
Horsman, Reginald 1981 Race and Manifest Destiny . Cam-
bridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Liggio, Leonard P. 1976 English Origins of Early American
Racism. Radical History Review 3(1):1–26.
Marks, Jonathan 1995 Human Biodiversity: Genes, Race,
and History. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
F. James Davis (1920–2012) was professor emeritus of sociol-
ogy at Illinois State University.
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62 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
In his autobiography, Powell recounts some ex-
periences with racial classifi cation in his youth that
left a lasting impression on him. During Powell’s
freshman year at Colgate University, his roommate
did not know that he was a black until his father,
Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., was invited to give a
chapel talk on Negro rights and problems, after
which the roommate announced that because
Adam was a Negro they could no longer be room-
mates or friends.
Another experience that affected Powell deeply
occurred one summer during his Colgate years. He
was working as a bellhop at a summer resort in
Manchester, Vermont, when Abraham Lincoln’s
aging son Robert was a guest there. Robert Lincoln
disliked blacks so much that he refused to let them
wait on him or touch his luggage, car, or any of his
possessions. Blacks who did got their knuckles
whacked with his cane. To the great amusement of
the other bellhops, Lincoln took young Powell for a
white man and accepted his services (Powell,
Lena Horne’s parents were both very light in
color and came from black upper-middle-class fam-
ilies in Brooklyn (Horne and Schickel, 1965;
Buckley, 1986). Lena lived with her father’s parents
until she was about seven years old. Her grandfather
was very light and blue-eyed. Her fair-skinned
grandmother was the daughter of a slave woman and
her white owner, from the family of John C.
Calhoun, well-known defender of slavery. One of
her father’s great-grandmothers was a Blackfoot
Indian, to whom Lena Horne has attributed her
somewhat coppery skin color. One of her mother’s
grandmothers was a French-speaking black woman
from Senegal and never a slave. Her mother’s father
was a “Portuguese Negro,” and two women in his
family had passed as white and become entertainers.
Lena Horne’s parents had separated, and when
she was seven her entertainer mother began placing
her in a succession of homes in different states. Her
favorite place was in the home of her Uncle Frank,
her father’s brother, a red-haired, blue-eyed teacher
in a black school in Georgia. The black children in
that community asked her why she was so light and
the nation’s rule for who is black, and how did it
come to be? And so what? Don’t we all know who
is black, and isn’t the most important issue what
opportunities the group has? Let us start with
some  experiences of three well-known American
blacks—actress and beauty pageant winner Vanessa
Williams, U.S. Representative Adam Clayton
Powell, Jr., and entertainer Lena Horne.
For three decades after the fi rst Miss America
Pageant in 1921, black women were barred from
competing. The fi rst black winner was Vanessa
Williams of Millwood, New York, crowned Miss
America in 1984. In the same year the fi rst
runner-up—Suzette Charles of Mays Landing, New
Jersey—was also black. The viewing public was
charmed by the television images and magazine
pictures of the beautiful and musically talented
Williams, but many people were also puzzled. Why
was she being called black when she appeared to be
white? Suzette Charles, whose ancestry appeared to
be more European than African, at least looked like
many of the “lighter blacks.” Notoriety followed
when Vanessa Williams resigned because of the im-
pending publication of some nude photographs of
her taken before the pageant, and Suzette Charles
became Miss America for the balance of 1984.
Beyond the troubling question of whether these
young women could have won if they had looked
“more black,” the publicity dramatized the nation’s
defi nition of a black person.
Some blacks complained that the Rev. Adam
Clayton Powell, Jr., was so light that he was a
stranger in their midst. In the words of Roi Ottley,
“He was white to all appearances, having blue eyes,
an aquiline nose, and light, almost blond, hair”
(1943:220), yet he became a bold, effective black
leader—fi rst as minister of the Abyssinian Baptist
Church of Harlem, then as a New York city council-
man, and fi nally as a U.S. congressman from the
state of New York. Early in his activist career he led
6,000 blacks in a march on New York City Hall. He
used his power in Congress to fi ght for civil rights
legislation and other black causes. In 1966, in
Washington, D.C., he convened the fi rst black
power conference.
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READING 2: Who Is Black? One Nation’s Defi nition 63
perseverance did Jane White make her debut as the
educated mulatto maid Nonnie in the stage version
of Lillian Smith’s Strange Fruit (1944). . . .
As the above cases illustrate, to be considered black
in the United States not even half of one’s ancestry
must be African black. But will one-fourth do, or
one-eighth, or less? The nation’s answer to the
question “Who is black?” has long been that a black
is any person with any known African black ances-
try (Myrdal, 1944:113–18; Berry and Tischler,
1978:97–98; Williamson, 1980:1–2). This defi ni-
tion refl ects the long experience with slavery and
later with Jim Crow segregation. In the South it be-
came known as the “one-drop rule,” meaning that a
single drop of “black blood” makes a person a
black. It is also known as the “one black ancestor
rule,” some courts have called it the “traceable
amount rule,” and anthropologists call it the “hypo-
descent rule,” meaning that racially mixed persons
are assigned the status of the subordinate group
(Harris, 1964:56). This defi nition emerged from the
American South to become the nation’s defi nition,
generally accepted by whites and blacks alike
(Bahr, Chadwick, and Stauss, 1979:27–28). Blacks
had no other choice. This American cultural defi ni-
tion of blacks is taken for granted as readily by
judges, affi rmative action offi cers, and black pro-
testers as it is by Ku Klux Klansmen.
Let us not be confused by terminology. At pres-
ent the usual statement of the one-drop rule is in
terms of “black blood” or black ancestry, while not
so long ago it referred to “Negro blood” or ances-
try. The term “black” rapidly replaced “Negro” in
general usage in the United States as the black
power movement peaked at the end of the 1960s,
but the black and Negro populations are the same.
The term “black” is used [here] for persons with
any black African lineage, not just for unmixed
members of populations from sub-Saharan Africa.
The term “Negro,” which is used in certain histori-
cal contexts, means the same thing. Terms such as
“African black,” “unmixed Negro,” and “all black”
called her a “yellow bastard.” She learned that
when satisfactory evidence of respectable black
parents is lacking, being light-skinned implies ille-
gitimacy and having an underclass white parent and
is thus a disgrace in the black community. When
her mother married a white Cuban, Lena also
learned that blacks can be very hostile to the white
spouse, especially when the “black” mate is very
light. At this time she began to blame the confused
color line for her childhood troubles. She later en-
dured much hostility from blacks and whites alike
when her own second marriage, to white composer-
arranger Lennie Hayton, was fi nally made public in
1950 after three years of keeping it secret.
Early in Lena Horne’s career there were com-
plaints that she did not fi t the desired image of a
black entertainer for white audiences, either physi-
cally or in her style. She sang white love songs, not
the blues. Noting her brunette-white beauty, one
white agent tried to get her to take a Spanish name,
learn some Spanish songs, and pass as a Latin
white, but she had learned to have a horror of pass-
ing and never considered it, although Hollywood
blacks accused her of trying to pass after she played
her fi rst bit part in a fi lm. After she failed her fi rst
screen test because she looked like a white girl try-
ing to play black-face, the directors tried making
her up with a shade called “Light Egyptian” to
make her look darker. The whole procedure embar-
rassed and hurt her deeply. . . .
Other light mulatto entertainers have also had
painful experiences because of their light skin and
other caucasoid features. Starting an acting career is
never easy, but actress Jane White’s diffi culties in
the 1940s were compounded by her lightness. Her
father was NAACP leader Walter White. Even with
dark makeup on her ivory skin, she did not look like
a black person on the stage, but she was not allowed
to try out for white roles because blacks were barred
from playing them. When she auditioned for the
part of a young girl from India, the director was
enthusiastic, although her skin color was too light,
but higher management decreed that it was
unthinkable for a Negro to play the part of an
Asian  Indian (White, 1948:338). Only after great
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64 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
American children in recent decades have them-
selves been racially mixed, but often the fractions
get complicated because the earlier details of the
mixing were obscured generations ago. Like so
many white Americans, black people are forced to
speculate about some of the fractions—one-eighth
this, three-sixteenths that, and so on. . . .
Homer Plessy was the plaintiff in the 1896
precedent-setting “separate-but-equal” case of
Plessy v. Ferguson (163 U.S. 537). This case
challenged the Jim Crow statute that required
racially segregated seating on trains in interstate
commerce in the state of Louisiana. The U.S.
Supreme Court quickly dispensed with Plessy’s
contention that because he was only one-eighth
Negro and could pass as white he was entitled to
ride in the seats reserved for whites. Without ruling
directly on the defi nition of a Negro, the Supreme
Court briefl y took what is called “judicial notice”
of what it assumed to be common knowledge: that
a Negro or black is any person with any black an-
cestry. (Judges often take explicit “judicial notice”
not only of scientifi c or scholarly conclusions, or of
opinion surveys or other systematic investigations,
but also of something they just assume to be so,
including customary practices or common knowl-
edge.) This has consistently been the ruling in the
federal courts, and often when the black ancestry
was even less than one-eighth. The federal courts
have thus taken judicial notice of the customary
boundary between two sociocultural groups that
differ, on the average, in physical traits, not be-
tween two discrete genetic categories. In the ab-
sence of proof of a specifi c black ancestor, merely
being known as a black in the community has usu-
ally been accepted by the courts as evidence of
black ancestry. The separate-but-equal doctrine es-
tablished in the Plessy case is no longer the law, as
a result of the judicial and legislative successes of
the civil rights movement, but the nation’s legal
defi nition of who is black remains unchanged.
are used here to refer to unmixed blacks descended
from African populations.
We must also pay attention to the terms
“ mulatto” and “colored.” The term “mulatto” was
originally used to mean the offspring of a “pure
African Negro” and a “pure white.” Although the
root meaning of mulatto, in Spanish, is “hybrid,”
“mulatto” came to include the children of unions
between whites and so-called “mixed Negroes.”
For example, Booker T. Washington and Frederick
Douglass, with slave mothers and white fathers,
were referred to as mulattoes (Bennett, 1962:255).
To whatever extent their mothers were part white,
these men were more than half white. Douglass was
evidently part Indian as well, and he looked it
(Preston, 1980:9–10). Washington had reddish hair
and gray eyes. At the time of the American Revolu-
tion, many of the founding fathers had some very
light slaves, including some who appeared to be
white. The term “colored” seemed for a time to
refer only to mulattoes, especially lighter ones, but
later it became a euphemism for darker Negroes,
even including unmixed blacks. With widespread
racial mixture, “Negro” came to mean any slave or
descendant of a slave, no matter how much mixed.
Eventually in the United States, the terms mulatto,
colored, Negro, black, and African American all
came to mean people with any known black African
ancestry. Mulattoes are racially mixed, to whatever
degree, while the terms black, Negro, African
American, and colored include both mulattoes and
unmixed blacks. These terms have quite different
meanings in other countries.
Whites in the United States need some help
envisioning the American black experience with
ancestral fractions. At the beginning of miscegena-
tion between two populations presumed to be
racially pure, quadroons appear in the second
generation of  continuing mixing with whites, and
octo roons in  the third. A quadroon is one-fourth
African black and thus easily classed as black in the
United  States,  yet three of this person’s four
grandparents  are white. An octoroon has seven
white great- grandparents out of eight and usually
looks white or almost so. Most parents of black
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READING 2: Who Is Black? One Nation’s Defi nition 65
widely disseminated during the Phipps trial in
1983 (discussed below), fi led as Jane Doe v. State of
Louisiana. This case was decided in a district court
in May 1983, and in June the legislature abolished
its one thirty-second statute and gave parents the
right to designate the race of newborns, and even to
change classifi cations on birth certifi cates if they
can prove the child is white by a “preponderance of
the evidence.” However, the new statute in 1983 did
not abolish the “traceable amount rule” (the one-
drop rule), as demonstrated by the outcomes when
the Phipps decision was appealed to higher courts in
1985 and 1986.
The history in the Phipps (Jane Doe) case goes as
far back as 1770, when a French planter named Jean
Gregoire Guillory took his wife’s slave, Margarita,
as his mistress (Model, 1983:3–4). More than two
centuries and two decades later, their great-great-
great-great-granddaughter, Susie Guillory Phipps,
asked the Louisiana courts to change the classifi ca-
tion on her deceased parents’ birth certifi cates to
“white” so she and her brothers and sisters could be
designated white. They all looked white, and some
were blue-eyed blonds. Mrs. Susie Phipps had been
denied a passport because she had checked “white”
on her application although her birth certifi cate des-
ignated her race as “colored.” This designation was
based on information supplied by a midwife, who
presumably relied on the parents or on the family’s
status in the community. Mrs. Phipps claimed that
this classifi cation came as a shock, since she had
always thought she was white, had lived as white,
and had twice married as white. Some of her rela-
tives, however, gave depositions saying they consid-
ered themselves “colored,” and the lawyers for the
state claimed to have proof that Mrs. Phipps is three
thirty-seconds black (Trillin, 1986:62–63, 71–74).
That was more than enough “blackness” for the dis-
trict court in 1983 to declare her parents, and thus
Mrs. Phipps and her siblings, to be legally black.
In October and again in December 1985, the
state’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the
district court’s decision, saying that no one can
change the racial designation of his or her parents
or anyone else’s (479 So. 2d 369). Said the majority
State courts have generally upheld the one-drop
rule. For instance, in a 1948 Mississippi case a
young man, Davis Knight, was sentenced to fi ve
years in jail for violating the antimiscegenation
statute. Less than one-sixteenth black, Knight said
he was not aware that he had any black lineage, but
the state proved his great-grandmother was a slave
girl. In some states the operating defi nition of black
has been limited by statute to particular fractions,
yet the social defi nition—the one-drop rule—has
generally prevailed in case of doubt. Mississippi,
Missouri, and fi ve other states have had the criterion
of one-eighth. Virginia changed from one-fourth to
one-eighth in 1910, then in 1930 forbade white
intermarriage with a person with any black ances-
try. Persons in Virginia who are one-fourth or more
Indian and less than one-sixteenth African black are
defi ned as Indians while on the reservation but as
blacks when they leave (Berry, 1965:26). While
some states have had general race classifi cation
statutes, at least for a time, others have legislated a
defi nition of black only for particular purposes,
such as marriage or education. In a few states there
have even been varying defi nitions for different
situations (Mangum, 1940:38–48). All states re-
quire a designation of race on birth certifi cates, but
there are no clear guidelines to help physicians and
midwives do the classifying.
Louisiana’s latest race classifi cation statute be-
came highly controversial and was fi nally repealed
in 1983 (Trillin, 1986:77). Until 1970, a Louisiana
statute had embraced the one-drop rule, defi ning a
Negro as anyone with a “trace of black ancestry.”
This law was challenged in court a number of times
from the 1920s on, including an unsuccessful at-
tempt in 1957 by boxer Ralph Dupas, who asked to
be declared white so that a law banning “interracial
sports” (since repealed) would not prevent him from
boxing in the state. In 1970 a lawsuit was brought
on behalf of a child whose ancestry was allegedly
only one two-hundred-fi fty-sixth black, and the
legislature revised its law. The 1970 Louisiana
statute defi ned a black as someone whose ancestry
is more than one thirty-second black (La. Rev.
Stat. 42:267). Adverse publicity about this law was
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66 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
the one accepted by the general public and by the
courts. The Census Bureau counts what the nation
wants counted. Although various operational in-
structions have been tried, the defi nition of black
used by the Census Bureau has been the nation’s
cultural and legal defi nition: all persons with any
known black ancestry. Other nations defi ne and
count blacks differently, so international compari-
sons of census data on blacks can be extremely mis-
leading. For example, Latin American countries
generally count as black only unmixed African
blacks, those only slightly mixed, and the very
poorest mulattoes. If they used the U.S. defi nition,
they would count far more blacks than they do, and
if Americans used their defi nition, millions in the
black community in the United States would be
counted either as white or as “coloreds” of different
descriptions, not as black.
Instructions to our census enumerators in 1840,
1850, and 1860 provided “mulatto” as a category
but did not defi ne the term. In 1870 and 1880,
mulattoes were offi cially defi ned to include “qua-
droons, octoroons, and all persons having any
perceptible trace of African blood.” In 1890 enu-
merators were told to record the exact proportion
of the “African blood,” again relying on visibility.
In 1900 the Census Bureau specifi ed that “pure
Negroes” be counted separately from mulattoes,
the latter to mean “all persons with some trace of
black blood.” In 1920 the mulatto category was
dropped, and black was defi ned to mean any per-
son with any black ancestry, as it has been ever
In 1960 the practice of self-defi nition began,
with the head of household indicating the race of
its  members. This did not seem to introduce any
noticeable fl uctuation in the number of blacks,
thus indicating that black Americans generally
apply the one-drop rule to themselves. One ex-
ception is that Spanish-speaking Americans who
have black ancestry but were considered white, or
some designation other than black, in their place
of origin generally reject the one-drop rule if they
can. American Indians with some black ancestry
also generally try to avoid the rule, but those who
of the court in its opinion: “That appellants might
today describe themselves as white does not prove
error in a document which designates their parents
as colored” (479 So. 2d 371). Of course, if the par-
ents’ designation as “colored” cannot be disturbed,
their descendants must be defi ned as black by the
“traceable amount rule.” The court also concluded
that the preponderance of the evidence clearly
showed that the Guillory parents were “colored.”
Although noting expert testimony to the effect that
the race of an individual cannot be determined with
scientifi c accuracy, the court said the law of racial
designation is not based on science, that “individ-
ual race designations are purely social and cultural
perceptions and the evidence conclusively proves
those subjective perspectives were correctly re-
corded at the time the appellants’ birth certifi cates
were recorded” (479 So. 2d 372). At the rehearing
in December 1985, the appellate court also affi rmed
the necessity of designating race on birth certifi –
cates for public health, affi rmative action, and other
important public programs and held that equal pro-
tection of the law has not been denied so long as the
designation is treated as confi dential.
When this case was appealed to the Louisiana
Supreme Court in 1986, that court declined to re-
view the decision, saying only that the court “con-
curs in the denial for the reasons assigned by the
court of appeals on rehearing” (485 So. 2d 60). In
December 1986 the U.S. Supreme Court was
equally brief in stating its reason for refusing to re-
view the decision: “The appeal is dismissed for
want of a substantial federal question” (107 Sup.
Ct. Reporter, interim ed. 638). Thus, both the fi nal
court of appeals in Louisiana and the highest court
of the United States saw no reason to disturb the
application of the one-drop rule in the lawsuit
brought by Susie Guillory Phipps and her siblings.
When the U.S. Bureau of the Census enumerates
blacks (always counted as Negroes until 1980),
it  does not use a scientifi c defi nition, but rather
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READING 2: Who Is Black? One Nation’s Defi nition 67
race with ethnicity. They consider miscegenation
with any “inferior” people to be the ultimate danger
to the survival of their own group and have often
seen the one-drop rule as a crucial component in
their line of defense. Americans in general, how-
ever, while fi nding other ways to discriminate
against immigrant groups, have rejected the appli-
cation of the drastic one-drop rule to all groups but
Not only does the one-drop rule apply to no other
group than American blacks, but apparently the
rule is unique in that it is found only in the United
States and not in any other nation in the world. In
fact, defi nitions of who is black vary quite sharply
from country to country, and for this reason people
in other countries often express consternation
about our defi nition. James Baldwin relates a re-
vealing incident that occurred in 1956 at the Con-
ference of Negro-African Writers and Artists held
in Paris. The head of the delegation of writers and
artists from the United States was John Davis. The
French chairperson introduced Davis and then
asked him why he considered himself Negro, since
he certainly did not look like one. Baldwin wrote,
“He is a Negro, of course, from the remarkable
legal point of view which obtains in the United
States, but more importantly, as he tried to make
clear to his interlocutor, he was a Negro by choice
and by depth of involvement—by experience, in
fact” (1962:19).
The phenomenon known as “passing as white”
is diffi cult to explain in other countries or to for-
eign students. Typical questions are: “Shouldn’t
Americans say that a person who is passing as
white is white, or nearly all white, and has previ-
ously been passing as black?” or “To be consis-
tent, shouldn’t you say that someone who is
one-eighth white is passing as black?” or “Why is
there so much concern, since the so-called blacks
who pass take so little negroid ancestry with
them?” Those who ask such questions need to
leave the reservation are often treated as black.
At  any rate, the 1980 census count showed that
self-designated blacks made up about 12 percent
of the population of the United States.
No other ethnic population in the nation,
including those with visibly non-caucasoid
features, is defi ned and counted according to a
one-drop rule. For example, persons whose ances-
try is one-fourth or less American Indian are not
generally defi ned as Indian unless they want to be,
and they are considered assimilating Americans
who may even be proud of having some Indian
ancestry. The same implicit rule appears to apply
to Japanese Americans, Filipinos, or other peoples
from East Asian nations and also to Mexican
Americans who have Central American Indian
ancestry, as a large majority do. For instance, a
person whose ancestry is one-eighth Chinese is
not defi ned as just Chinese, or East Asian, or a
member of the mongoloid race. The United States
certainly does not apply a one-drop rule to its
white ethnic populations either, which include
both national and religious groups. Ethnicity has
often been confused with racial biology and not
just in Nazi Germany. Americans do not insist that
an American with a small fraction of Polish
ancestry be classifi ed as a Pole, or that someone
with a single remote Greek ancestor be designated
Greek, or that someone with any trace of Jewish
lineage is a Jew and nothing else.
It is interesting that, in The Passing of the Great
Race (1916), Madison Grant maintained that the
one-drop rule should be applied not only to blacks
but also to all the other ethnic groups he considered
biologically inferior “races,” such as Hindus, Asians
in general, Jews, Italians, and other Southern and
Eastern European peoples. Grant’s book went
through four editions, and he and others succeeded
in getting Congress to pass the national origins
quota laws of the early 1920s. This racist quota leg-
islation sharply curtailed immigration from every-
where in the world except Northern and Western
Europe and the Western Hemisphere, until it was
repealed in 1965. Grant and other believers in the
racial superiority of their own group have confused
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68 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
participation for blacks are still formidable, and a
fractionally black person cannot escape these ob-
stacles without passing as white and cutting off all
ties to the black family and community. The pain of
this separation, and condemnation by the black
family and community, are major reasons why
many or most of those who could pass as white
choose not to. Loss of security within the minority
community, and fear and distrust of the white world
are also factors.
It should now be apparent that the defi nition of a
black person as one with any trace at all of black
African ancestry is inextricably woven into the his-
tory of the United States. It incorporates beliefs
once used to justify slavery and later used to but-
tress the castelike Jim Crow system of segregation.
Developed in the South, the defi nition of “Negro”
(now black) spread and became the nation’s social
and legal defi nition. Because blacks are defi ned ac-
cording to the one-drop rule, they are a socially
constructed category in which there is wide varia-
tion in racial traits and therefore not a race group in
the scientifi c sense. However, because that category
has a defi nite status position in the society it has
become a self-conscious social group with an eth-
nic identity.
The one-drop rule has long been taken for
granted throughout the United States by whites and
blacks alike, and the federal courts have taken “ju-
dicial notice” of it as being a matter of common
knowledge. State courts have generally upheld the
one-drop rule, but some have limited the defi nition
to one thirty-second or one-sixteenth or one-eighth
black ancestry, or made other limited exceptions for
persons with both Indian and black ancestry. Most
Americans seem unaware that this defi nition of
blacks is extremely unusual in other countries, per-
haps even unique to the United States, and that
Americans defi ne no other minority group in a sim-
ilar way. . . .
1. Is black a color category or a status?
2. Do you think passing still occurs?
realize that “passing” is so much more a social
phenomenon than a biological one, refl ecting the
nation’s unique defi nition of what makes a person
black. The concept of “passing” rests on the one-
drop rule and on folk beliefs about race and misce-
genation, not on biological or historical fact.
The black experience with passing as white in
the United States contrasts with the experience of
other ethnic minorities that have features that are
clearly non-caucasoid. The concept of passing ap-
plies only to blacks—consistent with the nation’s
unique defi nition of the group. A person who is
one-fourth or less American Indian or Korean or
Filipino is not regarded as passing if he or she inter-
marries and joins fully the life of the dominant
community, so the minority ancestry need not be
hidden. It is often suggested that the key reason for
this is that the physical differences between these
other groups and whites are less pronounced than
the physical differences between African blacks
and whites, and therefore are less threatening to
whites. However, keep in mind that the one-drop
rule and anxiety about passing originated during
slavery and later received powerful reinforcement
under the Jim Crow system.
For the physically visible groups other than
blacks, miscegenation promotes assimilation,
despite barriers of prejudice and discrimination
during two or more generations of racial mixing.
As noted above, when ancestry in one of these
racial minority groups does not exceed one-fourth,
a person is not defi ned solely as a member of that
group. Masses of white European immigrants have
climbed the class ladder not only through education
but also with the help of close personal relation-
ships in the dominant community, intermarriage,
and ultimately full cultural and social assimilation.
Young people tend to marry people they meet in the
same informal social circles (Gordon, 1964:70–81).
For visibly non-caucasoid minorities other than
blacks in the United States, this entire route to full
assimilation is slow but possible.
For all persons of any known black lineage, how-
ever, assimilation is blocked and is not promoted
by  miscegenation. Barriers to full opportunity and
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READING 2: Who Is Black? One Nation’s Defi nition 69
Horne, Lena, and Richard Schickel. 1965. Lena. Garden
City, NY: Doubleday & Co.
Mangum, Charles Staples, Jr. 1940. The Legal Status of the
Negro in the United States. Chapel Hill: University of
North Carolina Press.
Model, F. Peter, ed. 1983. “Apartheid in the Bayou.”
Perspectives: The Civil Rights Quarterly 15 (Winter–
Spring), 3–4.
Myrdal, Gunnar, assisted by Richard Sterner and Arnold M.
Rose. 1944. An American Dilemma. New York: Harper &
Ottley, Roi. 1943. New World A-Coming. Cleveland: World
Publishing Co.
Powell, Adam Clayton, Jr. 1971. Adam by Adam: The Autobi-
ography of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. New York: Dial Press.
Preston, Dickson J. 1980. Young Frederick Douglass: The
Maryland Years. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Trillin, Calvin. 1986. “American Chronicles: Black or
White.” New Yorker, April 14, 1986, pp. 62–78.
White, Walter. 1948. A Man Called White: The Autobiogra-
phy of Walter White. New York: Viking Press.
Williamson, Joel. 1980. New People: Miscegenation and
Mulattoes in the United States. New York: The Free Press.
Bahr, Howard M., Bruce A. Chadwick, and Joseph H. Stauss.
1979. American Ethnicity. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath & Co.
Baldwin, James. 1962. Nobody Knows My Name. New York:
Dell Publishing Co.
Bennett, Lerone, Jr. 1962. Before the Mayfl ower: A History
of the Negro in America 1619–1962. Chicago: Johnson
Publishing Co.
Berry, Brewton. 1965. Race and Ethnic Relations. 3rd ed.
Boston: Houghton Miffl in Co.
Berry, Brewton, and Henry L. Tischler. 1978. Race and
Ethnic Relations. 4th ed. Boston: Houghton Miffl in Co.
Buckley, Gail Lumet. 1986. The Hornes: An American
Family. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Gordon, Milton M. 1964. Assimilation in American Life.
New York: Oxford University Press.
Grant, Madison. 1916. The Passing of the Great Race. New
York: Scribner.
Gwaltney, John Langston. 1980. Drylongso: A Self-Portrait
of Black America. New York: Vintage Books.
Harris, Melvin. 1964. Patterns of Race in the Americas. New
York: W. W. Norton.
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R E A D I N G 3
The Evolution of Identity
The Washington Post
Decade to decade, the U.S. census has changed its classifications of race and ethnicity. Partially, this reflects the growing diversity of the country. It also
reveals the nation’s evolving politics and social mores. When the first census was taken in 1790, enumerators classified free residents as white or “other,”
while slaves were counted separately. By 1860, residents were classified as white, black, or mulatto. Hispanic origin first became a category in 1970. Here
are the categories used in the decennial counts from 1860 to 2000, as presented by AmeriStat ( www.ameristat.org ).
1860 1870 1880 1890 1 1900 2 1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000




(Negro descent)




















Amer. Indian


Part Hawaiian

Negro or Black

Indian (Amer.)





Puerto Rican
Other Spanish
(None of these)

Black or Negro


Asian Indian



Mexican Amer.
Puerto Rican

Other Spanish/
Not Spanish/
Black or Negro

Indian (Amer.)

Asian Indian


Other Asian

Other race
Mexican Amer.
Puerto Rican

Other Spanish/
Not Spanish/
Black, African
American or
Amer. Indian or
Alaska Native
Asian Indian

Native Hawaiian

Guamanian or
Other Asian
Other Pacific

Some other race
Mexican Amer.
Puerto Rican

Other Spanish/
Not Spanish/
1 In 1890, mulatto was defined as a person who
was three-eighths to five-eighths black. A
quadroon was one-quarter black and an
octoroon one-eighth black.
2 American Indians have been asked
to specify their tribe since the 1900
Bold letters indicate first usage
since 1860.

NOTE: Before the 1970 Census, enumerators wrote in the race of individuals using the
designated categories. In subsequent censuses, respondents or enumerators filled in circles
next to the categories with which the respondent identified. Also beginning with the 1970
Census, people choosing American Indian, other Asian, other race, or for the Hispanic
question, other Hispanic categories, were asked to write in a specific tribe or group. Hispanic
ethnicity was asked of a sample of Americans in 1970 and of all Americans beginning with
the 1980 Census. The 2000 Census allowed Americans to select more than one race.

Sources: AmeriStat, “200 Years of U.S. Census Taking: Population and Housing Questions 1790–1990,” U.S. Census Bureau.
FROM: The Washington Post; Federal Page, August 13, 2001.

s o
f D

READING 4: Real Indians 71
A Loaded Vacation
Every summer since I can remember, I go on vacation
with my aunt and uncle. Last summer, my aunt took my
cousin, brother, and me to Florida. My aunt grew up in
Maryland along with my mother. She was college edu-
cated and until recently worked in corporate America.
Now she owns her own daycare center.
I rarely thought about how my background was differ-
ent from my aunt’s until one night in Florida. We were all
in the hotel suite when she asked me about my plans for
the future and what I wanted to do with my degree, since
I was entering college in the fall. I told her I wanted to be
a lawyer. She told me that was going to be a hard goal to
reach for a black female, but then again she said that
I wasn’t really black. I didn’t understand. She went on to
say that if I make it anywhere in life, it would be because
I talk white. She said, “Just remember that, even though
everything about you is white—your clothes, the way you
talk, your friends—doesn’t mean when they look at you
they don’t still see black.”
I didn’t know what to say. I sat there silently taking it all
in. Was this the same aunt I’d known all my life? She told
my brother that anything he accomplished would be due
to his skin complexion, and that if he had been dark
skinned “he wouldn’t have a shot in hell, because white
people determine how far we get in life.” This went
against everything I believed. I said, “What about my high
GPA and the fact that I’m intelligent? That means noth-
ing?” She said, “Exactly. Even with all of that, you’ll only
go as far as they let you.”
After she finished ranting about how far we would go
in life, she went on to say that we were foolish for having
so many white friends, because white people were the
devil. At that point I had to speak up. I told her that I’ve
never had a problem with any of my white friends and
that she shouldn’t talk about people she’s never met.
She replied by saying, “All white people are the same.
Some are just closet racists.” I said that my best friend
Monica is white. How could she be my best friend if she
was racist? My aunt said, “She may be your friend now,
but if the two of you got into any trouble she would throw
you right under the bus.” The conversation ended with
her telling me how naive I was, and that one day I would
learn the truth.
That day came, and soon. A few months after that
dreadful vacation Monica and I got into trouble. Monica
was only 17, whereas I was 18. Because of my age, I
would not be let off with a phone call home. Monica took
the blame and covered for me. Thanks to her, I don’t have
a criminal record. I thought about calling my aunt to tell
her how wrong she had been, but I decided that there
was no point in arguing. I knew the truth.
Niah Grimes
United States specify a minimum blood quantum in
their legal citizenship criteria, with one-quarter
blood degree being the most frequent minimum re-
(In the simplest instance, an individual
has a one-quarter blood quantum if any one of her
four grandparents is of exclusively Indian ancestry
and the other three are non-Indian.) The remaining
one-third of Indian tribes specify no minimum
blood quantum. They often simply require that any
new enrollee be a lineal (direct) descendant of an-
other tribal member. . . .
Legal defi nitions of tribal membership regulate
the rights to vote in tribal elections, to hold tribal
offi ce, and generally to participate in the political,
and sometimes also the cultural, life of the tribe.
R E A D I N G 4
Real Indians: Identity and the
Survival of Native America
Eva Marie Garroutte
The most common tribal requirement for deter-
mining citizenship concerns “blood quantum,” or
degree of Indian ancestry. . . . About two-thirds of
all federally recognized tribes of the coterminous
Eva Marie Garroutte is a professor of sociology at Boston
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72 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
comes immediately to the minds of many readers.
The legal situation of Indian people, and its atten-
dant opportunities and responsibilities, are the result
of historic negotiations between tribes and the fed-
eral government. In these, the government agreed to
compensate tribes in various ways for the large
amounts of land and other resources that the tribes
had surrendered, often by force.
Benefi ts available
to those who can satisfy federal defi nitions of Indian
identity are administered through a variety of agen-
cies, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the
Indian Health Service, the Department of Agricul-
ture, the Offi ce of Elementary and Secondary Educa-
tion, and the Department of Labor, to name a few.

Legal defi nitions also affect specifi c economic
rights deriving from treaties or agreements that
some (not all) tribes made with the federal govern-
ment. These may include such rights as the use of
particular geographic areas for hunting, harvesting,
fi shing, or trapping. Those legally defi ned as Indi-
ans are also sometimes exempted from certain
requirements related to state licensure and state
(but not federal) income and property taxation.
. . .
North American Indians who successfully negotiate
the rigors of legal defi nitions of identity at the fed-
eral level can achieve what some consider the dubi-
ous distinction of being a “card-carrying Indian.”
That is, their federal government can issue them a
laminated document (in the United States, a CDIB;
in Canada an Indian status card) that certifi es them
as possessing a certain “degree of Indian blood.”
. . . Canadian-born country music singer Shania
Twain has what it takes to be a card-carrying Indian:
she is formally recognized as an Anishnabe (Ojibwe)
Indian with band membership in the Temagami
Bear Island First Nation (Ontario, Canada). More
specifi cally, she is legally on record as possessing
one-half degree Indian blood. Given this informa-
tion, one might conclude that Twain’s identity as an
Indian person is more or less unassailable. It’s not.
One’s ability to satisfy legal defi nitions of identifi –
cation may also determine one’s right to share in
certain tribal revenues (such as income generated
by tribally controlled businesses). Perhaps most
signifi cantly, it may determine the right to live on a
reservation or to inherit land interests there.
The tribes’ power to determine citizenship al-
lows them to delimit the distribution of certain im-
portant resources, such as reservation land, tribal
monies, and political privileges. But this is hardly
the end of the story of legal defi nitions of identity.
The federal government has many purposes for
which it, too, must distinguish Indians from non-
Indians, and it uses its own, separate legal defi ni-
tion for doing so. More precisely, it uses a whole
array of legal defi nitions. Since the U.S. Constitu-
tion uses the word “Indian” in two places but de-
fi nes it nowhere, Congress has made its own
defi nitions on an ad hoc basis.
A 1978 congressio-
nal survey discovered no less than thirty-three sep-
arate defi nitions of Indians in use in different pieces
of federal legislation.
These may or may not cor-
respond with those any given tribe uses to deter-
mine its citizenship.
Most federal legal defi nitions of Indian identity
specify a minimum blood quantum—frequently
one-quarter but sometimes one-half—but others do
not. Some require or accept tribal citizenship as a
criterion of federal identifi cation, and others do not.
Some require reservation residency, or ownership
of land held in trust by the government, and others
do not. Other laws affecting Indians specify no def-
inition of identity, such that the courts must deter-
mine to whom the laws apply.
Because of these
wide variations in legal identity defi nitions and
their frequent departure from the various tribal
ones, many individuals who are recognized by their
tribes as citizens are nevertheless considered non-
Indian for some or all federal purposes. The con-
verse can be true as well.

There are a variety of contexts in which one or
more federal legal defi nitions of identity become
important. The matter of economic resource
distribution—access to various social services,
monetary awards, and opportunities—probably
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Twain’s case shows with uncommon clarity that
legal and biological defi nitions are conceptually
distinct. . . .
In their modern American construction, at least,
biological defi nitions of identity assume the cen-
trality of an individual’s genetic relationship to
other tribal members. Not just any degree of rela-
tionship will do, however. Typically, the degree of
closeness is also important. And this is the starting
point for much of the controversy that swirls around
issues of biological Indianness. . . .
Sociologist Eugeen Roosens summarizes such
common conceptions about the importance of
blood quantum for determining Indian identity:
There is . . . [a] principle about which the whites and
the Indians are in agreement. . . . People with more
Indian blood . . . also have more rights to inherit what
their ancestors, the former Indians, have left behind.
In addition, full blood Indians are more authentic than
half-breeds. By being pure, they have more right to
respect. They are, in all aspects of their being, more
integral . 12
Biological ancestry can take on such tremendous
signifi cance in tribal contexts that it overwhelms
all other considerations of identity, especially when
it is constructed as “pure.” As Cherokee legal
scholar G. William Rice points out, “Most [people]
would recognize the full-blood Indian who was en-
rolled in a federally recognized tribe as an Indian,
even if the individual was adopted at birth by a
non-Indian family and had never set foot in Indian
country nor met another Indian.”
Mixed-race in-
dividuals, by contrast, fi nd their identity claims
considerably complicated. Even if such an individ-
ual can demonstrate conclusively that he has some
Native ancestry, the question will still be raised: Is
the amount of ancestry he possesses “enough”? Is
his “Indian blood” suffi cient to distinguish him
from the mixed-blood individual spotlighted by an
old quip: “If he got a nosebleed, he’d turn into a
white man”?
Members of various tribes complain of factio-
nalism between these two major groups—full
bloods and mixed bloods—and they suggest that the
Controversy has engulfed this celebrity because
of an anonymous phone call to a Canadian newspa-
per a few years ago that led to the disclosure of an-
other name by which Shania was once known:
Eileen Regina Edwards. Eileen/Shania was adopted
by a stepfather in early childhood and took the sur-
name of Twain at that time. So far well and good—
except for one thing. Both sides of her biological
family describe themselves not as Indian but as
white. It is only Jerry Twain, her late stepfather,
who was Indian.
As the adopted child of an Anishnabe man,
Shania Twain occupies an unusual status. Though
the U.S. government allows for the assignment of
blood quantum only to biological descendants of
Indian people, Canada allows for the naturalization
of non-Native children through adoption.
Twain has stated that her white mother (now de-
ceased) had told her, in childhood, that her biologi-
cal father (also deceased) had some Indian heritage,
his family denies the suggestion entirely. They say
they are French and Irish. Ms. Twain explains: “I
don’t know how much Indian blood I actually have
in me, but as the adopted daughter of my father
Jerry, I became legally registered as 50-percent
North American Indian. Being raised by a full-
blooded Indian and being part of his family and
their culture from such a young age is all I’ve ever
known. That heritage is in my heart and my soul,
and I’m proud of it.”

Twain has been sharply criticized, in both the
United States and Canada, for not making the full
details of her racial background clearer, especially
to awards-granting agencies such as the First Amer-
icans in the Arts (FAITA), which honored her in
February 1996 as a Native performer. FAITA itself
has made no such complaint. The group states that
it is satisfi ed that “Ms. Twain has not intentionally
misrepresented herself.” And more importantly, her
adopted family defends her. An aunt observes: “She
was raised by us. She was accepted by our band. If
my brother were alive, he’d be very upset. He raised
her as his own daughter. My parents, her grandpar-
ents, took her into the bush and taught her the
[ Native] traditions.”

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74 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
Given this standard of identifi cation, full bloods
tend to be seen as the “really real,” the quintessen-
tial Indians, while others are viewed as Indians in
diminishing degrees. The original, stated intention
of blood quantum distinctions was to determine the
point at which the various responsibilities of the
dominant society to Indian peoples ended. The ulti-
mate and explicit federal intention was to use the
blood quantum standard as a means to liquidate
tribal lands and to eliminate government trust re-
sponsibility to tribes, along with entitlement pro-
grams, treaty rights, and reservations. Through
intermarriage and application of a biological defi ni-
tion of identity Indians would eventually become
citizens indistinguishable from all other citizens.

Degree of blood is calculated, with reference to
biological defi nitions, on the basis of the immedi-
acy of one’s genetic relationship to those whose
bloodlines are (supposedly) unmixed. As in the
case with legal defi nitions, the initial calculation
for most tribes’ biological defi nitions begins with a
base roll, a listing of tribal membership and blood
quanta in some particular year. These base rolls
make possible very elaborate defi nitions of identity.
For instance, they allow one to reckon that the off-
spring of, say, a full-blood Navajo mother and a
white father is one-half Navajo. If that half-Navajo
child, in turn, produces children with a Hopi person
of one-quarter blood degree, those progeny will be
judged one-quarter Navajo and one-eighth Hopi.
Alternatively, they can be said to have three-eighths
general Indian blood.
As even this rather simple example shows, over
time such calculations can become infi nitesimally
precise, with people’s ancestry being parsed into so
many thirty-seconds, sixty-fourths, one-hundred-
twenty-eighths, and so on. . . .
For those of us who have grown up and lived
with the peculiar precision of calculating blood
quantum, it sometimes requires a perspective less
infl uenced by the vagaries of American history to
remind us just how far from common sense the con-
cepts underlying biological defi nitions of identity
are. I recall responding to an inquiry from a South-
east Asian friend about what blood quantum was
division arose historically because of mixed bloods’
greater access to the social resources of the domi-
nant society and their enhanced ability to impose
values and ideas upon others.
As Julie M., a citi-
zen of the United Keetowah Band of Cherokee Indi-
ans, says: “For the Cherokee people, there’s been
this mixed blood/full blood kind of dynamic going
from before the removal [in 1838, also known as the
Trail of Tears]. . . . It’s kind of like us-and-them. . . .
It’s almost been like a war in some cases. . . . It’s a
kind of thing.” Many historians have similarly found
it logical that political allegiances would tend to
shift for those Indian people who formed alliances,
through intermarriage, with members of the domi-
nant society, and that this has made the division bet-
ween full bloods and mixed bloods politically

Modern biological defi nitions of identity, how-
ever, are much more complicated than this historical
explanation can account for. This complexity did not
originate in the ideas and experiences of Indian
tribes. Instead, they closely refl ect nineteenth- and
early-twentieth-century theories of race introduced
by Euro-Americans. These theories (of which there
were a great many) viewed biology as defi nitive, but
they did not distinguish it from culture. Thus, blood
became quite literally the vehicle for the transmis-
sion of cultural characteristics. “‘Half-breeds’ by
this logic could be expected to behave in ‘half-
civilized,’ i.e., partially assimilated, ways while
retaining one half of their traditional culture, accoun-
ting for their marginal status in both societies.”

These turn-of-the-century theories of race found
a very precise way to talk about amount of ancestry
in the idea of blood quantum, or degree of blood.
The notion of blood quantum as a standard of Indi-
anness emerged with force in the nineteenth cen-
tury. Its most signifi cant early usage as a standard
of identifi cation was in the General Allotment
(Dawes) Act of 1887, which led to the creation of
the Dawes Rolls [the “base roll” or written record
of tribal membership in a specifi c year]. It has been
part of the popular—and legal and academic—lore
about Indians ever since.
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his or her own fi nancial affairs.
Blood quantum is
one of the criteria that determines eligibility for
citizenship in many tribes; it therefore indirectly
infl uences the claimant’s relationship to the same
kinds of rights, privileges, and responsibilities that
legal defi nitions allow.

But biological defi nitions of identity affect per-
sonal interactions as well as governmental deci-
sions. Indian people with high blood quanta
frequently have recognizable physical characteris-
tics. As Cherokee Nation principal tribal chief Chad
Smith observes, some people are easily recogniz-
able as Indians because they pass “a brown paper
bag test,” meaning that their skin is “darker than a
#10 paper sack.” It is these individuals who are
often most closely associated with negative racial
stereotypes in the larger society. Native American
Studies professor Devon Mihesuah makes a point
about Indian women that is really applicable to ei-
ther gender: “Appearance is the most visible aspect
of one’s race; it determines how Indian women de-
fi ne themselves and how others defi ne and treat
them. Their appearance, whether Caucasian, Indian,
African, or mixed, either limits or broadens Indian
women’s choices of ethnic identity and ability to
interact with non-Indians and other Indians.”

Every day, identifi ably Indian people are turned
away from restaurants, refused the use of public rest
rooms, ranked as unintelligent by the education sys-
tem, and categorized by the personnel of medical,
social service, and other vital public agencies as
“problems”—all strictly on the basis of their
appearance. As Keetoowah Band Cherokee full-
blood Donald G. notes, a recognizably Indian
appearance can be a serious detriment to one’s pro-
fessional and personal aspirations: “It seems the
darker you are, the less important you are, in some
ways, to the employer. . . . To some, it would be
discouraging. But I am four-fourths [i.e., full-blood]
Cherokee, and it doesn’t matter what someone says
about me. . . . I feel for the person who doesn’t like
my skin color, you know?”
There are circumstances, however, in which it is
diffi cult for the victims of negative racial stereotyp-
ing to maintain an attitude as philosophical as this.
and how it was calculated. In mid-explanation, I
noticed his expression of complete amazement.
“That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard,” he burst
out. “Who ever thought of that ?”
The logic that underlies the biological defi nition
of racial identity becomes even more curious and
complicated when one considers the striking differ-
ence in the way that American defi nitions assign
individuals to the racial category of “Indian,” as op-
posed to the racial category “black.” As a variety of
researchers have observed, social attributions of
black identity have focused (at least since the end
of the Civil War) on the “one-drop rule,” or rule of
. . .
Far from being held to a one-drop rule, Indians
are generally required—both by law and by popular
opinion—to establish rather high blood quanta in
order for their claims to racial identity to be ac-
cepted as meaningful, the individual’s own opinion
notwithstanding. Although people must have only
the slightest trace of “black blood” to be forced into
the category “African American,” modern American
Indians must (1) formally produce (2) strong evi-
dence of (3) often rather substantial amounts of
“Indian blood” to be allowed entry into the corre-
sponding racial category. The regnant biological
defi nitions applied to Indians are simply quite dif-
ferent than those that have applied (and continue to
apply) to blacks. Modern Americans, as Native
American Studies professor Jack Forbes ( Powhatan/
Lenape/Saponi) puts the matter, “are always fi nd-
ing ‘blacks’ (even if they look rather un- African),
and . . . are always losing ‘Indians.’ ” 19
Biological defi nitions of Indian identity operate, in
short, in some curious and inconsistent ways. They
are nevertheless signifi cant in a variety of contexts.
And they have clear relationships, both direct and
indirect, to legal defi nitions. The federal govern-
ment has historically used a minimum blood quan-
tum standard to determine who was eligible to
receive treaty rights, or to sell property and manage
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76 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
want them to know this is an Indian person doing
this. Because I come from a background where if
you looked Indian, you were put in special education
because the schools said you couldn’t learn. And it
wasn’t true. We need Indian people today who look
Indian to show everyone the things we can do.”
A physical appearance that is judged insuffi –
ciently “Indian” can also act as a barrier to partici-
pation in certain cultural activities. Bill T., a Wichita
and Seneca minister in his mid-fi fties, recalls that,
in his youth, he witnessed light-skinned individuals
who attempted to participate in powwow dances
being evicted from the arena. “That kind of thing is
still happening today,” he added sadly, and other
respondents readily confi rmed this observation. A
more unusual instance of the relevance of physical
appearance to cultural participation was volun-
teered by Frank D., a Hopi respondent. His tribe’s
ceremonial dances feature the appearance of pow-
erful spirit beings called kachinas, which are em-
bodied by masked Hopi men. Ideally, the everyday,
human identity of the dancers remains unknown to
observers. Frank commented on the subject of
tribal members whose skin tone is noticeably either
lighter or darker than the norm:
Frank D .: Say, for instance, if a Hopi marries a
black person . . . [and] you get a male child . . . it’s
gonna be darker skinned. It might even be black. A
black kachina just wouldn’t fi t out here [at Hopi].
You see, everybody’d know who it is. He’d be very
visible [in the ceremonial dances]. . . . It’d be very
hard on that individual. Kids don’t work the other
way, too—if they’re real light. . . . Kachinas gotta be
Author: So there are certain ceremonial roles that
people could not fi ll because of their appearance?
Frank D.: Well, they could, but it would be
awful tough. A lot of these [ceremonial] things are
done with secrecy. No one knows who the kachinas
are. Or at least, the kids don’t. And then, say you
get somebody who really stands out, then every-
body knows who that [dancer] is, and it’s not good.
For the ceremony—because everybody knows who
that person is. And so the kids will start asking
In one interview, a Mohawk friend, June L., illus-
trated the potential consequences of public judg-
ments based on skin color. She reminded me of a
terrifying episode that had once unfolded while I was
visiting at her house. Our conversation was inter-
rupted by a phone call informing this mother of fi ve
that her college-student son, who had spent the sum-
mer day working on a roof, had suddenly become ill
while driving home. Feeling faint, he had pulled up
to a local convenience store and made his way inside,
asking for a drink of water. The clerk refused. Dan-
gerously dehydrated, the young man collapsed on the
fl oor from sunstroke. “The worst thing about it,” June
recalled, “was that I have to keep wondering: What
was the reason for that? Did that clerk refuse to help
my son because she was just a mean person? Or was
it because she saw him stumble into the store and
thought, ‘Well, it’s just some drunken Indian’?” Anx-
iety about social judgments of this kind are a fact of
daily life for parents of children whose physical ap-
pearance makes their Indian ancestry clearly evident.
At the same time, June’s remarks showed the
opposite side to the coin of physical appearance. In
some contexts, not conforming to the usual notions
of “what Indians look like” can also be a liability:
My aunt was assistant dean at a large Ivy League uni-
versity. One day she called me on the phone. She had
one scholarship to give out to an Indian student. One
of the students being considered was blonde-haired
and blue-eyed. The other one was black-haired and
dark-skinned, and she looked Indian. The blonde
girl’s grades were a little better. My aunt didn’t know
what to do. She said to me, “Both these girls are tribal
members. Both of them are qualifi ed [for the scholar-
ship]. They’re sitting outside my offi ce. What would
you do?” I told her that, as an Indian person, there was
only one thing I could say. Which was to give the
money to the one with the dark skin. As Indian peo-
ple, we do want to have Indian people that look like
they’re Indian to represent us.
Readers may be surprised by such a candid state-
ment. But June’s pragmatic reasoning takes account
of certain historical realities. As she explained
further, “We like people to know who’s doing those
accomplishments, like getting scholarships. We
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matter how frequently I was blamed by strangers
for not resembling their image of some Hollywood
Sitting Bull, I was still defensive and vulnerable.
‘I’m part Indian,’ I explained.”

Even his tragic death has not safeguarded Dorris
from insinuations about inadequate blood quan-
tum. Shortly after his 1997 suicide, a story on his
life and death in New York magazine reported that
the author’s fair complexion had always caused
some observers to wonder about his racial identity
and archly repeated a rumor: “It is said he . . .
[eventually] discovered tanning booths.”

In short, many Indian people, both individually
and collectively, continue to embrace the assump-
tion that close biological connections to other
Indian people—and the distinctive physical appear-
ance that may accompany those connections—
imply a stronger claim on identity than do more
distant ones. As Potawatomi scholar of Native
American Studies Terry Wilson summarizes, “Few,
if any, Native Americans, regardless of upbringing
in rural, reservation, or urban setting, ignore their
own and other Indians’ blood quantum in everyday
life. Those whose physical appearances render their
Indian identities suspect are subject to suspicious
scrutiny until precise cultural explanations, espe-
cially blood quantum, are offered or discovered.”

1. As Garroutte describes them, what are the vari-
ous ways that one might be defi ned as a “real”
Indian? When might these different defi nitions
of “Indianness” confl ict?
2. Thinking about June’s description of her son
being refused a drink of water and her advice
about who should receive the Indian scholar-
ship, do you see any consistencies or inconsis-
tencies in her approach?
1. Thornton surveyed 302 of the 317 tribes in the lower
forty-eight states that enjoyed federal acknowledgment
in 1997. He found that 204 tribes had some minimum
blood quantum requirement, while the remaining 98 had
questions—“How come that kachina’s so dark, so
black?” or “How come that kachina’s white?” They
start asking questions and it’s really hard. So I
think, if you’re thinking about kids, it’s really better
if kachinas are brown.
Finally, the physical appearance borne by mixed
bloods may not only create barriers to tribal cul-
tural participation; it may also offer an occasion for
outrightly shaming them. Cornelia S. remembers
her days at the Eufala Indian School:
You had to be Indian to be [allowed admission]
there. . . . But . . . if [certain students] . . . didn’t look
as Indian as we did, or if they looked like they were
white, they were kind of looked down upon, like
treated differently because [people would say] “oh,
that’s just a white person.” . . . They just [would] tease
’em and stuff. Say “oh, whatcha doin’ white boy” or
“white girl”—just stuff like that.
Nor is the social disapproval of light-skinned mixed
bloods strictly the stuff of schoolyard teasing. The
same respondent added that even adults confront
questions of blood quantum with dead seriousness:
Us Indians, whenever we see someone else who is
saying that they’re Indian . . . or trying to be around
us Indians, and act like us, and they don’t look like
they’re Indian and we know that they’re not as much
Indian as we are, yeah, we look at them like they’re
not Indian and, ya know, don’t really like why
they’re acting like that. . . . But you know, I’m not
that far off . . . into judging other people and what
color [they are].
The late author Michael Dorris, a member of the
Modoc tribe (California), has written that humilia-
tions related to his appearance were part of his daily
experience. He describes (in his account of his
family’s struggle with his son’s fetal alcohol syn-
drome, The Broken Cord ) an encounter with a hos-
pital admissions staff, to whom he had just identifi ed
himself and his son as Indians. “They surveyed my
appearance with curiosity. It was an expression I
recognized, a reaction, familiar to most people of
mixed-blood ancestry, that said, ‘You don’t look
like an Indian.’ No matter how often it happened, no
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78 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
details on the special, political-economic relationship of
Indians to the federal government in relation to taxation
and licensure, see Gary D. Sandefur, “Economic Devel-
opment and Employment Opportunities for American
Indians,” in American Indians: Social Justice and Public
Policy, ed. Donald E. Green and Thomas V. Tonneson,
Ethnicity and Public Policy Series, vol. 9 (Milwaukee:
University of Wisconsin System Institute on Race and
Ethnicity, 1991), 208–22.
9. Aside from the issue of adopted children, the legal re-
quirements for establishing legal status as Indian in
Canada have been even more complicated and peculiar
than the U.S. ones, and the tensions related to them even
more severe. Until 1985, a Canadian Indian woman who
married a legally non-Indian man lost her legal status as
an Indian, and her children (who might have a blood
quantum of one-half) could never be recognized as
Indian under Canadian law. A non-Indian woman who
married an Indian man, however, gained Indian status
for herself and her children. Men could neither gain nor
lose Indian status through marriage. When a 1985 bill
amended the Indian Act, which governed such matters,
the issue of “real Indianness” came to a head. Many
Canadian Indian women and children sought and re-
ceived Indian legal status, but when they attempted to
return to the reservations, they often got a chilly wel-
come from Indian communities already overburdened
with fi nancial obligations to their existing population.
Like their American counterparts, Canadian Indian
bands continue to struggle with the issue of how to con-
ceive the boundaries of their membership. For a good
discussion of Canadian Indian identifi cation policies,
see Eugeen Roosens, Creating Ethnicity: The Process of
Ethnogenesis ( Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage, 1989).
10. Shania Twain quoted in Jackie Bissley, “Country Star
Shania Twain’s Candor Is Challenged,” Indian Country
Today, 9–16 April 1996.
11. Quoted in Jackie Bissley, “Country Singer Says Stories
Robbing Her of Her Native Roots,” Indian Country
Today, 16–23 April 1996. Even Twain’s unusual
situation does not exhaust the intricate aspects of the
Canadian legal system as it struggles with matters of
Indian identity. Roosens describes other fi ne points of
Indian identity in force north of the border over a period
of several decades:
Since 1951, to be registered as an Indian one has to be
the legitimate child of an Indian father. The ethnic ori-
gin of the mother is irrelevant. . . . Furthermore, if the
grandmother on the Indian side of a mixed marriage
(the father’s mother) is a non-Indian by descent, then
the grandchild loses his or her status at the age of 21.
Thus, one can be offi cially born an Indian and lose
this  status at the age of maturity. (Roosens, Creating
Ethnicity, 24)
none. Russell Thornton, “Tribal Membership Require-
ments and the Demography of ‘Old’ and ‘New’ Native
Americans,” Population Research and Policy Review 16
(1997): 37.
2. The two mentions of “Indians” in the Constitution ap-
pear in passages regarding the regulation of commerce
and the taking of a federal census. The word “tribe” also
appears once in the Constitution, in the Commerce
3. Sharon O’Brien, “Tribes and Indians: With Whom Does
the United States Maintain a Relationship?” Notre Dame
Law Review 66 (1991): 1481.
4. One particularly important law that provides no defi ni-
tion of “Indian” is the Major Crimes Act of 1885 (23
Stat. 385, U.S.C. Sec. 1153). It subjects reservation Indi-
ans to federal prosecution for certain offenses for which
non-Indians would face only state prosecution.
5. For a detailed discussion of legal cases bearing on the
defi nition of “Indian,” see Felix S. Cohen, Handbook of
Federal Indian Law (Charlottesville, Va.: Michie/
Bobbs-Merrill, 1982).
6. Wilcomb E. Washburn, Red Man’s Land/White Man’s
Law: A Study of the Past and Present States of the Amer-
ican Indian (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971).
7. These agencies administer resources and programs in
areas such as education, health, social services, tribal
governance and administration, law enforcement, nutri-
tion, resource management, tribal economic develop-
ment, employment, and the like. The most recently
published source describing various programs and the
requirements for participation is Roger Walk, Federal
Assistance to Native Americans: A Report Prepared for
the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs of the US
Senate (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Offi ce,
1991). In fi scal year 2001, recognized tribes and their
members had access to approximately four billion dol-
lars of federal funding for various social programs. U.S.
Government Accounting Offi ce, Indian Issues: Improve-
ments Needed in Tribal Recognition Process, Report to
Congressional Requesters, Washington D.C.: Govern-
ment Printing Offi ce, November 2001.
8. Non-Indian students in my classes sometimes tell me
that Indians also regularly receive such windfalls as free
cars and monthly checks from the government strictly
because of their race. It is my sad duty to puncture this
fantasy; there is no truth in it. The common belief that
Indians receive “free money” from the government
probably stems from the fact that the government holds
land in trust for certain tribes. As part of its trust respon-
sibility, it may then lease that land, collect the revenue,
and distribute it to the tribal members. Thus, some Indi-
ans do receive government checks, but these do not rep-
resent some kind of manna from heaven; they are simply
the profi ts derived from lands which they own. For
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classifi cations, but at differing rates. Popular conven-
tions of racial classifi cation in America tend to prevent
individuals with any discernible black ancestry from
identifying themselves as Indians. As an interview re-
spondent quoted by anthropologist Circe Sturm ob-
serves, “This is America, where being to any degree
Black is the same thing as being to any degree preg-
nant.” Sturm, Blood Politics, 188.
By contrast, individuals with discernible white an-
cestry are sometimes allowed by others to identify as
Indian. In their case the legitimacy of their assertion is
likely to be evaluated with reference to the amount of
white ancestry, and with beliefs about whether that
amount is enough to merely dilute or to entirely compro-
mise Indian identity. Other factors, such as culture and
upbringing, may also be taken into account. People of
partial white ancestry, in other words, are typically
somewhat more free (although not entirely free) to nego-
tiate a legitimate identity as Indian than are people of
partial black ancestry.
20. For further details on the historical impact of blood
quantum on individuals’ legal rights, see Felix S. Cohen,
Cohen’s Handbook of Federal Indian Law (Charlottes-
ville, Va.: Michie/Bobbs-Merrill, 1982).
21. For a listing of the blood quantum requirements that dif-
ferent tribes require for tribal citizenship, see Edgar
Lister, “Tribal Membership Rates and Requirements,”
unpublished table (Washington, D.C.: Indian Health
Service, 1987). An edited version of the table appears
in  C. Matthew Snipp, American Indians: The First of
This Land (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1989),
22. Devon A. Mihesuah, “Commonality of Difference:
American Indian Women and History,” in Natives and
Academics: Researching and Writing about American
Indians, ed. Devon A. Mihesuah (Lincoln: University of
Nebraska Press, 1998), 42. For a fascinating and de-
tailed discussion of the signifi cance of appearance
among contemporary Cherokees in Oklahoma, see
Sturm, Blood Politics, 108–15.
23. Michael Dorris, The Broken Cord (New York: Harper
Perennial, 1990), 22.
24. Eric Konigsberg, “Michael Dorris’s Troubled Sleep,”
New York Magazine, 16 June 1997, 33. For a related ar-
ticle, see Jerry Reynolds, “Indian Writers: The Good, the
Bad, and the Could Be, Part 2: Indian Writers: Real or
Imagined,” Indian Country Today, 15 September 1993.
25. Terry P. Wilson, “Blood Quantum: Native American
Mixed Bloods,” in Racially Mixed People in America,
ed. Maria P. P. Root (Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage,
1992), 109.
12. Roosens, Creating Ethnicity, 41–42. Roosens is discuss-
ing the situation of Canadian Indians, but the same
remarks apply to American Indians.
13. G. William Rice, “There and Back Again—An Indian
Hobbit’s Holiday: Indians Teaching Indian Law,” New
Mexico Law Review 26, no. 2 (1996): 176.
14. Melissa L. Meyer, “American Indian Blood Quantum
Requirements: Blood Is Thicker than Family,” in Over
the Edge: Remapping the American West, ed. Valerie J.
Matsumoto and Blake Allmendiger (Berkeley: Univer-
sity of California Press, 1999).
15. Historians such as Grace Steele Woodward and Marion
Starkey have made this argument. But see also Julia
Coates, “None of Us Is Supposed to Be Here” (Ph.D.
diss., University of New Mexico, 2002) for a revisionist
understanding of Cherokee history.
16. C. Matthew Snipp, “Who Are American Indians? Some
Observations about the Perils and Pitfalls of Data for
Race and Ethnicity,” Population Research and Policy
Review 5 (1986): 249. For excellent and intriguing dis-
cussions of the evolution of ideas about blood relation-
ships among European and Euro-American peoples over
several centuries, and transference of these ideas into
American Indian tribal populations, see Meyer, “Blood
Quantum Requirements,” and Circe Sturm, Blood Poli-
tics: Race, Culture, and Identity in the Cherokee Nation
of Oklahoma (Berkeley: University of California Press,
2002). See further Peggy Pascoe, “Miscegenation Law,
Court Cases, and Ideologies of ‘race’ in Twentieth Cen-
tury America,” Journal of American History 83, no. 1
(June 1996): 44–69. For the processes by which some of
these theories were rejected by scientists, see Elazar
Barkan, Retreat of Scientifi c Racism: Changing Con-
cepts of Race in Britain and the United States between
the World Wars (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1992).
17. Thomas Biolsi, “The Birth of the Reservation: Making
the Modern Individual among the Lakota,” American
Ethnologist 22, no. 1 (February 1995): 28–49; Patrick
Limerick, The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past
of the American West (New York: W. W. Norton, 1988).
18. Naomi Zack, “Mixed Black and White Race and Public
Policy,” Hypatia 10, 1 (1995): 120–32; Ariela J. Gross,
“Litigating Whiteness: Trials of Racial Determination in
the Nineteenth-Century South,” Yale Law Journal 108
(1998): 109–88.
19. Jack D. Forbes, “The Manipulation of Race, Caste, and
Identity: Classifying AfroAmericans, Native Americans
and Red-Black People,” Journal of Ethnic Studies 17,
no. 4 (1990): 24; original emphasis. Indians are “lost,”
in Forbes’ sense, both to black and to white racial
READING 4: Real Indians 79
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80 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
Punjabi; Japanese Americans shouting in Chinese;
Korean Americans shouting in Vietnamese.
As a panethnic mobilization, the API contingent
and its linguistically diverse chant run counter to
sociological understandings where panethnicity is
conceptualized as largely subsuming and replacing
single-ethnic identifi cations and orientations de-
pending on context (Espiritu 1992; Itzigsohn and
Dore-Cabral 2000; Vo 2004; Waters 1999). To the
contrary, the multiple languages within this chant
exemplify a broader and persistent ethnic diversity
exercised within panethnic spaces. As such, the
rally’s API contingent raises questions about the re-
lationship between single-ethnic and panethnic
identities and the coexistence of solidarity and di-
versity within a cohesive social movement. . . .
Espiritu (1992:14), in her seminal study, defi nes
Asian American panethnicity as “the development
of bridging organizations and solidarities among
several ethnic and immigrant groups of Asian an-
cestry.” While Asian American panethnicity origi-
nated through the racial lumping of all Asian
ethnicities by outsiders, panethnicity has become a
political resource for insiders (Espiritu 1992).
Scholarship on identity work within panethnic
Asian American contexts describes the outcomes of
such negotiations in two ways: (1) panethnic iden-
tity subsuming single-ethnic identifi cation, and
(2) panethnic and single-ethnic identities coexist
but are situationally exercised depending on con-
text. The fi rst potential outcome places multiple
identities within a salience hierarchy. One identity
is privileged above all others. This rank ordering of
identity is applicable to many of the descriptions of
the earliest incarnations of Asian American paneth-
nic identity. In the late 1960s, activists sought to
construct a monolithic, politicized Asian American
collective consciousness that required a relinquish-
ing of single-ethnic orientations, as well as feminist
and class identities (Liu, Geron, and Lai 2008;
Louie and Omatsu 2006; Maeda 2009; Umemoto
1989; Wei 1993). From this perspective, single-
ethnic and panethnic identities are reconciled by
muting single-ethnic consciousness in favor of a
panethnic Asian American orientation.
R E A D I N G 5
An Interlocking Panethnicity:
The Negotiation of Multiple
Identities among Asian American
Social Movement Leaders
Dana Y. Nakano
Compromise bills—Down down!
Immigrant rights—Ho yea! (Chinese)
[or] Immigrant rights—Phai day! (Vietnamese)
[or] Immigrant rights—Zindabhad! (Punjabi)
Employer sanctions—Down down!
Workers rights—Mabuhay! (Tagalog)
Guest worker slavery—Down down!
Immigrant rights—Mansei! (Korean)
In the early afternoon of an April Sunday in 2006,
the Asian Pacifi c Islander (API) contingent marched
down San Francisco’s Market Street proudly chant-
ing their rallying call.
These API activists ad-
vanced in solidarity within a multicolor sea of
signs and people stretching multiple city blocks in
support of immigrant rights. Numbering in the hun-
dreds, the Asian American protestors came together
from a diverse array of ethnic backgrounds advanc-
ing to the beat of Korean drums. The opening chant
is a tactic leaders of the API contingent utilized to
highlight both the collective investment of Asian
Americans in immigration reform debates contem-
poraneously occurring on the fl oor of the United
States Senate and the diversity within the Asian
American population. The inclusion of multiple
ethnic voices is evidence of panethnic solidarity
among discrete Asian American communities. This
solidarity is further underscored by how the chant
is recited. The whole contingent shouts the same
cry in unison, not just in an individual’s own ethnic
language. There are Filipino Americans shouting in
Dana Y. Nakano is a graduate student in sociology at the
University of California, Irvine.
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READING 5: An Interlocking Panethnicity 81
Crenshaw 1991). Anthias (1998) describes intersec-
tionality in identity as a series of different layers of
self and imposed defi nitions that can be worn in
different orders at different times. Rather than only
the top layer as a situational understanding of iden-
tity would predict, the sum of all layers positions
each individual, or group, in the social order
( Anthias 1998). In this way, an individual or group
may be at once Asian American, Chinese American,
female, and working class. Similar to the idea of
situational identity, an individual may differentially
exercise and emphasize one identity under different
circumstances. However, this ability to shift identi-
ties does not detract from the fact that this individ-
ual or group is still defi ned by and draws from all
facets of identity across all situations.
Glenn (2002) pushes the concept of intersec-
tionality further and introduces the concept of in-
terlocking systems of oppression to describe the
experiences of women of color that are starkly dif-
ferent than both white women and men of color
(also see Collins 2005; Crenshaw 1991). Glenn
(2002:7) focuses on the notion of interlockedness
in her assertion that race and gender are not expe-
rienced as “separate or additive” but, rather, are
“simultaneous and linked.” Women of color expe-
rience both race and gender simultaneously. Race
and gender are viewed as relational categories:
“they are positioned and therefore gain meaning in
relation to each other” (Glenn 2002:13). Gender
affects the way racial identity is conceptualized
and vice versa: “gender is racialized and race is
gendered” (Glenn 2002:7). Understanding single-
ethnic and panethnic identities as relational and
interlocking acknowledges the dynamic and shift-
ing understandings of both identities vis-à-vis one
another. As will be demonstrated in this study, un-
derstandings of what it means to be Filipino Amer-
ican, Indian American, or Chinese American are
informed by a panethnic Asian American identity
and how each distinct single-ethnic identity fi ts
under this broad umbrella category. Panethnic
Asian American identity is fundamentally shaped
by the varied single-ethnic groups and identities
that it claims to represent. . . .
In contrast to the fi ndings supporting a salience
hierarchy, studies of contemporary panethnic Asian
American organizing have largely found a situa-
tional exercise of panethnic versus single-ethnic
identity (Espiritu 1992; Kibria 2002; Vo 2004).
These scholars assert panethnic and single-ethnic
identities are utilized singularly, strategically, and
instrumentally according to specifi c contexts. For
example, Espiritu (1992) demonstrates how de-
pending on social, economic, or political situations,
individuals may mobilize themselves along single-
ethnic or panethnic lines. Vo (2004:225) posits “in-
dividuals may have multiple ethnic identities, but
these identities are salient according to constantly
shifting circumstances.” In Vo’s study, respondents
were often involved in both panethnic- and single-
ethnic–focused organizations. Within single-ethnic
contexts such as single-ethnically focused organi-
zations or personal ethnic networks, respondents
chose to deploy their single-ethnicity as their pri-
mary identifi cation. However, when working in pa-
nethnic organizations, Vo’s respondents spoke of
more freely exercising a panethnic Asian American
identity over single-ethnic identifi cation.
For Espiritu and Vo, both single-ethnic and pan-
ethnic identities exist as discrete identities and are
separately exercised at different times and in differ-
ent situations. While this interpretation speaks to
the continued presence of single-ethnic orientations
within the API contingent at the April 2006 march,
the framework is less apt to explain the simultane-
ous display of panethnic solidarity and single- ethnic
diversity within the chant and mobilization. Rather
than viewing single-ethnicity and panethnicity as
situational and separate, I look toward the possibil-
ity of continuous interplay between single-ethnic
and panethnic identities. . . . [This] study explores
the inner workings of single-ethnic and panethnic
coexistence, examining the ways individual leaders
negotiate an interlocking relationship between
single-ethnic and panethnic identities within their
respective organizations. . . .
The concept of interlocking identities, struc-
tures, or categories is strongly related to the concept
of intersectionality (Anthias 1998; Collins 2005;
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82 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
and Nationality Act of 1965, the legitimate reopen-
ing of immigration from Asia, began to impact the
population, the number of ethnic categories began
to show growth. The count of enumerated Asian ra-
cial subgroup categories grew slowly at fi rst to
seven in 1980, then rapidly to eighteen in 1990, and
reached twenty-two by the 2010 Census (Ruggles
et al. 2008; U.S. Census Bureau n.d.c).
Over the same time period, the Asian American
population in the San Francisco Bay Area and
across the nation also increased its diversity in
terms of income, place of residence, political orien-
tation, educational attainment, as well as nativity.
In 1960, the majority of Asian Americans were
native-born. Beginning with the 1970 Census, the
predominant nativity began to shift, with Filipino
Americans becoming a majority foreign-born pop-
ulation. By 1980, Asian Americans as a whole be-
came a majority foreign-born racial group and all
single-ethnic groups, with the exception of Japanese
Americans, were also predominantly foreign-born.
This pattern continues into the present day ( Ruggles
et al. 2008).
The number of ethnic groups and the size of each
group grew tremendously over the second half of
the twentieth century. Leaders of contemporary pa-
nethnic organizations mobilize an Asian American
community that must negotiate more differences
than their predecessors in creating and maintaining
a cohesive panethnic collective identity. If distinct
single-ethnic Asian American communities have
such disparate needs and issues and their individual
populations have grown, one must ask why paneth-
nic organizations continue to exist. As communities
reach critical mass, why not advocate for them-
selves and organize around single-ethnic identities?
The answer to this question is two-fold: First, while
the Asian American population has seen increases,
they remain a numerical minority in the 2010 U.S.
Census. The Asian American population accounted
for less than 6 percent of the total U.S. population
and 15 percent of California. In the San Francisco
Bay Area, Asian Americans constitute a much
higher percentage, 32, but remain a minority popu-
lation. Furthermore, no single-ethnic community
I locate my study in the greater San Francisco
Bay Area, a particularly apt site. The Bay Area
boasts the three continental United States metro-
politan areas with the highest percentage of Asian
American residents: Fremont, 39.8 percent; San
Francisco, 32.6 percent; and San Jose, 28.8 percent
(U.S. Census Bureau n.d.a). The Bay Area is also
home to a long Asian American political history
including the Third World Liberation Front and the
creation of a radical and progressive Asian Ameri-
can politics in the late 1960s (Maeda 2009). The
specifi cities of the Bay Area region speak to the
need to analyze racial identity formations in local
or regional terms (Pulido 2006; Rumbaut 2009;
Vo 2004).

As this project is particularly interested in the
identity work conducted by organizational leaders
and how identity affects organizational processes
and practices, I draw on data from in-depth, semis-
tructured interviews [conducted in 2006] with con-
temporary leaders of Asian American social
movement organizations.
My interview respondents pointed to the syn-
ergy of two social and historical factors in creating
the need for an interlocking panethnicity: (1) the
shifting demographics of an increasingly diverse
Asian American population and (2) the institution-
alization of panethnicity within organizations stem-
ming from the Asian American Movement of the
1960s and 1970s.
The story of Asian America is one of increasing di-
versity. When Yuji Ichioka coined the term “Asian
American” during the 1960s, the U.S. Census only
recorded three distinct Asian American ethnic
groups: Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino. By the
1970 Census, only four ethnic groups were enumer-
ated. While the Census may not accurately portray
the existence of smaller, and hence uncounted, pop-
ulations of other ethnic groups, it provides a sense
of visibility for various ethnic groups during each
Census period. As the effects of the Immigration
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in terms of ethnicity, nativity, and class, serves as a
causal factor for increased awareness of specifi c
issues of single-ethnic communities. This increased
demographic diversity impacts organizations di-
rectly through a diversifi cation of organizational
clients, members, staff, and leadership, forcing or-
ganizations to reconcile single-ethnic differences
under a reimagined panethnic collectivity. The
maintenance of panethnic identity within these
organizations is bolstered by the continued minor-
ity status, even in the San Francisco Bay Area, and
common racialized experiences of Asian Americans.
Panethnic orientations also continue within Asian
American activism due to the legacy of panethnic
organizing reaching back to the 1960s Asian Amer-
ican Movement. The preexisting panethnic organi-
zational forms serve as a model for contemporary
Asian American activism, dictating coalitional ef-
forts among single-ethnic communities, but not the
form those efforts take. As such, panethnicity is still
seen as an effective mobilizing strategy and organi-
zational form, but only if it takes into account the
diverse perspectives and issues facing distinct
single-ethnic communities. . . .
The Asian American Movement, largely taking
place in the early 1970s, sought to expose the com-
mon racialized experience of American peoples of
Asian ancestry and create greater solidarity among
Asian ethnic groups. Wei (1993:272) claims the
identity emerging from the Asian American Move-
ment “transcended the communal and cultural lim-
its of particular Asian ethnic groups to identity with
the past experiences, present circumstances, and
future aspirations” of an Asian American collectiv-
ity. Panethnic Asian American identity is described
as “overcoming the separate ethnic nationalism
that  originally divided them” (Wei 1993:272). In
present-day San Francisco, I observe a contrasting
panethnicity that does not act independently or in
place of single-ethnic identity and mobilization.
accounted for more than 12 percent of the total Bay
Area population (U.S. Census Bureau n.d.c). Pan-
ethnicity continues to provide a competitive advan-
tage in the modern democratic state where there is
power in numbers (Espiritu 1992). Second, even if
certain single-ethnic groups reached critical mass
in the Bay Area, there remains a need to maintain a
panethnic orientation when building coalitions with
organizations in other regions that continue to rely
on panethnic formations due to smaller Asian
American populations. In addition, the panethnic
label continues to provide political recognition via
an institutionally recognized racial category: Asian
American (Espiritu 1992).
Looking at historical trajectories, Espiritu (1992)
argues that among the early reasons Asian
Americans across diverse ethnic groups came
together in panethnic groupings was to secure gov-
ernment funding that favors multiethnic programs
and impacts the highest number of people possible.
Many of these organizations have been in existence
for more than 20 years and have maintained paneth-
nic orientations due to their organizational legacy
and funding realities. Speaking more specifi cally to
the institutionalization and reproduction of paneth-
nicity, some organizations in this study began as
single-ethnic organizations but have shifted toward
panethnic missions in large part due to the need to
attract public and private funds. In favoring multi-
ethnic programs, government agencies have helped
to institutionalize panethnic organizing and identity
among Asian Americans. As organizations have
structured themselves and their missions in accor-
dance with continuing panethnically oriented fund-
ing and service guidelines, they continue to promote
panethnic Asian American identity (Espiritu 1992).
Such panethnic institutionalization is evident in the
organizations represented in this study.
The increased diversity of the Asian American
population from 1960 to the present day, particularly
READING 5: An Interlocking Panethnicity 83
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84 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
Despite their diverse backgrounds, participating
leaders hold strikingly similar views on the contem-
porary state of Asian American panethnicity. Lead-
ers felt that signifi cant progress had been made in
recognizing the importance of single- ethnic identi-
ties within the broader panethnic movement. Calvin,
for instance, shared:
I think it’s evolved to the point where an Asian
American identity can encompass people who identify
more as their own ethnic group. Whereas, maybe
20 years ago . . . there was more of this tension “Hey,
give up being Chinese , you should say you’re Asian
so we can have more people power as Asians. ” I think
the movement has gotten to this point where people
can identify primarily as a Vietnamese refugee but
also consider themselves part of the movement.
( emphasis added) . . .
. . . Understanding the reconceptualizations of an
interlocking panethnicity, I now turn to the mecha-
nisms and practices of this new panethnic
orientation within the organizations in this study.
Leaders demonstrate the interlocking nature of
single-ethnicity and panethnicity in the philosophy
and practices within their respective organizations.
In discussing how panethnicity is constructed as a
cohesive collective identity in the presence of dis-
tinct single-ethnic identifi cations, leaders spoke of
the mechanism of an interlocking panethnicity in
fi ve ways: (1) encouraging maintenance of single-
ethnic identities, (2) accounting for linguistic and
cultural diversity, (3) coming to terms with ethnic
and class privilege, (4) leveraging resources for the
panethnic good, and (5) building collaborative and
deliberative organizational frameworks and pro-
cesses. These practices demonstrate the diffi cult
identity work undertaken by leaders and the organi-
zational effect of a reconceptualized panethnic
Rather, panethnic orientations intersect and take
into consideration the diverse single-ethnic experi-
ences that exist within the population. Borrowing
from Glenn’s framework, panethnicity and single-
ethnicity are interlocking structures—simultaneous
and mutually affecting (Glenn 2002).
All leaders [I interviewed] shared a strong com-
mitment to panethnic coalitions and noted their ne-
cessity and effectiveness. As stated by Eleanor, a
Chinese American leader:
I think it’s necessary that we band together. I think we
always have to, bottom line, we have to unite in order
to disunite. . . . We have to unite as Asian Americans
in order to distinguish ourselves from one another.
Similar to the intentions and strategies leveraged
by Asian American activists in the 1960s and
1970s, Eleanor and other contemporary leaders
see panethnic organizing as an important way to
garner political power and visibility with greater
numbers. However, Eleanor’s statement also
demonstrates that panethnicity is not viewed as an
end, but rather as a means for increased recogni-
tion and social justice. The expanded notoriety
gained through panethnic organizing can serve as
a platform for single-ethnic concerns. If paneth-
nic organizing is important for single-ethnic com-
munities to have their claims heard and acted
upon in an overcrowded political fi eld, joining
panethnic coalitions and organizations cannot
erase or override single-ethnic identity. Rather,
leaders in this study note that single-ethnic identi-
ties must be voiced and present in panethnic
Respondents lament and actively work to de-
construct the monolithic perception of, what
Wendy named, an “Asian American mainstream.”
Wendy, a 36-year-old Asian American leader of
mixed heritage, continued by posing a question that
seemed to weigh heavy on the minds of leaders
within this study’s sample: “How do we maintain
our specifi c heritages and identities at the same
time that we stand together as an Asian American
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equipped to fully and accurately represent the needs
and concerns of other single-ethnic communities.
Representation is understood as fundamentally tied
to a lived experience. Single-ethnic identities can
only be truly represented by individuals who come
from particular communities. In order to build pan-
ethnic organizations that are truly representative of
diverse Asian American populations, leaders often
spoke of the intentional invitations to and recruit-
ment of potential leaders from underrepresented
single-ethnic communities.
Accounting for Linguistic
and Cultural Diversity
Maintenance of interlocking single-ethnic identi-
ties and orientations in panethnic organizing are
also important in instrumental terms. . . .
Cultural and language capacities are particularly
important for Asian American community mobili-
zations, as over 37 percent of the Asian American
population in the four-county San Francisco Bay
Area is classifi ed as limited English profi cient
Furthermore, Asian Americans remain a
predominantly foreign-born population, approxi-
mately 70 percent in the four-county region (U.S.
Census Bureau n.d.a). Language and cultural com-
petencies provided by single-ethnically oriented
individuals, then, are instrumentally important and
must be maintained within panethnic organizations
to effectively outreach to and mobilize the large
LEP and foreign-born segments of the Asian
American population. Tristan, a Hapa American,
offers a more concrete description of a mechanism
used to address the linguistic and cultural diversity
of the Asian American population:
A Filipino TV station came and covered the press
conference, which was great, and we actually did
have somebody who spoke Tagalog, but we don’t
always and there are certainly other languages that we
just don’t have represented. And we really try to invite
the API press to these events and many of them cover
it in English and the article they produce may be in
another language. But many of them want to interview
Modeling Single-Ethnic Identity
. . . Leaders in this study speak of a panethnic identity
that encourages the maintenance of single- ethnicity
as integral to the ultimate success of the movement.
They see a need for diverse representation of single-
ethnic organizations within the Asian American or-
ganizational fi eld and within panethnic organizations
themselves. Maintained single-ethnic identity is
demonstrated within organizations as leaders dis-
cussed the strategic importance of “self” representa-
tion of single-ethnic community interests in
leadership and decision-making processes of paneth-
nic organizations. Leaders lead by example by
maintaining their own single-ethnic identity and en-
courage members to speak from the experience of
their particular ethnic communities. The mainte-
nance of single-ethnic identity among leaders is par-
ticularly salient as they discussed whom they feel
they represent within their leadership capacity. While
all study participants hold leadership positions that
engage in panethnic mobilization in some form, they
conceptualize their ability to truly represent in very
narrow terms. “A more progressive Vietnamese com-
munity,” “Chinatown woman activists,” “a hapa, bi-
racial experience,” “Filipino privileged people;” and
“an East Oakland, working class, immigrant, woman
experience” are some examples of this specifi city.
[Two respondents], Briana and Edwin, further ex-
plain the reason for such specifi city:
I don’t know that I feel I am representing any one
mass community because it is extremely diverse and
has a lot of different complexities and complications
to it. . . . I feel like I am representing part of the divi-
sions. (Briana, Indian American)
I hope I represent Asian Americans generally, but
I think I represent other East Asian people better than
other Asian Americans. Particularly, like South
Asians, because I just don’t know that  much about
their culture. (Edwin, Chinese American)
Leaders feel they are only able to represent their
own personal ethnic experience as they feel ill
READING 5: An Interlocking Panethnicity 85
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86 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
structure and privilege within the panethnic com-
munity is left intact. In their quest for racial equal-
ity, Asian American organizations may replicate
the system of oppression they seek to dismantle;
marginalized Asian American ethnic groups may
remain powerless to assert their own issues into
panethnic agendas. . . .
Leveraging Human and Social Capital
for the Panethnic Good
Leaders who hold privileged social positions due
to their ethnic or class background can also lever-
age their elevated human and social capital for
the benefi t of less privileged segments of the
Asian American population and Asian Americans
as a whole. [One respondent] spoke of an organi-
zational process of open dialogue, whereby indi-
viduals learn from those of other ethnic back
grounds and incorporate an understanding of the
issues that affect less visible and less privileged
Asian Americans. Importantly, individuals from
marginalized Asian American communities are
the ones who speak, teach, and lead on these less
familiar struggles. East Asian Americans are con-
fronted with the realities of other Asian American
ethnic groups within the panethnic formation,
which forces them to recognize their own privi-
leged position and alters their engagement with
the organization.
In the process of deconstructing divisive hierar-
chies of privilege, leaders leverage organizational
resources from across the panethnic spectrum to
uplift other less privileged segments of the Asian
American community. Ryan, for example, leads a
sizable and longstanding organization with roots in
the Japanese American community. Across its his-
tory, Ryan’s organization has been able to accrue
many resources, capacities, and connections that
are unavailable to more recently arrived ethnic
communities and recently formed organizations.
Rather than hoard such resources, Ryan expresses a
philosophy of sharing and empowerment:
Over time the organization has grown, its capacity has
increased and the bottom line is [we work with other
somebody in the language they are ultimately going
to write in. That is a big thing on our to-do list.
For Tristan, having linguistic and cultural diversity
represented within his organization and at organiza-
tional events is important for the dissemination of
information to a broader Asian American public.
Aside from communicative importance, a cul-
turally and linguistically competent staff is also
central to a panethnic organization’s ability to pro-
vide direct services to diverse Asian American
communities that continue to speak ethnic-specifi c
languages and practice ethnic-specifi c cultures. As
discussed earlier, demographic shifts in the Asian
American population have had a direct impact on
organizations by increasing the diversity of clients
served by various organizations as well as the
members and leaders who make up the organiza-
tion itself. As organizational clients have increased
in ethnic diversity, organizational leadership has
been forced to grapple with how to provide services
to largely immigrant communities with distinct lan-
guages and cultures. . . .
Coming to Terms with Privilege
. . . The experiences of a perceived homogenous
Asian American population are generally catego-
rized within the model minority paradigm and
therefore lay outside the boundary to “legitimate”
oppression. Asian American organizations may
champion the issues of less privileged segments of
the Asian American population in order to increase
political relevance.
When promoting panethnic
Asian American agendas externally, the issues of
these marginalized Asian Americans take center
stage. This agenda shift, however, is not always
accompanied by an equal shift in ethnic make-up
of decision-makers and visible leadership. While
placing marginalized Asian American concerns at
the forefront of a public panethnic agenda is
empowering and may achieve gains for a
marginalized segment of the population, it also
serves to obscure the ethnic privileges and power
positions held by Japanese and Chinese Americans
within  many panethnic mobilizations. The power
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of hierarchies that is explicitly racialized. Accord-
ing to leaders in this study, fostering collaboration,
open dialogue, and participation among distinct
single-ethnic communities are fundamental to the
success of panethnic Asian American collective ac-
tion. Leaders frequently discussed the need to create
an open atmosphere within their organizations in
order to foster collaboration among members. . . .
Taken together, the evidence drawn from my
interviews with organizational leaders shows that
single-ethnicities persist in panethnic mobilizations
and that this continued presence has mutual effects
on both single-ethnic and panethnic identities.
Building upon the works of panethnicity scholars
Espiritu and Vo, this study demonstrates that exer-
cise of single-ethnic and panethnic identities are
not simply driven by situations and contexts that
favor one identity over the other. Rather, single-
ethnic and panethnic identities are “both simultane-
ous and linked,” informing and altering one another
(Glenn 2002:7). It follows that panethnic identity,
in its contemporary form, may be better understood
as interlocking with single-ethnic identity, rather
than within a salience hierarchy or being situation-
ally determined. The identity negotiations that take
place lead to the coexistence and mutual effect of
multiple identities within a single movement. . . .
1. What are ways to measure panethnic solidarity?
2. What are some of the problems of maintaining
single-ethnic identity when the larger goal is
3. What are some of the mechanisms for creating
an interlocking panethnicity?
1. For the majority of this article, I speak specifi cally about
the panethnic Asian American community, rather than
API. This is a conscious effort not to tokenize the Pacifi c
Islander experience in my analysis. This is not to say
that Pacifi c Islanders should not be included in panethnic
communities] because we can . . . and, in actuality, we
want to. We have been fortunate as an organization to
be able to evolve to do many things. I take a lot of pride
in the fact that there is a Japanese American youth or-
ganization in this country that can serve everybody.
. . . The skills and resources brought to organizations
by different leaders vary widely from accounting
skills and public speaking to network connections
and fundraising. The demographics of the leaders
participating in this study show that all inhabit a priv-
ileged social class position, which is often accompa-
nied by greater social and cultural capital. Leaders in
this study, regardless of ethnicity, are highly conscious
of their privileged positions within their organiza-
tions, within the community, and oftentimes within
society at large. A frequent assertion by study partici-
pants was an earnest interest in using their privileged,
educated positions, and the access to information and
networks that comes with it, for the betterment of the
panethnic community as a whole. In particular, lead-
ers wished to be a conduit of information and access
point for segments of the community that largely do
not have a voice. Privilege is not used as a tool
of  domination over the lower rungs of the class
hierarchy, but rather a means to uplift, educate, and
empower the broadest segment of the community
Collaborative Frameworks and
Privileging Marginalized Voices
In addition to acknowledging privilege and leverag-
ing the resources of privilege for a broader paneth-
nic community, leaders also foster collaborative
processes within their respective organizations to
give voice to the diversity within the Asian American
population. Such practices also stem from the non-
profi t orientation of the Asian American social
movement organizations in this study. Nonprofi t or-
ganizations often utilize nonhierarchical structures
and decision-making processes due to their service
and advocacy- oriented missions (DiMaggio and
Anheier 1990). However, Asian American social
movement organization leaders espouse an ap-
proach to the recognition of privilege and fl attening
READING 5: An Interlocking Panethnicity 87
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88 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
Dominicans in the United States.” Sociological Forum
Kibria, Nazli. 2002. Becoming Asian American: Second-
Generation Chinese and Korean American Identities.
Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Liu, Michael, Kim Geron, and Traci Lai. 2008. The Snake
Dance of Asian American Activism: Community, Vision,
and Power. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.
Louie, Steve and Glenn Omatsu. 2006. Asian Americans:
The Movement and the Moment. Los Angeles: UCLA
Asian American Studies Center Press.
Maeda, Daryl J. 2009. Chains of Babylon: The Rise of Asian
America. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Pulido, Laura. 2006. Black, Brown, Yellow and Left: Radical
Activism in Los Angeles. Berkeley: University of California
Ruggles, Steven, Matthew Sobek, Trent Alexander,
Catherine A. Fitch, Ronald Goeken, Patricia Kelly Hall,
Miriam King, and Chad Ronnander. 2008. “Integrated
Public Use Microdata Series: Version 4.0 [machine-
readable database].” Minnesota Population Center [pro-
ducer and distributor].
Rumbaut, Rubén G. 2009. “Pigments of Our Imagination:
On the Racialization and Racial Identities of ‘Hispanics’
and ‘Latinos.’” Pp. 15–36 in How the U.S. Racializes
Latinos: White Hegemony and Its Consequences , edited
by J. A. Cobas, J. Duany, and J. R. Feagin. Boulder, CO:
Paradigm Publishers.
U.S. Census Bureau. n.d.a. American Community Survey,
2010 American Community Survey Five-year Estimates;
generated by Dana Y. Nakano; using American FactFinder
(February 15, 2012).
———. n.d.b. Census 2000, Summary File 1; generated by
Dana Y. Nakano; using American FactFinder ( February 15,
———. n.d.c. Census 2010, Summary File 1; generated by
Dana Y. Nakano; using American FactFinder (February 15,
Umemoto, Karen. 1989. “‘On Strike!’ San Francisco States
College, 1968–69: The Role of Asian American Students.”
Amerasia 15:3–41.
Vo, Linda Trinh. 2000. “Performing Ethnography in Asian
American Communities: Beyond the Insider-Versus-
Outsider Perspective.” Pp. 17–37 in Cultural Compass:
Ethnographic Explorations of Asian America , edited by
M. F. Manalansan IV. Philadelphia: Temple University
———. 2004. Mobilizing an Asian American Community.
Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Waters, Mary C. 1999. Black Identities: West Indian Immi-
grant Dreams and American Realities. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press.
Wei, William. 1993. The Asian American Movement.
Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.
Asian American formations. Rather, I nod at the limita-
tions of my sample, which only includes one Pacifi c
Islander–identifi ed respondent. She is ethnically mixed
(Filipino, Chamorro, and Samoan) and is treated as a
person of mixed race. References to API are maintained
only in reference to the April 2006 rally and the nomen-
clature explicitly used by interview respondents.
2. While the San Francisco metropolitan area is an apt site
for a study of progressive race-based movement identi-
ties, it also produces some biases. A potentially skewed
conception of panethnic identity may arise as leaders
attempt to mobilize in the generally progressive political
environment of San Francisco. Additionally, the deep
history of panethnic organizing associated with the Bay
Area may create a more easily mobilized base and
heightened consciousness in the community. Lastly, the
high percentages of Asian Americans in the greater San
Francisco Bay Area may also infl uence panethnic iden-
tity formations and mobilization efforts.
3. LEP is defi ned as individuals who speak a language
other than English and have self-rated their profi ciency
in English as less than “very well.” All LEP and nativity
data are derived from the American Community Survey
2010 fi ve-year Aggregate dataset accessed through
American Factfi nder.
4. This is not to say that Chinese or Japanese Americans do
not have legitimate grievances deserving of attention.
Rather, the social position of Southeast Asian Americans
is more justifi able within the normative discourse of
racial inequalities.
Anthias, Floya. 1998. “Rethinking Social Divisions: Some
Notes Towards a Theoretical Framework.” Sociological
Review 46:506–35.
Collins, Patricia Hill. 2005. “Black Feminist Thought.”
Pp. 404–20 in Theories of Race and Racism , edited by
L. Back and J. Solomos. New York: Routeledge.
Crenshaw, Kimberle. 1991. “Mapping the Margins: Inter-
sectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against
Women of Color.” Stanford Law Review 43:1241–99.
DiMaggio, Paul J. and Helmut K. Anheier. 1990. “The Soci-
ology of Nonprofit Organizations and Sectors.” Annual
Review of Sociology 16:137–59.
Espiritu, Yen Le. 1992. Asian American Panethnicity: Bridg-
ing Institutions and Identities. Philadelphia: Temple Uni-
versity Press.
Glenn, Evelyn Nakano. 2002. Unequal Freedom: How Race
and Gender Shaped American Citizenship and Labor.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Itzigsohn, Jose and Carlos Dore-Cabral. 2000. “Competing
Identities? Race, Ethnicity and Panethnicity among
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READING 6: Latino Racial Choices 89
On 19 June 2003, an article in USA Today pro-
claimed that ‘Hispanics outnumber[ed] blacks as the
largest minority group in the USA’.
A few months
later, the US Census undertook a project to predict
what the US’s racial make-up would be in 2050.
The authors of this project, funded by the Minority
Business Development Agency of the US Depart-
ment of Commerce, predicted that non- Hispanic
whites will constitute only 53 per cent of the US
population in 2050, while Hispanic whites will make
up 22 per cent of the total population, Hispanic
blacks 2 per cent and non-Hispanic blacks 13 per cent.

These predictions are based on the problematic
assumption that current patterns of racial and ethnic
R E A D I N G 6
Latino Racial Choices: The Effects
of Skin Colour and Discrimination
on Latinos’ and Latinas’ Racial
Self-Identifi cations
Tanya Golash-Boza and William Darity , Jr
If you had a choice of colors, which one would you
choose, my brother? (Curtis Mayfi eld)
Tanya Golash-Boza is a professor of sociology at the University
of California, Merced. William Darity, Jr is a professor of public
policy, African and African American Studies, and economics at
Duke University.
I Thought My Race Was Invisible
In a conversation with a close friend, I noticed that I am,
to her, a representative of my entire racial category. To
put things in perspective, my friend Janet and I have
been friends for eight years. During this period, it has
come up that I am a third-generation Japanese- American
who has no ties to being Japanese other than a couple
of sushi dishes I learned how to make from my grand-
mother. Nonetheless, whenever a question regarding
“Asians” comes up, she comes to me as if I can provide
the definitive answer to every Asian mystery.
Yesterday Janet asked me if there is a cultural reason
why Asians “always drive so slow.” Not having noticed
that Asians drive slowly (in fact, I have noticed a number
of Asians who actually exceed the speed limit), I com-
mented that perhaps they are law-abiding citizens. She
said that must explain it: “They are used to following the
law.” I thought, “Am I one of ‘they’?” but didn’t comment
further. Before we switched subjects, she noted that she
“knew there had to be a cultural reason” for their driving.
Janet then told me about a Vietnamese woman at the
Hair Cuttery who cut her husband’s hair. As is normal, her
husband talked to the woman as she worked on his hair;
he asked her what she did before working at the Hair Cut-
tery. She said that she used to work in the fields in Califor-
nia (i.e., she was a field hand). Janet told me of the healthy
respect that she and her husband had for a woman who
worked in the fields, put herself through cosmetology
school, moved East, and became a professional hairstyl-
ist. She commented that “Blacks” should follow her exam-
ple and work instead of complaining of their lot in life.
This conversation was interesting and a bit startling.
Janet is a good friend who shares many interests with
me. What I realized from this conversation, and in re-
membering others that were similar, is that she feels that
I am a representative of the whole Asian race. Not only is
this unrealistic, but it is surprising that she would imagine
I could answer for my race given my lack of real cultural
exposure. In relaying the story of the Vietnamese woman,
I had a sense that she was complimenting me, and my
race, for the industriousness “we” demonstrate. It seems
to me that she approved of the “typically” Asian way of
working (quietly, so as not to insult or offend), even
though this woman was probably underpaid and over-
worked in her field hand job. While she approved of her
reticence, Janet did not approve of “Black” complaints.
I realize that to Janet, I will always be Asian. I had not
really thought about it before, but I never think of Janet as
White; her race is invisible to me. I had thought that my
race was invisible too; however, I realize now that I will
always be the “marked” friend. This saddens me a bit, but
I accept it with the knowledge that she is a close friend.
Nonetheless, it is unfortunate to think that even between
friends, race is an issue.
Sherri H. Pereira
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90 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
to answer both the race and ethnicity questions. For
this reason, data from the Census allow social sci-
entists to talk about white Hispanics versus black
Hispanics or to speculate on what it means for a
Hispanic to choose ‘other’ for his or her race.
Although the US Census considers ‘Hispanic’
to be an ethnic identifi er, this category differs in
important ways from other ethnic identifi ers such
as Italian-American or Irish-American. If Hispanic
were ‘merely’ an ethnic identifi er, we would not
expect for it to persist at the individual level for the
next two generations, or at least would expect that
it would dissipate to some extent. Thus, despite
evidence that ethnic identifi ers have generally be-
come less salient over the course of generations, the
current predictions about the future demographics
of the US expect the children of Hispanics also to
be Hispanics.
Most social scientists expect the category ‘His-
panic’ to persist because it is a racialized ethnic
label. (Notably, those who expect it to disappear,
such as Yancey (2003), treat Hispanic as an ethnic
label.) However, we take the position that Hispanic
is a racialized ethnic label because it is used and
applied in a very similar way to other racial labels
in the US – on the basis of physical appearance. In
daily interactions, people in the US do not label
people as Hispanic based on their ancestry, as it
would be diffi cult to conduct genealogical analyses
of people whom we encounter on a daily basis. We
do, however, react to symbolic markers of ancestry,
such as phenotype, accent and other cultural codes,
thereby racializing the category ‘Hispanic’. To the
extent that we, in the United States, associate Latin
American ancestry with a particular somatic image,
we give racial meaning to Latin American ancestry,
and treat people who fi t that somatic norm, not as
whites or blacks, but as Hispanics.
The US Census uses a defi nition of Hispanic
that includes all people whose origin can be traced
to Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba or Central or South
America. Given the great diversity of people from
this area, combined with the social practice of as-
sociating a particular somatic norm image with
Hispanicity in the US, we can expect some Latin
identifi cation can be used to predict future identifi –
cation patterns without taking into account the
possibility that Hispanics’ racial and ethnic identi-
fi cations can and do change. Notably, the authors of
the Census project seem to expect the ethnic and
racial identifi cation patterns of Hispanics to remain
unchanged for the next fi fty years. This mode of
thinking runs contrary to the assimilation canon –
most theorists who study assimilation agree that
ethnic identifi cations can be expected to change
(see Alba and Nee (1997) for a discussion of the
assimilation canon and its merits). In addition, re-
cent works by Harris and Sim (2002) and Brown,
Hitlin and Elder (2006) suggest that racial self-
identifi cations can also be expected to change. This
paper takes on the question of what the future face
of the US will look like by developing a theoretical
framework that takes into account the viability of
racial and ethnic identifi ers for Latinos and Latinas
in the US.
. . . In this article, we address the changing struc-
ture of the US racial hierarchy, but also argue that it
is important to consider the factors that infl uence
how individual Latinos/as self-identify in order
better to predict how Latinos/as will identify in
the future.
Before continuing, we should clarify the distinc-
tion between Hispanic as a racial category and His-
panic as an ethnic category. On the 2000 US
Census, there were separate questions for race and
ancestry. The race question was not open-ended.
Respondents had to choose one or more of the fol-
lowing categories as their race: American Indian or
Alaska Native; Asian; Black or African American;
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacifi c Islander; and
White. In addition, there was the option of selecting
‘other’. Ethnicity was a separate question, in which
there were two minimum categories: ‘Hispanic or
Latino’ and ‘Not Hispanic or Latino’. Respondents
were asked to choose between: ‘NO, I am not
Hispanic/Latino/Spanish’; ‘YES, Mexican’; ‘YES,
Cuban’; ‘YES, Puerto Rican’; and ‘YES, other’.
People who ethnically self-identifi ed as Hispanic or
Latino also could self-identify with any of the racial
categories, and respondents were asked explicitly
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Studies by Eschbach and Gomez (1998) and Brown,
Hitlin and Elder (2006) demonstrate that Hispanics
are quite likely to change their racial and ethnic
self-identifi cations from one survey to the next.
Predictions about the future racial make-up of the
US are based on self-reports of race and ethnicity,
yet often do not take into account the fl uid nature of
these identifi ers. In addition, it is not only impor-
tant to describe racial fl uidity as these studies have
done, but to develop a theoretical framework that
explains and potentially predicts Latinos’ racial
choices in order to predict what the future face of
America will look like. . . .
. . . We fi nd convincing the arguments that the
racial structure is changing in the United States,
and that Hispanic is emerging as a racial category
but, in this paper, ask the question: what factors in-
fl uence how people currently defi ned as Hispanic
racially self-identify on surveys? Knowing what
factors currently infl uence racial self-identifi cations
will provide us with tools to better predict how peo-
ple will self-identify in the future.
Before we can answer this question, it will be useful
briefl y to review the evidence that indicates that ra-
cial self-identifi cations are subject to change, spe-
cifi cally among Latin Americans. One reason for
this is that processes of racial categorization and
identifi cation in Latin America do not parallel those
of the United States (Rodríguez 1994; Duany 2005).
Scholars are not in full agreement on exactly how
these systems differ, yet it is worthwhile to set forth
some claims. First of all, ‘Latino’ and ‘Hispanic’
are not common racial or ethnic descriptors in Latin
America. (This claim is perhaps the most widely
accepted.) Second, people of African or indigenous
descent in Latin America are more likely to self-
identify as white than similar people in the US
(Wade 1997: 14, 38). Third, the use of terminology
for mixed categories such as mulatto (white/black)
or mestizo (white/Indian) or zambo (black/Indian)
Americans and their descendants not to self- identify
as Hispanic. Specifi cally, we can expect those
Census-defi ned Hispanics who do not fi t this so-
matic norm image to be less likely to self-identify
as Hispanic. We can further speculate that the chil-
dren of this group of people who do not fi t this
somatic norm image will be even less likely to self-
identify as Hispanic, as their relative lack of ethnic
and racial identifi ers render them even less likely to
be identifi ed as Hispanic in daily interactions. As
such, some persons of Hispanic descent could po-
tentially opt out of the Latino category and become
non-Hispanic blacks or whites, while others could
disassociate themselves from both labels, black and
white, and adopt ‘Hispanic’ or ‘Latino’ as their ra-
cial identifi cation. The possibility of such a change
in racial and ethnic identifi cation patterns renders
predictions based on projected immigration pat-
terns and birth rates less useful. It means further
that social scientists need to consider how Latinos/
as racially self-identify and what factors affect
those choices.
Social scientists who have considered Latinos’
and Latinas’ racial self-identifi cation do not agree
as to how Latinos/as’ racial identifi cations work
presently or will work in the future. Clara Rodríguez
(2000) tells us that Latinos/as’ racial identifi cations
are fl uid and contextual; Yancey (2003) predicts
that the majority of Latinos/as will become white;
Bonilla-Silva (2004) predicts that the majority will
join the ‘collective black’ and Haney López (2005)
argues that some identify racially as white, others
as black and others as Latino or Latina. Without
understanding the processes that underlie racial
identifi cation for Hispanics, our predictions and
calculations about the future racial make-up of the
United States hold very little water.
Despite the numerous implications of Hispanics
actually becoming the ‘nation’s largest minority’,
social scientists have done remarkably little re-
search on patterns of racial identifi cation among
Latinos/as in the United States. Current research
indicates that racial and ethnic self-identifi ers are
fl uid, and can vary over the course of one’s life, or
even the course of one’s day (Rodríguez 2000).
READING 6: Latino Racial Choices 91
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92 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
Bean posit that ‘changes in ethnic and racial
boundaries are a fundamental part of the immigra-
tion incorporation experience’ (2004, p. 226). One
way this could play out is that a person who consid-
ered herself to be ‘white’ in Peru may initially
identify as ‘white’ in the US. However, if she is not
seen as white in the US but as Latina, she may
begin to self-identify as a Latina. Alternatively, she
may resist these categorizations and insist on her
whiteness. It is also reasonable to suggest that this
hypothetical Peruvian immigrant would be able to
pass for white if she had the fi nancial and educa-
tional resources to downplay her ethnic origins.
She also may be able to marry a white American
and pass their collective whiteness on to their chil-
dren. In another scenario, she may not be able to be
classifi ed as white, but her US-born children may
be. At the other end of the spectrum, Bailey (2001)
found that second-generation Dominicans use their
knowledge of the Spanish language to ward off cat-
egorization as black. Given the rapid loss of
Spanish language use and ability across generations,
it is unlikely that their children will have the option
of using Spanish to avoid being categorized as
black. Will these third- (and later-) generation
Dominican-Americans continue to identify as
Hispanics, as black Hispanics, or will they consider
themselves to be simply African-Americans? How
likely are the descendants of immigrants from Peru
to self-identify as Hispanic after they have been in
the US for several generations?
It is important to point out that not only immi-
grants from Latin America might change their ra-
cial classifi cations, but also Latinos/as who are
born in the US. The racial self-identifi cations of
second- and third-generation immigrants from
Latin America may also change over the course of
their lives. As families move out of or into ethnic
enclaves, as students attend university, and as peo-
ple join political movements, it is reasonable to
suggest that their racial or ethnic self- identifi cations
may change. We currently consider Hispanics to be
those people who identify as such on the US Cen-
sus and other national surveys. In addition, social
scientists make predictions about the future ethnic
is more prevalent in Latin America than in the US,
although the use of an array of mixed categories
was also common in the US until the 1920s (Skid-
more 1993; Duany 2005). Fourth, people of African
descent are less likely to self-identify as black in
Latin America than in the US (Cruz-Jansen 2001;
Darity, Dietrich, and Hamilton 2005; Wade 1993).
Finally, many studies have shown that in Latin
America one’s racial status is determined, in part,
by one’s social status. This means that people of
higher economic or class status tend to classify
themselves as whiter than their counterparts in
lower strata, regardless of actual physical character-
istics. In Brazil, for example, non-whites may
change their racial identifi cation to a whiter classi-
fi cation as they move up the class hierarchy (Lovell
and Wood 1998). Notably, Telles (2004) and Wade
(1993) point out that this ability to whiten is limited
to people who hold a racially ambiguous status.
The reality of a distinct racialized social struc-
ture in Latin America has consequences for the ra-
cial self-identifi cations of immigrants from Latin
America who reside in the US. Since these immi-
grants encounter a different system of racial classi-
fi cations in the US, their racial self-identifi cations
may change as they adapt to the US. For example,
this distinct system of racial classifi cation means
that, in Latin America, there are people who self-
identify as white who may not be seen as white in
the United States. In addition, there are people who
could begin to self-identify as black in the US that
may not have considered themselves to be black in
Latin America. Thus, some Latin American immi-
grants to the United States are likely to self-identify
racially as something other than how they identifi ed
in their country of origin. For Dominicans in par-
ticular, Itzigshon, Giorguli and Vasquez (2005,
p. 51) found that Dominican immigrants ‘confront
a racial classifi cation system that classifi es many of
them as black’ despite the fact that many of these
Dominicans do not perceive themselves to be black.
As Latin American immigrants acculturate to
the United States, it is conceivable that they would
be infl uenced by the US system of racial classifi ca-
tion and may even begin to adapt to it. Lee and
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Puerto Rican women, found that about 30 per cent
of their Puerto Rican female respondents on the US
mainland racially identifi ed as Hispanic or Latina,
as compared to only about 10 per cent of their
Puerto Rican female respondents on the island. Sur-
prisingly, the island women were more likely to
choose ‘white’ or ‘black’ as a racial identifi er than
the mainland women. Their results indicate that
some Puerto Ricans may be adopting ‘Latino’ or
‘Hispanic’ as a racial identifi cation in the US, even
if they racially identifi ed as ‘white’ or ‘black’ on the
island. This is also in line with Duany’s (2005,
p.  182) argument that Puerto Ricans respond that
their race is neither white nor black, but ‘other’, be-
cause ‘other’ seems to be increasingly used as a ra-
cialized synonym for Hispanic. Itzigsohn, Giorguli
and Vasquez (2005) found that 21 per cent of the
fïrst-generation Dominicans in their New York City-
based study self-identifi ed racially as Hispanics and
that 5 per cent self-identifi ed as blacks. However,
they also found that 29 per cent thought that others
would racially identify them as Hispanic and that
35 per cent thought that others would identify them
as black. These studies indicate that many Domini-
cans and Puerto Ricans in the US understand
‘Hispanic’ as a racialized category that fi ts into the
US racial hierarchy somewhere between white and
black. What these studies do not provide us with is
an understanding of what factors affect the deci-
sions of that segment of the population that is
defi ned by the US Census as being ethnically Hispanic
to self-identify racially as white, black or ‘other’.
While Hispanic/Latino is in many ways an eth-
nic category, we cannot ignore Latinas/os’ and non-
Latinas/os’ perception of the category as a racial
identifi er. For example, in the 1989 Latino National
Political Survey (de la Garza et al . 1992), 18 per
cent of the 2807 respondents reported their race to
be Latino, Hispanic or their respective national ori-
gin. In addition, 46 per cent of the respondents to
the 2002 National Latino Survey reported their race
to be Hispanic or Latino, and not white or black.
This large increase over the course of twelve years
is in part indicative of the different survey mea-
sures, but is also in part due to the changing racial
and racial make-up of the US on the basis of these
self-reported data. However, we have very little in-
formation on the viability of the category ‘ Hispanic’
and on what factors affect Hispanics’ decision to
self-identify as such on surveys.
This paper is grounded in the theoretical work
on assimilation in the US. Whereas assimilation
traditionally meant that immigrants would become
part  of the Anglo-Saxon core in the US, thereby
abandoning their ethnic affi liations, recent work on
assimilation has contested this idea, and put forth
the notion that there is more than one path of as-
similation. Rumbaut and Portes (2001) and Zhou
(1997), for example, argue that, while some immi-
grants will embark on the traditional path of as-
similation towards the Anglo-Saxon core, others
will retain some of their traditional values and prac-
tices through selective acculturation, and still oth-
ers will experience downward assimilation and
identify with the experiences of non-whites in the
US. This paper builds on this work by highlighting
the importance of racialization for the process of
assimilation. We question the extent to which indi-
viduals who are non-white, even if they have the
necessary accoutrements of middle-class status, can
and will assimilate to the Anglo-Saxon core. . . .
Our current understandings of Latinos/as’ racial
identifi cations are largely based on two sources of
data – ethnographic and interview-based studies,
and small-scale statistical analyses of Puerto Rican
and Dominican racial identifi cations. Clara Rodrí-
guez (2000) found, in her interview-based study of
Latinos/as in New York, that some of her interview-
ees found themselves subject to external pressure to
self-identify as ‘white’ or ‘black’, and that many of
them recognized their whiteness or blackness in this
context but insisted that they were also Latino. Her
case studies demonstrate that many Latinos/as ra-
cially identify as white, black or other, but culturally
identify as Latinos/as or with their national origin.
Landale and Oropesa (2002), in their study of
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94 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
higher educational levels and higher incomes are
more likely to identify as white, especially those
who do not have very dark skin. This would also
serve as an indication of Latinos/as’ resistance to
US racial categorizations, which are not based on
social characteristics such as income or education.
Hypothesis 2 – identifi cational assimilation hypothe-
sis : Hispanics who are more assimilated are more
likely to self-identify as ‘white’.
The second hypothesis invokes assimilation as a
central theme. Early theorists of assimilation such as
Gordon (1964) and Park (1950) argued that, over the
course of generations, immigrants eventually would
lose their ethnic ties and fold into the American
melting pot. An outcome of this process, identifi ca-
tional assimilation, means that the immigrant no
longer considers himself to be an Italian-American,
an Irish-American or a Mexican-American, but an
American. This unmarked identity as ‘American’
could be interpreted as becoming ‘white’, since the
unmarked requisite precludes the entry of African-
Americans or Asian-Americans into this category.
For example, Feagin (2000) argues that the unhy-
phenated ‘American’ label refers to those people in
the US who have the luxury of acting as if they do
not have a racial or ethnic status. This category of
people thus includes only white Americans.
According to the traditional model, assimilation
involves upward socioeconomic mobility, residen-
tial integration and intermarriage (Hirschman
2001). In order to determine whether or not the
identifi cational assimilation hypothesis works in the
case of Latino-Americans, it will be necessary to
determine whether Latinos/as who have been in the
US longer, have intermarried with whites and speak
English are more likely to self-identify as white
than Latinos/as who are less acculturated. This anal-
ysis also will allow us to examine the argument
made by Yancey (2003) that nearly all Latino
Americans will eventually adopt a white racial iden-
tity. On the basis of his fi nding that Latinos/as are
likely to have opinions on racialized matters that are
more similar to European Americans than to African
Americans and previous evidence that some
structure in the US, where ‘Latino’ is emerging as a
racialized category. For example, in February 2006,
when there were riots inside a prison near Los
Angeles, the African-American and Latino prison-
ers formulated a written request to separate the in-
mates by ‘race’ to avoid more mayhem. In this
case, the Latinos/as and blacks involved in those
riots saw ‘Latino’ as a racial category that does not
include African-Americans. . . .
In this paper, we will consider three hypotheses
that could explain Latinos’ racial choices and that
could be useful for predicting future demographic
trends. Subsequently, we will test each of these hy-
potheses using two national datasets – the 1989 Latino
National Political Survey and the Pew Hispanic
Center/Kaiser Family Foundation 2002 National Sur-
vey of Latinos. Finally, we will make a case for incor-
porating ideas of racialization into understanding
Latinos’ and Latinas’ current and future racial choices.
Hypothesis 1 – the social whitening hypothesis : His-
panics with higher incomes and higher levels of edu-
cation are more likely to choose ‘white’ for their race,
and less likely to choose ‘black’.
The fi rst hypothesis is that Latinos/as of higher
class statuses are more likely to self-identify as
white. This hypothesis derives from social whiten-
ing arguments made by some scholars who study
Latin America. (For a full discussion of social whit-
ening in Latin America, see Nutini 1997; Wade
1997; Wright 1990; Whitten and Torres 1998; Telles
2004; Twine 1998.) According to these scholars, so-
cial class plays an important role in racial identifi ca-
tion in Latin America. Some of these scholars argue
that social class trumps skin colour insofar as a
dark-skinned person can self-identify as white if he
or she is of high class standing. Others, such as
Telles (2004) and Wade (1993), argue that only peo-
ple who are racially ambiguous are able to experi-
ence social whitening, while people who are clearly
black, such as the Brazilian soccer player Pele, will
be identifi ed as black, no matter their class standing.
It will be useful to understand whether or not this
process carries over to the United States. In the US
context, this would mean that Latinos/as who have
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in the US, while others will not, and that those that
belong to the former group are more likely to self-
identify as Latinos/as and, in this fashion, to
assimilate into the Latino category. This hypothesis
draws on Nagel’s (1994) argument that categoriza-
tions are dialectically related to identifi cations,
meaning that they are both subject to change, and
that they affect one another. In light of this and
other research, it is reasonable to suggest that
Latinos/as’ racial self-identifi cations will be af-
fected by external categorizations.
How do we know how Latinos/as are racially
classifi ed by people in the US? We suggest that
Latinos/as are categorized in the same way as non-
Latinos/as, on the basis of their skin colour. Brown,
Dane and Durham conducted a series of interviews
to fi nd out what features people use to determine
race. They found that ‘[s]kin color was rated the
most important feature, followed by hair, eyes,
nose, mouth, cheeks, eyebrows, forehead, and ears’
(1998, p. 298). In one of the datasets we will be
using, we fortunately have a measure of skin co-
lour, which is the feature that people in the US are
most likely to use to determine another person’s
race. Thus, to test this hypothesis, we will consider
the relationship between skin colour and racial self-
identifi cation among Latinos/as. While we cannot
use skin colour alone to predict how Latinos/as are
categorized racially in the US, it is reasonable to
suggest that skin colour is one of many indicators
that affects racial categorization in the US.
We can predict that skin colour will affect racial
categorization and thus identifi cation. However, we
can also use experiences of discrimination in our
analyses because categorization is a necessary con-
dition for discrimination. In order to discriminate
against a person based on one’s pre-conceived no-
tions about their group, it is fi rst necessary to cate-
gorize them as a member of that group. As such, if
a respondent reports experiences of racial discrimi-
nation, we can conclude that he or she has been
categorized as a member of a racial group. We as-
sume that this discrimination would be based on
the respondent being non-white, since whites are
much less likely to experience racial discrimination
Latinos/as are assimilating residentially and mari-
tally, Yancey contends that Hispanic Americans will
eventually adopt a white racial identity. Neverthe-
less, Yancey’s analyses do not take generational sta-
tus into account, thereby weakening his ability to
predict future trends. The analyses presented in this
paper allow us to test this prediction more directly.
Hypothesis 3 – racialized assimilation hypothesis :
Hispanics who have lighter skin and who have
not experienced discrimination are more likely to
self-identify as white, while Hispanics with darker
skin and who have experienced discrimination are
more likely to self-identify as black or Hispanic.
The third hypothesis draws on recent studies
that have highlighted the dynamic relationship be-
tween external racial categorization and racial self-
identifi cation, as well as on studies of assimilation.
Henry and Bankston (2001) argue that ethnic self-
identifi cation is affected by outsiders’ ethnic
designations. Specifi cally for Latinos/as, Clara
Rodríguez (2000: 140–1) found that dark-skinned
Dominicans in New York recognize a racial
categorization as black, while Ginetta Candelario
(2001) reported that the majority of Dominicans in
the predominantly black city of Washington, DC,
racially identified themselves as black. Steven
Ropp (2000, p. 24) tells us that Asian Latinos/as are
categorized as Asian in daily interactions. These
fi ndings indicate that Latinos/as experience a di-
verse array of experiences of racial categorization
in the US. Some people who fi t the Census’s defi ni-
tion of Hispanic/Latino are racially categorized in
everyday interactions as black, others as white,
others as Asian and still others as Hispanic.
Scholars of race in Latin America and the US are
not in full agreement about the extent to which ra-
cial categories differ in the US and in Latin America.
However, we can say with certainty that, at the very
least, there is one fundamental difference between
Latin America and the US, and that is that the cate-
gories ‘Latino’ and ‘Hispanic’ are not commonly
used in Latin America, while they are in the US.
The racialized assimilation hypothesis entails that
that some Latinos/as will be racialized as Latinos/as
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96 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
the LNPS, we were also interested in the unique
data on interviewer-coded skin colour.
The LNPS was conducted in forty standard met-
ropolitan statistical areas, and was representative
of 91 per cent of the Mexican, Puerto Rican and
Cuban populations in the United States. All respon-
dents were at least 18 years of age, and had at least
one parent solely of Mexican, Cuban or Puerto
Rican ancestry, or at least any two grandparents of
solely Mexican, Cuban or Puerto Rican ancestry.
The response rate was 74 per cent. . . .
Respondents to the LNPS survey were asked if
they consider themselves to be white, black or
something else, and were asked to specify if they
considered themselves neither white nor black. . . .
A substantial majority of respondents chose to
self-identify racially as white. About 2 per cent –
only fi fty-two respondents – chose to classify
themselves as black. The remainder typically
chose colour-oriented labels intermediate between
black and white or national group labels, either
collective labels like ‘Latino’ or country-specifi c
labels (e.g. ‘ Mi raza es Puertorriqueña ’). In what
follows, we will collapse the latter responses into
a single category, ‘other’, separate from white or
black. Using these three categories, 62 per cent of
respondents in the LNPS said they are racially
white, 2 per cent said they are black and 36 per
cent chose another category, neither black nor
white. The numbers do suggest that Latinos/as in
this sample were not following the dictates of a
‘one-drop rule’ or notions of hypodescent with re-
spect to black self- identifi cation, since it is clearly
the case that more than 2 per cent of the Cubans,
Puerto Ricans and Mexicans in the US have some
African ancestry. According to the conservative
estimates included in the 1992 NACLA Report on
the Americas , in Mexico, the African-descended
population is between 1 and 10 per cent; in Puerto
Rico, it is between 23 and 70 per cent; and in Cuba
it is between 34 and 62 per cent (Oveido 1992).
We do not have these sorts of data for the Latin
American population that resides in the United
States, but we are comfortable in assuming that it
than non-whites. As such, Latinos/as who are per-
ceived by others to be white are less likely to be
victims of racial discrimination than those who are
perceived by others to be non-whites. In this sense,
racial discrimination can be used as a proxy for
non- whiteness. Of course, Latinos/as who are per-
ceived to be white may have more access to white
spaces and thus may witness more subtle forms of
discrimination against other Latinos/as. Neverthe-
less, they would be less likely to experience racial
discrimination themselves.
For the analyses, we use two datasets—the 1989
Latino National Political Survey (LNPS) and the
Pew Hispanic Center/Kaiser Family Foundation
2002 National Survey of Latinos (NSL). We
chose the LNPS (1989) because of its inclusion of
measures of skin colour and NSL (2002) because
of its recency and its extensive questions pertain-
ing to discrimination. The similarities in these
two datasets strengthen our claims, while the dif-
ferences allow us to put some of our claims into
perspective. Both of these datasets are unique in-
sofar as they are nationally representative sam-
plings of the English- and Spanish-speaking
Latino populations, in contrast with studies such
as the General Social Survey which include only
English-speaking adults.
The LNPS is a representative national sample of the
three largest Latino groups in the USA – Mexicans,
Cubans and Puerto Ricans. The LNPS includes
2,807 respondents, and the interviews were con-
ducted between 1989 and 1990. This dataset is par-
ticularly well suited to addressing the questions
posed in this paper because of the broad sample of
Latinos/as from all over the country and because of
the different generational statuses included. In ad-
dition to the representative sample population of
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historically in national data in Latin American
countries (Andrews 2004). The second and third
generations shift more and more towards self-
classifi cations separate from white or black. In
particular, they demonstrate a growing preference
for the collective national labels as ethnic classifi –
ers, Latino or Hispanic . . .
The 2002 National Survey of Latinos/as is a repre-
sentative sample of the Hispanic population in
2002. This survey was conducted by telephone be-
tween 4 April 2002 and 11 June 2002 among a na-
tionally representative sample of 4,213 adults 18
years and older, including 2,929 Latinos/as and
1,284 non-Latinos. We chose this sample because
of its relative recency and its similarity to the 1989
LNPS survey. . . .
Respondents to the National Survey of Latinos
were asked: ‘What race do you consider yourself to
be? White, Black or African-American, Asian, or
some other race?’ and were given the opportunity
to specify their race if they did not consider them-
selves to be white, black or Asian. In response to
this question, more respondents identifi ed as
Hispanic (1,175) than as white (1,022). Only 157
identifi ed as black, 20 as Asian and 527 as some-
thing else. It is important to note that Latinos/as’
racial self-identifi cation as ‘Hispanic’ as opposed
to white indicates that the respondents see Hispanic
as a racial categorization, similar to white or black.
In contrast to the 1989 LNPS study, the 2002 NLS
survey reveals a moderately declining preference
for the black and Hispanic labels across genera-
tions. It is particularly noteworthy that the prefer-
ence for the ‘other’ label increases from the fi rst to
the second generation, as one would expect fi rst-
generation respondents to be the least accepting of
US racial classifi cations. The second generation
turns out to be the least likely to self-identify
as  ‘white’ and the most likely to self-identify as
‘Hispanic’. . . .
is much more than 2 per cent. In any case, the fact
that we do not have these data points to the need
for better measures of the racial composition of
the Hispanic population in the US.
[Next] we examine how the interviewers’ grad-
ing of individual skin shade corresponded to the
individual’s self-reported race. A slight majority
of participants in the survey were graded as hav-
ing a medium skin shade out of the fi ve categories
used by the interviewers (‘very dark’, ‘dark’, ‘me-
dium’, ‘light’, ‘very light’) closely followed by
those graded as having a light skin shade. Compa-
rable numbers were placed in the dark and very
light categories. The smallest number of respon-
dents (fi fty-nine) was rated as having a very dark
skin tone.
[Individuals self-reported race, however, dem-
onstrates a] general Latino preference in 1989 to be
identifi ed as white. (See Darity, Hamilton and
Dietrich (2002) for a related discussion in the con-
text of labour market discrimination.) While most
of the very dark and dark respondents chose a racial
category other than black or white, more than one-
third [of those] chose to self-identify as white. The
majority of respondents identifi ed as having a me-
dium skin shade by the interviewers self-reported
their race as white. In the two lightest categories,
about 80 per cent of the respondents said they were
white, largely eschewing the ‘other’ categories,
never mind the black category. As skin shade light-
ens, more and more respondents chose white as
their race, but signifi cant proportions of darker-
skinned respondents did so as well.
. . . The preference for racial self-identifi cation
as white among Latinos/as attenuates somewhat the
longer a person is in the USA. The proportion of
Latinos/as self-identifying as white falls with each
generation more distant from immigration. This
contrasts with Yancey’s (2003) prediction that most
Latinos/as will become white. Note, however, in
this survey, there is no evidence of an increasing
preference for a black racial identity. If anything,
black Latinos/as continue to disappear based upon
self-reported race, just as they have disappeared
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98 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
self-identify as ‘black’ or ‘other’ than as ‘white’ net
of all other variables. Notably, when comparing
relatively dark-skinned Latinos/as to lighter-
skinned Latinos/as, very dark-skinned Latinos/as
were 256 times more likely to self-identify as
‘black’, dark-skinned respondents were 48 times
more likely to self-identify as ‘black’ and medium-
skinned respondents were 5.4 times more likely to
self identify as ‘black’ than as ‘white’. . . . [R]es-
pondents who have experienced discrimination are
signifi cantly more likely to self-identify as ‘black’,
‘other’ or ‘Hispanic’ and less likely to self-identify
as ‘white’. Both sets of [data] confi rm the hypoth-
esis that Hispanics who experience discrimination *
are less likely to self-identify as white than those
who do not. We also can confi rm the hypothesis
that, net of all other factors, Hispanics with darker
skin shades are less likely to self-identify as white
than Hispanics of lighter hues. The fi nding that
self- identifi cation as Hispanic is related to experi-
ences of discrimination in the US points to the
politicization of this term and the growing under-
standing of the term as a racialized label. . . .
Skin shade clearly infl uences choice of racial cate-
gory among Latinos/as, but this is complicated by
the fact that so few respondents to the LNPS 1989
survey chose the black category and a signifi cant
share of darker respondents chose the white cate-
gory. Lighter complexioned Latinos/as simply would
not choose black as their racial category, but darker
complexioned Latinos/as often would choose white
as their racial category. This is refl ective of a general
Latino preference for whiteness. Nevertheless, the
results from both survey analyses do show that
darker skin, experiences of discrimination, lower in-
comes and limited Spanish ability all increase the
likelihood that Latinos/as will self- identify as ‘black’
when given a choice to do so. Latinos/as who report
[Our analysis provides] mixed evidence for the so-
cial whitening hypothesis. Respondents to the NLS
who had a family income over $50,000 are less
likely to self-identify as black or Hispanic, and
more likely to identify as white, and Hispanics with
some college or who have graduated from college
are more likely to self-identify as white than as His-
panic. This seems to support the social whitening
argument, the idea that Hispanics with more money
and education are more likely to self-identify as
white. However, these same coeffi cients are not
signifi cant in the analyses using the LNPS data.
And, when we control for skin colour in the com-
parison model, we see that Hispanics whose house-
hold incomes were between $20,000 and $34,999
were more likely to self-identify racially as ‘other’
than as white in the LNPS survey.
One way to understand the differences in the
fi ndings between these two datasets is that the 2002
National Latino Survey does not include a variable
for skin colour. As such, it is possible that Hispan-
ics who earn more money are in fact lighter skinned
in the US. This is a possibility given the strong re-
lationship between social class and skin colour in
Latin America (Rodríguez 2000). . . .
There is also mixed evidence for the identifi –
cational assimilation hypothesis. . . . [Our data]
indicate that Hispanics who have been in the US
for longer prefer to  adopt a Hispanic identity.
Nevertheless, English-dominant Hispanics and
those who have an ‘other’ (perhaps black) spouse
prefer to self- identify as ‘black’. Additionally,
English-speaking respondents are more likely to
self- identify as other than as white. These fi nd-
ings do not support the hypothesis that assimila-
tion leads to self- identifi cation as white. Overall,
these data do not demonstrate a trend towards
whiteness among Hispanics who have structur-
ally or linguistically assimilated into the United
States. . . .
There is the most consistent evidence in
favour of the racialization hypothesis. . . . [D]arker-
skinned Hispanics are consistently more likely to
* Respondents in both surveys were asked about experiences of
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Representation of Racial Identity among Puerto Ricans on
the Island and in the US Mainland’, in Anani Dzidzienyo
and Suzanne Oboler (eds), Neither Enemies nor Friends:
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millan, pp. 173–88
having experienced discrimination on the basis of
their racial or ethnic background are unlikely to self-
identify as white. In the NLS 2002 survey, 61 per
cent of the respondents reported that they had expe-
rienced discrimination on the basis of their race or
ethnicity. They were made to feel not white, and thus
were less likely to self-identify as white during the
telephone survey. The NLS data also demonstrate
that the experience of non-whiteness is not uniform.
Some of those Latinas/os who reported discrimina-
tion self-identifi ed as black, others as Hispanic and
still others as ‘other’.
In sum, these analyses indicate that Hispanics’
experiences in the US are likely to affect their racial
choices. This process of learning to adapt to the US
racial system could be called racialized assimila-
tion. A concept of racialized assimilation takes into
account the overwhelming importance that skin
colour has in shaping our interactions with others.
Just as our racial status can be used to predict where
we live, who we will marry and our life expectancy,
how immigrants are racially categorized by others
will heavily infl uence their path of assimilation. . . .
The fi nding that skin colour and experiences of
discrimination affect racial identifi cations among
Hispanics is evidence that Hispanics do not all ex-
perience the same process of racialization in the
United States. As a consequence, predictions about
the future racial make-up of the United States can-
not rely on predictions based solely on whom re-
searchers identify as Hispanic today. These studies
must also take into account the fact that some His-
panics will become white, others black, and not all
are likely to continue to identify as Hispanic. . . .
1. What impact does discrimination have on
choosing a racial category?
2. What problems might develop if each genera-
tion of Latino/a immigrants chooses to identify
with a different label?
3. Do you think that money will ever be more im-
portant than skin color in the United States?
Why or why not?
READING 6: Latino Racial Choices 99
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100 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
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——— 2000 Changing Race: Latinos, the Census, and the
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SKIDMORE, THOMAS 1993 ‘Bi-racial USA vs Multi-
racial Brazil: Is the Contrast Still Valid?’, Journal of Latin
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TELLES, EDWARD 2004 Race in another America: The
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Princeton University Press
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The Maintenance of White Supremacy in Brazil, New
Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press
WADE, PETER 1993 Blackness and Race Mixture: The
Dynamics of Race Mixture in Colombia, Baltimore,
MD: Johns Hopkins University Press
——— 1997 Race and Ethnicity in Latin America, Chicago,
IL: Pluto Press
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GOLASH-BOZA, TANYA 2006 ‘Dropping the Hyphen?
Becoming Latino(a)-American through Racialized
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HANEY-LÓPEZ, IAN 2005 ‘Race on the 2010 Census: His-
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READING 7: Whiteness as an “Unmarked” Cultural Category 101
be  self-conscious about white power and racial
inequality. In part because of their sense of the
links and parallels between white racial dominance
in the  United States and U.S. domination on a
global scale, there was a complex interweaving of
questions about race and nation—whiteness and
Americanness—in these women’s thoughts about
white culture. Similarly, conceptions of racial,
national, and cultural belonging frequently leaked
into one another.
On the one hand, then, these women’s views of
white culture seemed to be distinctively modern.
But at the same time, their words drew on much
earlier historical moments and participated in long-
established modes of cultural description. In the
broadest sense, Western colonial discourses on the
white self, the nonwhite Other, and the white Other
too, were very much in evidence. These discourses
produced dualistic conceptualizations of whiteness
versus other cultural forms. The women thus often
spoke about culture in ways that reworked, and yet
remained tied to, “older” forms of racism.
For a signifi cant number of young white women,
being white felt like being cultureless. Cathy
Thomas, in the following description of whiteness,
raised many of the themes alluded to by other femi-
nist and race-cognizant women. She described
what she saw as a lack of form and substance:
. . . the formlessness of being white. Now if I was a
middle western girl, or a New Yorker, if I had a fi xed
regional identity that was something palpable, then
I’d be a white New Yorker, no doubt, but I’d still be a
New Yorker. . . . Being a Californian, I’m sure it has
its hallmarks, but to me they were invisible. . . . If I
had an ethnic base to identify from, if I was even Irish
American, that would have been something formed, if
I was a working-class woman, that would have been
something formed. But to be a Heinz 57 American, a
white, class-confused American, land of the Kleenex
type American, is so formless in and of itself. It only
takes shape in relation to other people.
Whiteness as a cultural space is represented here
as amorphous and indescribable, in contrast with a
range of other identities marked by race, ethnicity,
region, and class. Further, white culture is viewed
R E A D I N G 7
Whiteness as an “Unmarked”
Cultural Category
Ruth Frankenberg
America’s supposed to be the melting pot. I know that
I’ve got a huge number of nationalities in my blood, but
how do I—what do I call myself? And hating this coun-
try as I do, I don’t like to say I’m an American. Even
though it is what I am. I hate identifying myself as only
an American, because I have so much objections to
Americans’ place in the world. I don’t know how I felt
about that when I was growing up, but I never—I didn’t
like to pledge allegiance to the fl ag. . . . Still, at this point
in my life, I wonder what it is that somebody with all
this melting pot blood can call their own. . . .
Especially growing up in the sixties, when people
did say “I’m proud to be Black,” “I’m proud to be
Hispanic,” you know, and it became very popular to
be proud of your ethnicity. And even feminists, you
know, you could say, “I’m a woman,” and be proud of
it. But there’s still a majority of the country that can’t
say they are proud of anything!
Suzie Roberts’s words powerfully illustrate the
key themes . . . that stirred the women I inter-
viewed * as they examined their own identities:
what had formed them, what they counted as (their
own or others’) cultural practice(s), and what con-
stituted identities of which they could be proud.
This [discussion] explores perceptions of whiteness
as a location of culture and identity, focusing
mainly on white feminist . . . women’s views and
contrasting their voices with those of more politi-
cally conservative women. . . .
[M]any of the women I interviewed, including
even some of the conservative ones, appeared to
Ruth Frankenberg (1957–2007) was a professor of American
studies at the University of California, Davis. Her work helped
defi ne the fi eld of whiteness studies.
* Between 1984 and 1986 Ruth Frankenberg interviewed 30
white women, diverse in age, class, region of origin, sexuality,
family situation and political orientation, all living in California
at the time of the interviews.  
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102 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
whites stood for sameness. Hence, Margaret Phil-
lips said of her Jamaican daughter-in-law that: “She
really comes with diversity.” In spite of its brevity,
and because of its curious structure, this short state-
ment says a great deal. It implicitly designates
whiteness as norm, and Jamaicans as having or
bearing with them “differentness.” At the risk of
being crass, one might say that in this view, diver-
sity is to the daughter-in-law as “the works” is to a
hamburger—added on, adding color and fl avor, but
not exactly essential. Whiteness, seen by many of
these women as boring, but nonetheless defi nitive,
could also follow this analogy. This mode of
thinking about “difference” expresses clearly the
double-edged sword of a color- and power-evasive
repertoire, apparently valorizing cultural difference
but doing so in a way that leaves racial and cultural
hierarchies intact.
For a seemingly formless entity, then, white
culture had a great deal of power, diffi cult to dis-
lodge from its place in white consciousness as a
point of reference for the measuring of others.
Whiteness served simultaneously to eclipse and
marginalize others (two modes of making the other
inessential). Helen Standish’s description of her
growing-up years in a small New England town
captured these processes well. Since the commu-
nity was all white, the differences at issue were
differences between whites. (This also enables an
assessment of the links between white and non-
white “marked” cultures.) Asked about her own
cultural identity, Helen explained that “it didn’t
seem like a culture because everyone else was the
same.” She had, however, previously mentioned
Italian Americans in the town, so I asked about
their status. She responded as follows, adopting at
fi rst the voice of childhood:
They are different, but I’m the same as everybody
else. They speak Italian, but everybody else in the
U.S. speaks English. They eat strange, different food,
but I eat the same kind of food as everybody else
in  the U.S. . . . The way I was brought up was to
think that everybody who was the same as me were
“Americans,” and the other people were of “such and
such descent.”
here as “bad” culture. In fact, the extent to which
identities can be named seems to show an inverse
relationship to power in the U.S. social structure.
The elisions, parallels, and differences between
characterizations of white people, Americans, peo-
ple of color, and so-called white ethnic groups will
be explored [here].
Cathy’s own cultural positioning seemed to her
impossible to grasp, shapeless and unnameable. It
was easier to know others and to know, with cer-
tainty, what one was not . Providing a clue to one of
the mechanisms operating here is the fact that,
while Cathy viewed New Yorkers and midwestern-
ers as having a cultural shape or identity, women
from the East Coast and the Midwest also described
or mourned their own seeming lack of culture. The
self, where it is part of a dominant cultural group,
does not have to name itself. In this regard, Chris
Patterson hit the nail on the head, linking the power
of white culture with the privilege not to be named:
I’m probably at the stage where I’m beginning to see
that you can come up with a defi nition of white. Be-
fore, I didn’t know that you could turn it around and
say, “Well what does white mean?” One thing is, it’s
taken for granted. . . . [To be white means to] have
some sort of advantage or privilege, even if it’s some-
thing as simple as not having a defi nition.
The notion of “turning it around” indicates
Chris’s realization that, most often, whites are the
nondefi ned defi ners of other people. Or, to put it
another way, whiteness comes to be an unmarked
or neutral category, whereas other cultures are spe-
cifi cally marked “cultural.”
Many of the women shared the habit of turning
to elements of white culture as the unspoken norm.
This assumption of a white norm was so prevalent
that even Sandy Alvarez and Louise Glebocki, who
were acutely aware of racial inequality as well as
being members of racially mixed families, referred
to “Mexican” music versus “regular” music, and
regular meant “white.”
Similarly, discussions of race difference and cul-
tural diversity at times revealed a view in which
people of color actually embodied difference and
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READING 7: Whiteness as an “Unmarked” Cultural Category 103
The claim that whiteness lacks form and content
says more about the defi nitions of culture being used
than it does about the content of whiteness. How-
ever, I would suggest that in describing themselves
as cultureless these women are in fact identifying
specifi c kinds of unwanted absences or presences in
their own culture(s) as a generalized lack or nonexis-
tence. It thus becomes important to look at what they
did say about the cultural content of whiteness.
Descriptions of the content of white culture were
thin, to say the least. But despite the paucity of signi-
fi ers, there was a great deal of consistency across the
narratives. First, there was naming based on color, the
linking of white culture with white objects—the cli-
chéd white bread and mayonnaise, for example.
Freida Kazen’s identifi cation of whiteness as “bland,”
together with Helen Standish’s “blah,” also signifi ed
paleness or neutrality. The images connote several
things—color itself (although exaggerated, and be-
sides, bagels are usually white inside, too), lack of
vitality (Wonder bread is highly processed), and ho-
mogeneity. However, these images are perched on a
slippery slope, at once suggesting “white” identifi ed
as a color (though an unappealing one) and as an ab-
sence of color, that is, white as the unmarked marker.
Whiteness was often signifi ed in these narratives
by commodities and brands: Wonder bread,
Kleenex, Heinz 57. In this identifi cation whiteness
came to be seen as spoiled by capitalism, and as
being linked with capitalism in a way that other
cultures supposedly are not. Another set of signifi –
ers that constructed whiteness as uniquely tainted
by capitalism had to do with the “modern condi-
tion”: Dot Humphrey described white neighbor-
hoods as “more privatized,” and Cathy Thomas
used “alienated” to describe her cultural condition.
Clare Traverso added to this theme, mourning her
own feeling of lack of identity, in contrast with im-
ages of her husband’s Italian American background
(and here, Clare is again talking about perceived
differences between whites):
Food, old country, mama. Stories about a grand-
mother who can’t speak English. . . . Candles, adobe
houses, arts, music. [It] has emotion, feeling, belong-
ingness that to me is unique.
Viewing the Italian Americans as different and
oneself as “same” serves, fi rst, to marginalize, to
push from the center, the former group. At the same
time, claiming to be the same as everyone else
makes other cultural groups invisible or eclipses
them. Finally, there is a marginalizing of all those
who are not like Helen’s own family, leaving a re-
sidual, core or normative group who are the true
Americans. The category of “American” represents
simultaneously the normative and the residual, the
dominant culture and a nonculture.
Although Helen talked here about whites, it is safe
to guess that people of color would not have counted
among the “same” group but among the communities
of “such and such descent” (Mexican American, for
example). Whites, within this discursive repertoire,
became conceptually the real Americans, and only
certain kinds of whites actually qualifi ed. Whiteness
and Americanness both stood as normative and ex-
clusive categories in relation to which other cultures
were identifi ed and marginalized. And this clarifi es
that there are two kinds of whites, just as there are
two kinds of Americans: those who are truly or only
white, and those who are white but also something
more—or is it something less?
In sum, whiteness often stood as an unmarked
marker of others’ differentness—whiteness not so
much void or formlessness as norm. I associate
this construction with colonialism and with the
more recent assymetrical dualisms of liberal hu-
manist views of culture, race, and identity. For the
most part, this construction views nonwhite cul-
tures as lesser, deviant, or pathological. However,
another trajectory has been the inverse: conceptu-
alizations of the cultures of peoples of color as
somehow better than the dominant culture, per-
haps more natural or more spiritual. These are
positive evaluations of a sort, but they are equally
dualistic. Many of the women I interviewed saw
white culture as less appealing and found the cul-
tures of the “different” people more interesting. As
Helen Standish put it:
[We had] Wonder bread, white bread. I’m more inter-
ested in, you know, “What’s a bagel?” in other peo-
ple’s cultures rather than my own.
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104 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
“closer to the truth,” more “down to earth.” And
Marjorie Hoffman spoke of the “earthy humor” of
Black people, which she interpreted as, in the words
of Langston Hughes, a means of “laughing to keep
from crying.” On the one hand, as has been pointed
out especially by Black scholars and activists, the
positions of people of color at the bottom of a social
and economic hierarchy create the potential for a
critique of the system as a whole and consciousness
of the need to resist.
From the standpoint of race
privilege, the system of racism is thus made struc-
turally invisible. On the other hand, descriptions of
this kind leave in place a troubling dichotomy that
can be appropriated as easily by the right as by the
left. For example, there is an inadvertent affi nity
between the image of Black people as “earthy” and
the conservative racist view that African American
culture leaves African American people ill equipped
for advancement in the modern age. Here, echoing
essentialist racism, both Chicanos and African
Americans are placed on the borders of “nature”
and “culture.”
By the same token, often what was criticized as
“white” was as much the product of middle-class
status as of whiteness as such. Louise Glebocki’s
image of her fate had she married a white man was
an image of a white-collar, nuclear family:
Him saying, “I’m home, dear,” and me with an apron
The intersections of class, race, and culture were
obscured in other ways. Patricia Bowen was angry
with some of her white feminist friends who, she
felt, embraced as “cultural” certain aspects of
African American, Chicano, and Native American
cultures (including, for example, artwork or dance
performances) but would reject as “tacky” (her
term) those aspects of daily life that communities
of color shared with working-class whites, such as
the stores and supermarkets of poor neighborhoods.
This, she felt, was tantamount to a selective expan-
sion of middle-class aesthetic horizons, but not to
true antiracism or to comprehension of the cultures
of people of color. Having herself grown up in
a  white working-class family, Pat also felt that
In linking whiteness to capitalism and viewing
nonwhite cultures as untainted by it, these women
were again drawing on a colonial discourse in
which progress and industrialization were seen as
synonymous with Westernization, while the rest of
the world is seen as caught up in tradition and “cul-
ture.” In addition, one can identify, in white wom-
en’s mourning over whiteness, elements of what
Raymond Williams has called “pastoralism,” or
nostalgia for a golden era now gone by (but in fact,
says Williams, one that never existed).

The image of whiteness as corrupted and impov-
erished by capitalism is but one of a series of ways
in which white culture was seen as impure or
tainted. White culture was also seen as tainted by
its relationship to power. For example, Clare Tra-
verso clearly counterposed white culture and white
power, fi nding it diffi cult to value the former be-
cause of the overwhelming weight of the latter:
The good things about whites are to do with folk arts,
music. Because other things have power associated
with them.
For many race-cognizant white women, white
culture was also made impure by its very efforts to
maintain race purity. Dot Humphrey, for example,
characterized white neighborhoods as places in
which people were segregated by choice. For her,
this was a good reason to avoid living in them.
The link between whiteness and domination,
however, was frequently made in ways that both
artifi cially isolated culture from other factors and
obscured economics. For at times, the traits the
women envied in Other cultures were in fact at least
in part the product of poverty or other dimensions
of oppression. Lack of money, for example, often
means lack of privacy or space, and it can be valo-
rized as “more street life, less alienation.” Cathy
Thomas’s notion of Chicanas’ relationship to the
kitchen (“the hearth of the home”) as a cultural
“good” might be an idealized one that disregards
the reality of intensive labor.
Another link between class and culture emerged
in Louise Glebocki’s reference to the working-class
Chicanos she met as a child as less pretentious,
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READING 7: Whiteness as an “Unmarked” Cultural Category 105
both whiteness and nonwhiteness are reifi ed, made
into objects rather than processes, and robbed of
historical context and human agency. As long as the
discussion remains couched in these terms, a cri-
tique of whiteness remains a double-edged sword:
for one thing, whiteness remains normative because
there is no way to name the cultural practices as-
sociated with it as cultural. Moreover, as I have
suggested, whether whiteness is viewed as artifi cial
and dominating (and therefore “bad”) or civilized
(and therefore “good”), whiteness and all varieties
of nonwhiteness continue to be viewed as ontologi-
cally different from one another.
A genuine sadness and frustration about the
meaning of whiteness at this moment in history
motivated these women to decry white culture. It
becomes important, then, to recognize the grains of
truth in their views of white culture. It is important
to acknowledge their anger and frustration about
the meaning of whiteness as we reach toward a po-
liticized analysis of culture that is freer of colonial
and pastoral legacies.
The terms “white” and “American” as these
women used them signifi ed domination in inter-
national and domestic terms. This link is both accu-
rate and inaccurate. While it is true that, by and large,
those in power in the United States are white, it is
also true that not all those who are white are in power.
Nor is the axiomatic linkage between Americanness
and power accurate, because not all Americans have
the same access to power. At the same time, the link
between whiteness, Americanness, and power are
accurate because, as we have seen, the terms
“white”  and “American” both function discursively
to exclude people from normativity—including
white people “of such and such descent.” But here
we need to distinguish between the fates of people
of color and those of white people. Notwith-
standing a complicated history, the boundaries of
Americanness and whiteness have been much
more fl uid for “white ethnic” groups than for
people of color.
There have been border skirmishes over the
meaning of whiteness and Americanness since
the  inception of those terms. For white people,
middle-class white feminists were able to use selec-
tive engagement to avoid addressing their class
I have already indicated some of the problems
inherent in this kind of conceptualization, suggest-
ing that it tends to keep in place dichotomous con-
structions of “white” versus Other cultures, to
separate “culture” from other dimensions of daily
life, and to reify or strip of history all cultural
forms. There are, then, a range of issues that need to
be disentangled if we are to understand the location
of “whiteness” in the terrain of culture. It is, I be-
lieve, useful to approach this question by means of
a reconceptualization of the concept of culture
itself. A culture, in the sense of the set of rules and
practices by means of which a group organizes it-
self and its values, manners, and worldview—in
other words, culture as “a fi eld articulating the life-
world of subjects . . . and the structures created by
human activity”
—is an indispensable precondition
to any individual’s existence in the world. It is non-
sensical in terms of this kind of defi nition to sug-
gest that anyone could actually have “no culture.”
But this is not, as I have suggested, the mode
of  thinking about culture that these women are
Whiteness emerges here as inextricably tied to
domination partly as an effect of a discursive
“draining process” applied to both whiteness and
Americanness. In this process, any cultural practice
engaged in by a white person that is not identical to
the dominant culture is automatically counted as
either “not really white”—and, for that matter, not
really American, either—(but rather of such and
such descent), or as “not really cultural” (but rather
“economic”). There is a slipperiness to whiteness
here: it shifts from “no culture” to “normal culture”
to “bad culture” and back again. Simultaneously, a
range of marginal or, in Trinh T. Minh-ha’s termi-
nology, “bounded” cultures are generated. These
are viewed as enviable spaces, separate and un-
tainted by relations of dominance or by linkage to
other structures or systems. By contrast, whiteness
is conceived as axiomatically tied to dominance, to
economics, to political structures. In this process,
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106 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
much in the context of relationships to imperialism
and capitalism as has the production of whiteness,
though it has been premised on exclusion and resis-
tance to exclusion more than on assimilation. Al-
though not always or only forged in resistance, the
visibility and recognition of the cultures of U.S.
peoples of color in recent times is the product of
individual and collective struggle. Only a short
time has elapsed since those struggles made possi-
ble the introduction into public discourse of cele-
bration and valorization of their cultural forms. In
short, it is important not to reify any culture by fail-
ing to acknowledge its createdness, and not to view
it as always having been there in unchanging form.
Rather than feeling “cultureless,” white women
need to become conscious of the histories and spec-
ifi cities of our cultural positions, and of the politi-
cal, economic, and creative fusions that form all
cultures. The purpose of such an exercise is not, of
course, to reinvert the dualisms and valorize white-
ness so much as to develop a clearer sense of where
and who we are.
1. Why is whiteness considered to be lacking
2. How would you describe the cultural content of
1. Raymond Williams, The Country and the City (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1978).
2. The classic statement of this position is W. E. B.
Du  Bois’s concept of the “double consciousness” of
Americans of African descent. Two recent feminist
statements of similar positions are Patricia Hill Collins,
Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness,
and the Politics of Empowerment (Boston: Unwin
Hyman, 1990); and Aida Hurtado, “Relating to Privilege:
Seduction and Rejection in the Subordination of White
Women and Women of Color,” Signs 14, no. 4:833–55.
3. Paul Gilroy, There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack .
London: Hutchinson, 1987.
4. See, for example, Winthrop Talbot, ed., Americanization
(New York: H. W. Wilson, 1917), esp. Sophonisba P.
Breckinridge, “The Immigrant Family,” 251–52, Olivia
however, those skirmishes have been resolved
through processes of assimilation, not exclusion.
The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in
the United States saw a systematic push toward the
cultural homogenization of whites carried out
through social reform movements and the schools.
This push took place alongside the expansion of
industrial capitalism, giving rise to the sense that
whiteness signifi es the production and consump-
tion of commodities under capitalism.
But recog-
nition of this history should not be translated into
an assertion that whites were stripped of culture
(for to do that would be to continue to adhere to a
colonial view of “culture”). Instead one must argue
that certain cultural practices replaced others. Were
one to undertake a history of this “generic” white
culture, it would fragment into a thousand tributary
elements, culturally specifi c religious observances,
and class survival mechanisms as well as mass-
produced commodities and mass media.
There are a number of dangers inherent in con-
tinuing to view white culture as no culture. White-
ness appeared in the narratives to function as both
norm or core, that against which everything else is
measured, and as residue, that which is left after
everything else has been named. A far-reaching
danger of whiteness coded as “no culture” is that it
leaves in place whiteness as defi ning a set of nor-
mative cultural practices against which all are mea-
sured and into which all are expected to fi t. This
normativity has underwritten oppression from the
beginning of colonial expansion and has had im-
pact in multiple ways: from the American pioneers’
assumption of a norm of private property used to
justify appropriation of land that within their world-
view did not have an owner, and the ideological
construction of nations like Britain as white,
Western feminism’s Eurocentric shaping of its
movements and institutions. It is important for
white feminists not to continue to participate in
these processes.
And if whiteness has a history, so do the cultures
of people of color, which are worked on, crafted,
and created, rather than just “there.” For peoples of
color in the United States, this work has gone on as
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READING 8: Plus ça Change . . . ? Multiraciality and the Dynamics of Race Relations 107
national origin quotas as bases for immigrant ad-
missions (Bean & Bell-Rose, 1999; Reimers,
1992). Many scholars thought the former would
quickly lead to full incorporation of Blacks into
American society (Glazer, 1997), whereas others
generally expected the latter not to generate much
in the way of new immigration, but rather simply to
remove the embarrassment of the country’s dis-
criminatory admissions policies (Reimers, 1998).
What both shared at the time was that each seemed
to offer the prospect of improving racial/ethnic
relations in the United States.
Neither, however, turned out as anticipated.
Blacks did not quickly become economically incor-
porated and millions of new non-White immigrants
unexpectedly came to the country (Bean & Stevens,
2003). But as post–World War II economic prosper-
ity created new job opportunities and its expanding
cities brought persons from different backgrounds
increasingly into contact with one another (Fischer
& Hout, 2006), religious and ethnic group inter-
marriage fl ourished (Pagnini & Morgan, 1990).
The politics of racial identity eventually gained
new, if controversial, traction, leading to height-
ened awareness that tangible benefi ts could accrue
to those with offi cial minority status (Skrentny,
2002). Partly as a result of affi rmative action and
other policies, new movements sprang up at the end
of the century advocating that the offspring of
mixed-race relationships should be allowed to self-
identify as belonging to more than one racial group
in government surveys (Renn, 2009; Rockquemore,
Brunsma, & Delgado, 2009). At fi rst glance, such
changes would seem to portend salutary effects for
race relations in the United States. Not only are
relatively more mixed-marital unions now occur-
ring than previously, but the offspring of such
unions are able to acknowledge their mixed-race
backgrounds if they wish. The old strictures of race
appear to be melting away. . . .
The extent to which the color line has changed
in recent decades, particularly as a consequence of
recent non-White immigration, carries major ana-
lytical signifi cance for research on multiraciality
and multiracial identifi cation. If the color line is
Howard Dunbar, “Teaching the Immigrant Woman,”
252–56, and North American Civic League for Immi-
grants, “Domestic Education among Immigrants,” 256–
58; and Kathie Friedman Kasaba, “‘To Become a
Person’: The Experience of Gender, Ethnicity and Work
in the Lives of Immigrant Women, New York City,
1870–1940,” doctoral dissertation, Department of
Sociology, State University of New York, Binghamton,
1991. I am indebted to Katie Friedman Kasaba for these
references and for her discussions with me about
working-class European immigrants to the United States
at the turn of this century.
5. Gilroy, There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack.
R E A D I N G 8
Plus ça Change . . . ? Multiraciality
and the Dynamics of Race
Relations in the United States
Frank D. Bean and Jennifer Lee
. . . The issue of race has long cast a shadow on the
founding mythology of the United States. Well
after the end of the Civil War, the country coped
with the contradiction between immigration
and  race by compartmentalizing depictions of
immigrant and slavery experiences, at least at an
intellectual level. Historians tended to embed dis-
cussions of immigration in narratives about the
frontier and industrialization, while confi ning slav-
ery to the history of the South (Davis, 1998). If race
was a problem, scholars viewed it as a regional
issue, not one pertaining to the country as a whole.
This convenient (and patronizing) approach ap-
peared to come to an end during the 1960s, when
the geostrategic exigencies of the Cold War, and the
not-easily ignored claims for equal opportunity of
post–World War II Black veterans, culminated in
1965 in two landmark pieces of legislation: the
Civil Rights Act making discrimination against
Blacks illegal; and the Hart-Celler Act abolishing
Frank D. Bean is a professor of sociology at the University of
California, Irvine.
Jennifer Lee is a professor of sociology at the University of
California, Irvine.
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108 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
for which are a White/non-White divide, a new tri-
racial hierarchy, or a Black/non-Black divide. If, as
W. E. Du Bois said, “the problem of the twentieth
century (was) that of the (Black–White) color line,”
the question of the 21st century is: Where is the
color line now drawn? Below we consider the nature
and contemporary relevance of these three alterna-
tive models of today’s color line(s) that scholars
have articulated.
The Hypothesis of
a White/Non-White Divide
Many observers think a White/non-White divide is
emerging. For one thing, such a divide has been le-
gally enforced throughout the history of the United
States, well into the 20th century. In 1924, for ex-
ample, the state of Virginia passed a Racial Integ-
rity Law that created two distinct racial categories:
“pure” White and all others. The statute defi ned a
“White” person as one with “no trace whatsoever of
blood other than Caucasian,” and emerged to le-
gally ban intermarriage between Whites and other
races. While Blacks were clearly non-White under
the legislation, Asians and Latinos also fell on the
non-White side of the strict binary divide. The stat-
ute refl ected the Supreme Court rulings of Takao
Ozawa v. United States (1922) and United States v.
Bhagat Singh Thind (1923), in which persons of
Asian origin were not only classifi ed as non-White
but also considered ineligible for U.S. citizenship.
In the fi rst case, Takao Ozawa (a Japanese citizen of
the United States) fi led for U.S. citizenship under
the Naturalization Act of June 29, 1906, which al-
lowed Whites and persons of African descent or
African nativity to naturalize. Rather than challeng-
ing the constitutionality of the racial restrictions to
U.S. citizenship, Ozawa argued his skin color made
him a “White person” and that Japanese persons
should be classifi ed as “White.” The Supreme Court
ruled that only Caucasians were White, and be-
cause the Japanese were not of the Caucasian race,
could not be deemed White, but rather were mem-
bers of an “unassimilable race,” lacking provisions
standing under the Naturalization Act.
roughly the same for Latinos and Asians as it is for
Blacks, then studies of multiracial contextual and
individual manifestations need worry little about
what kinds of multiracial combinations they exam-
ine. What holds true for Black–White multiracial
pairings and individuals would seem likely to apply
to other multiracials as well. However, if one racial
category were found to carry considerably stronger
salience than another, the dynamics could be differ-
ent. For example, if Black–White marriages and
individuals confront greater stigmatization than
Asian-White or Latino-White ones, then the indi-
vidual and social dynamics of multiraciality would
be likely to vary across groups and combinations.
In some ways, this is an obvious point, but it bears
repeating, not only because it carries theoretical
signifi cance, but also because the Black–White di-
vide has so hauntingly preoccupied the history of
the United States that we often transfer ideas about
Black–White dynamics to the cases of other racial/
ethnic minority groups, often without careful con-
sideration of whether these apply. . . .
Given that today’s immigrant newcomers from
Latin America and Asia are neither Black nor
White, the traditional Black–White model of race
relations may inaccurately depict the character of
race/ethnic relations for Asians and Latinos as com-
pared to Blacks. Consequently, an important re-
search issue in U.S. race/ethnic relations is: Are the
experiences of America’s newest non-White immi-
grant groups tracking those of their European pre-
decessors, or are these groups becoming racialized
minorities who see their experiences as more akin
to those of African Americans than to earlier im-
migrants? In other words, do Asians and Latinos,
particularly the later-generation members of these
groups, more closely resemble Whites or Blacks in
the United States at this point in time? An answer to
this question can help to reveal whether the Black–
White color line of the past is evolving into some
sort of other pattern—the three major possibilities
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momentum and popularity in the late 1980s
(Hollinger, 2005). Such omnibus terms combine
all non-White groups on the basis of presumed
racialized minority status, thus connoting that the
individuals to which they refer share a similar
subordinate status vis-à-vis Whites. By homoge-
nizing (and thus reifying the experiences of all
non-White groups), the “people of color” rubric
indicates the boundaries among non-White groups
are less distinct and salient than the boundary sep-
arating Whites from non-Whites. Accordingly, a
White/non-White model of racial/ethnic relations
would envision Asians and Latinos falling closer
to Blacks than to Whites in their experiences in
the United States, suggesting that extent of multi-
raciality and multiracial identifi cation should be
similar for Asians, Latinos, and Blacks.
The Hypothesis of
a Triracial Hierarchy
Other social scientists propose still another
possibility—a triracial stratifi cation system similar
to that of many Latin American and Caribbean
countries. In the United States, this has been viewed
as consisting of Whites, honorary Whites, and col-
lective Blacks (Bonilla-Silva, 2004a, b). Included
in the “White” category would be Whites, assimi-
lated White Latinos, some multiracials, assimilated
Native Americans, and a few Asian-origin people.
“Honorary Whites” would include light-skinned
Latinos, Japanese Americans, Korean Americans,
Chinese Americans, Asian Indians, Middle Eastern
Americans, and most multiracials. Finally, the
“collective Black” category would include Blacks,
Filipinos, Vietnamese, Hmong, Laotians, dark-
skinned Latinos, West Indian and African immi-
grants, and reservation-bound Native Americans.
Because many of today’s new immigrants hail
from Latin America and the Caribbean, Bonilla-
Silva argued that a more complex triracial order
will emerge given what he terms the “darkening” of
the United States. In his view, a triracial order
would also serve to help maintain “White suprem-
acy” by creating an intermediate racial group to
Three months later, in United States v. Bhagat
Singh Thind (1923), the Supreme Court handed
down a similar ruling, denying citizenship to a man
of Asian-Indian origin. The court ruled that Bhagat
Singh Thind, a native of India, could not be a natu-
ralized citizen despite the fact that anthropologists
had defi ned members of the Indian subcontinent as
members of the Caucasian race. In his case, while
the court did not dispute that Thind was a Cauca-
sian, they ruled that not all Caucasians were White.
According to the Supreme Court, while Thind may
have been Caucasian, he was not a “White person”
as “used in common speech, to be interpreted in ac-
cordance with the understanding of the common
man.” While Takao Ozawa was denied citizenship
because he was not of the Caucasian race, and there-
fore not White, Bhagat Singh Thind was denied citi-
zenship because he was not White according to the
common understanding of Whiteness, even though
the court conceded he was Caucasian. The rulings
refl ected the idea that persons of Asian origin were
not only a distinct racial or color category from
Whites, but were also considered “unassimilable.”
Administrative policies adopted in the latter
half of the 1960s following the Civil Rights Move-
ment reinforced the idea of a White/non-White de-
marcation. Most prominently, affi rmative action
policies were extended to minority groups who
were perceived as “analogous to Blacks” with re-
spect to physical distinctiveness and to having
“suffered enough” to be similarly categorized
(Skrentny, 2002). According to these criteria, Lati-
nos, Native Americans, and Asians became eligible
for affi rmative action programs while disadvan-
taged White ethnics did not. One potential unin-
tended consequence of such policies was that
Asians and especially Latinos may have become
perceived and labeled as racialized minorities
who were more akin to Blacks than to Whites. In
essence, many affi rmative action policies placed
Asians and Latinos on the non-White side of the
divide, fi rmly establishing a delineation between
Whites and non-Whites.
Further cementing the divide was the introduc-
tion of the label “people of color,” which gained
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110 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
of and experiences with multiraciality identifi cation
should occur among Blacks and Latinos because
both are “racial others,” whereas differences would
exist between these two groups and Asians.
The Hypothesis of
a Black/Non-Black Divide
In the 1990s, a number of other social scientists
began to argue that a new racial structure was
emerging that differed from a Black–White, a
White/non-White or a triracial hierarchy. They sug-
gested a new binary color line—a Black/non-Black
divide—that highlighted the continuing and unique
separation of Blacks, not only from Whites but also
from other non-White racial/ethnic groups (Alba,
1990; Gans, 1999; Gitlin, 1995). The concept of the
Black/non-Black divide surfaced in conjunction
with a scholarship documenting the processes by
which previously “non-White” immigrant ethnic
groups such as the Irish, Italians, and Eastern Euro-
pean Jews became “White” (Alba, 1985, 1990;
Brodkin, 1998; Gerstle, 1999; Ignatiev, 1995;
Jacobson, 1998; Roediger, 1991). For example,
Ignatiev (1995) detailed how Irish immigrants—
once referred to as “White Negroes” by the country’s
Anglo-Saxons—became “White” by shifting their
political alliances, achieving economic mobility,
and adopting deliberate and extreme measures to
distance themselves from African Americans. With
economic mobility also came a decoupling of
the  confl ation of national origin differences and
“racial” differences, further contributing to the
development of the idea that for Irish immigrants
(and other European immigrants) race was an
achieved rather than an ascribed status (Alba, 1990;
Haney-Lopez, 1996; Perlmann & Waldinger, 1997;
Waters, 1990). In other words, as economic and cul-
tural differences diminished and eventually faded
between White and non-White immigrants groups,
the Irish, Italians, and Eastern European Jews
became racially reconstructed as White.
Other scholars noted that European immigrants
were not the only ones to have changed their status
from non-White to White. Asian ethnic immigrant
buffer racial confl ict (Bonilla-Silva, 2004b, p. 5).
While a few new immigrants might fall into the
honorary White strata and may even eventually be-
come White, the majority would incorporate into
the collective Black strata, including most Latino
immigrants who he labels as “racial others” whose
experiences with race are seen as similar to those of
Blacks. In this regard, the triracial model differs
fundamentally from the Black/non-Black divide
because Bonilla-Silva posits that Latinos are racial-
ized in a manner similar to African Americans, and
therefore fall on the Black side of the divide.
While some research evidence seems to support
the Latin Americanization thesis, it has not gone
without criticism. For instance, Murguia and Saenz
(2004) argued that a three-tier system predated sub-
stantial Latin American immigration to the United
States. Other social scientists contest the uniform
characterization of Latinos as a monolithic group
(Forman, Goar, & Lewis, 2004; Murguia & Saenz,
2004). For instance, examining Latinos’ social atti-
tudes toward other racial/ethnic groups, Forman et al.
(2004) found that Latinos fall into different seg-
ments of the triracial hierarchy depending on na-
tional origin. For instance, Puerto Ricans differ
from Mexicans in their expressed feelings toward
Blacks, with the former group demonstrating more
positive attitudes if they show darker skin color.
Mexicans, however, are much more uniform in their
feelings toward Blacks and express attitudes that
are closer to non-Hispanic Whites than to non-
Hispanic Blacks, perhaps as a result of the history
of racial mixing in Mexico, which involved very
few Africans, unlike the history of mixing in Puerto
Rico (Forman et al., 2004). In any case, regardless
of skin color, Latinos overall fall closer to non-
Hispanic Whites in their attitudes toward Blacks
than to non-Hispanic Blacks. Such results suggest
considerable variation in the racialization experi-
ences of Latinos in the United States. Contrary to
the Latin Americanization thesis, many Latinos, es-
pecially Mexicans, do not appear to see themselves
as falling into the collective Black category. How-
ever, if the Latin Americanization hypothesis holds
and a triracial hierarchy is forming, similar patterns
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is open to non-Blacks. Slipping through the opening
is, then, a tactical matter for non-Blacks of conform-
ing to White standards, of distancing themselves from
Blackness, and of reproducing anti-Black ideas and
Others like Guinier and Torres (2002) also sug-
gested that throughout the history of the United
States, Blacks have served a critical role in the con-
struction and expansion of Whiteness by serving as
the defi nition of what White is not. Given the rigid-
ity of the boundary surrounding blacks, some social
scientists argue that a Black/non-Black divide is
emerging, in which Asians and Latinos fall on the
non-Black side of the divide. Consequently, a
Black/non-Black model of racial/ethnic relations
would entail Asians and Latinos falling closer to
Whites than to Blacks in their experiences in the
United States, suggesting that extent of multiracial-
ity and multiracial identifi cation should be similar
for Asians and Latinos, but dissimilar to Blacks.
Research Findings Relevant to
the Models of the Color Line
Recent research evidence suggests that Whiteness
has continued to expand to incorporate new immi-
grant groups with Asians and Latinos now appear-
ing to “blend” more easily with Whites than with
Blacks (Gallagher, 2004; Gerstle, 1999; Warren &
Twine, 1997). Furthermore, Gallagher (2004) ar-
gued that many Whites view Asians and Latinos as
more culturally similar to them than to Blacks, and
posits that the United States is currently undergoing
a process of “racial redistricting,” allowing Asians
and Latinos (especially multiracials) to “glide eas-
ily” into the White category. Twine’s research on
multiracial identifi cation reinforces this point; she
found that the children of Black intermarriages are
usually perceived by others as Black (Twine, 1996).
By contrast, the children of Asian and Latino inter-
marriages are not similarly perceived monoracially
as Asian or Latino. Studies of Asian-White multira-
cial youth show that they are equally likely to select
White or Asian as the single category that best
describes their racial background, pointing to the
groups such as the Chinese and the Japanese also
managed to transform their racial status from
“almost Black” to “almost White.” Loewen (1971),
for example, documents how Chinese immigrants
in the Mississippi Delta consciously strove to mod-
ify their lowly racial status through economic mo-
bility, the emulation of the cultural practices and
institutions of Whites, the intentional distancing of
themselves from Blacks, and the rejection of fellow
ethnics who married Blacks and any Chinese-Black
multiracial children they bore. By adopting the
anti-Black sentiment embraced by Mississippi
Whites and by closely following White moral
codes, the Chinese accepted rather than challenged
the existing racial hierarchy and essentially were
able to cross the Black–White color line. Spickard
(1989) noted a similar process of change among
Japanese Americans who, at the beginning of the
20th century, were consigned with Blacks to the
bottom of the racial hierarchy, but whose status
rose dramatically just three quarters of a century
later. Today, so extreme is the shift in America’s
racial hierarchy that Asians, now donning titles of
“model minority” and “honorary Whites,” have be-
come groups against which other non-White groups
are often judged and compared—a far cry from the
derisive designation “yellow horde” that once de-
scribed Asian immigrants at the turn of the twenti-
eth century (Gans, 2005; Zhou, 2004).
While a number of immigrant groups have
changed their status from non-White to White,
African Americans have not been able to do the
same. Gans (2005, pp. 19–20) referred to this as the
pattern of “African American exceptionalism.” He
elaborates, “The only population whose racial fea-
tures are not automatically perceived differently
with upward mobility are African Americans:
Those who are affl uent and well educated remain as
visibly Black to Whites as before.” Warren and
Twine (1997, p. 208) argued this is because the
construction of “Whiteness” depends on the per-
ceived existence of “Blackness.” They note:
[B]ecause Blacks reprcsent the “other” against which
Whiteness is constructed, the back-door to Whiteness
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112 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
A pattern involving fading color lines for Asians
and Latinos implies improvements in U.S. race
relations. However, it also forebodes dangers. For
one thing, it invites misinterpretation about prog-
ress in Black–White relations in the United States.
Because boundaries are loosening for some non-
White groups, many observers might erroneously
conclude that race is declining in signifi cance for
all groups, and moreover, that race relations are
improving at the same pace for all racial/ethnic
minorities. However, the results of the research
discussed above suggest that the social construc-
tion of race is more consequential for Blacks than
for Asians and Latinos. Not accounting for this
difference in research and the formulation of pub-
lic policy could easily lead the endorsement of a
fl awed logic claiming that if race does not impede
the process of incorporation for Asians and Lati-
nos, then it must not matter much for Blacks
either. Not only is this line of reasoning incorrect,
it also risks fostering support for so-called “color-
blind” policies that fail to recognize that race and
the color line have different consequences for
different minority groups (Brown et al., 2003;
Loury, 2002). . . .
1. What criteria do you use to defi ne black?
2. What criteria do you use to defi ne white?
3. If there is a third category, who can move from
that category to white? Why?
Alba, R. (1985). Italian Americans: Into the twilight of eth-
nicity. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Alba, R. (1990). Ethnic identity: The transformation of
White America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Bean, F. D., & Beli-Rose, S. (1999). Immigration and
opportunity: Race, ethnicity and employment in the
United States. New York: Russell Sage.
Bean, F. D., & Stevens, G. (2003). America’s newcomers
and the dynamics of diversity. New York: Russell Sage
latitude such adolescents have in designating their
own racial/ethnic heritage (Harris & Sim, 2002;
Saenz, Hwang, Aguirre, & Anderson, 1995; Xie &
Goyette, 1997). Similarly, multiethnic Mexican
Americans exercise a great deal of choice in how
they identify (Jiménez, 2004).
Other empirical studies of multiracial identifi –
cation also report results relevant to the question of
the nature of America’s color lines today. Lee and
Bean (2007) found that both census data and qual-
itative subjective interviews indicate that group
boundaries appear to be fading more rapidly for
Latinos and Asians than for Blacks, signaling that
today’s new non-Whites are not strongly assimilat-
ing as racialized minorities who see their experi-
ences with race as akin to those of Blacks, as
would be predicted by the White/non-White
model. Moreover, these researchers argue that a
triracial hierarchy model that would place Latinos
and most new immigrants into the “collective
Black” category and label them as “racial others”
does not appear to characterize accurately the ra-
cialization process of America’s non-White new-
comers. Instead, both multiraciality and multiracial
identifi cation among Latinos and Asians appear
consistent with hypotheses that place them closer
to Whites than to Blacks. Moreover, that racial and
ethnic affi liations and identities are much less mat-
ters of choice for multiracial Blacks indicate that
Black remains a more salient racial category than
others. The lower rate of Black multiracial report-
ing in census data and the racial constraints that
many multiracial Blacks experience suggest that
Blackness continues to constitute a fundamental
racial construction in American society. Hence, it
is not simply that race matters, but more specifi –
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114 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
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The Price of Nonconformity
I moved to the United States from Germany three years
ago, and moved in with my American cousin and her
family, which consists of her husband (who is Iranian)
and two children, a boy and a girl. Things were going fine
in the beginning, but then after three months I met my
boyfriend and everything changed. Tony and I had been
dating for about three weeks when I told my cousin I was
seeing someone. She didn’t seem to mind and just asked
me to bring him over one night so she could meet him. A
couple of days later, Tony stopped by the house to pick
me up for dinner. We waited for my cousin to come home
from her job, so they could be introduced. I will never
forget the look on her face when she walked in the door
and saw that Tony is black. Even though she contained
herself quickly, it was obvious that she did not approve of
this interracial relationship. For the next two months, she
tried to keep me away from him by imposing curfews
(I  was 21 at the time), not allowing me to take the car,
prohibiting him from coming into the house, ignoring him
when he picked me up, and not talking to me when I was
at home. All of this happened without her ever having to
say that she didn’t like him because he is black and I am
white. But when all of her attempts to separate us failed,
she had a talk with me that I will never forget.
She told me that I had no idea what I was getting
myself into, and that a relationship between a black man
and a white woman was unacceptable. Since we were
from two different cultures—black vs. white—it would
never work; our friends, family, and society would not ac-
cept it. Tony would never fit into my “white” life, and
I would never fit into his “black” life. My friends would
eventually turn away from me because I am with him,
and also because the differences between my friends—
who she assumed all to be white—and Tony would be
insurmountable. Moreover, she was outraged that
I would even consider having a black man’s children. She
said that my children would always be stigmatized as
black children. They would suffer from prejudice and dis-
crimination, and I was a terrible person for choosing that
life for them.
So in the end, she gave me the choice of ending the
relationship with Tony, or moving out. She said she could
not allow such behavior in her house, since I was sup-
posed to be a role model for her eleven-year-old daughter.
She did not want her daughter to follow in my footsteps.
Since I don’t respond well to ultimatums, especially when
they are as ridiculous and racist as this one, I packed my
stuff and moved out shortly after this conversation.
Julia Morgenstern
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READING 9: The Olympic Struggle over Sex 115
I frequently watch my boyfriend play basketball at an out-
door court with many other males in pick-up games. One
time when I was there, there was a new face among the
others waiting to play—a female face, and she was not
sitting with the rest of the women who were watching.
She was dressed and ready to play. I had never seen her
in all the time I’d been there before, nor had I ever seen
another woman there try to play.
For several games, she did not play. The guys formed
teams and she was not asked to join. It was almost
like  there was a purposeful avoidance of her, with no
one even acknowledging that she was there. Finally, she
made a noticeable effort, and with some reluctance she
was included in the next team waiting to play the winner
of the current game. There were whispers and snickers
among the guys, and I think it had a lot to do with the
perception that she was challenging their masculinity.
A “girl” was intruding into their area. My guess is that they
were also somewhat nervous about the fact that she
really might be good and embarrass some of them.
Anyway, the first couple of times up and down the
court she was not given the ball despite the fact that she
was wide open. The other guys on the team forced bad
shots and tried super hard in what seemed like an effort
to prove that she was not needed. The guy who was sup-
posed to guard her on defense really didn’t pay her much
attention, and that same guy who she was guarding at
the other end made sure he drove around her and scored
on two occasions.
Finally, one time down the court she called for the ball
and sank a shot from at least 16 feet. A huge feeling of
relief and satisfaction came over me. Being a basketball
player myself, I figured she was probably good or would
not be there in the first place, but being a woman I was
also happy to see her first shot go in. I found out later she
had played basketball for a university and she had a
great outside shot.
Even after she made one more shot off a rebound
that ended up in her hands, she was not given the ball
again. I suppose after some of the loud comments from
some of the guys on the sidelines, that she was beat-
ing  the male players out there, she wasn’t going to get
the  ball again. I was kind of shocked that she wasn’t
more accepted even after she showed she was talented.
I haven’t seen her there since.
Andrea M. Busch
R E A D I N G 9
The Olympic Struggle over Sex
Alice Dreger
What is sport ultimately for? That fundamental
philosophical question lies behind the debate over
what to do with women athletes who were raised
as  girls but whose bodies seem to be unusually
masculine. And in that debate, two clear philosoph-
ical camps have emerged.
One camp, led by the International Olympic
Committee (IOC), believes the line imposed be-
tween putative male and putative female athletes
must be biological. These folks—let’s call them the
Anatomists—fully admit that sex is really compli-
cated. They acknowledge there’s no one magical
gene, chromosome, hormone, or body part that can
do for us the hard work of sharp division into male
and female leagues. Says the IOC in its latest
declaration on the problem: “Human biology [. . .]
allows for forms of intermediate levels between the
conventional categories of male and female, some-
times referred to as intersex.”
Alice Dreger is a professor of clinical medical humanities and
bioethics in the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern
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116 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
man or woman (only requiring, perhaps, that it be
confi rmed by her or his legal status).
Make no mistake: there are problems with the new
IOC biologically-oriented policy. For one, the policy
doesn’t actually specify what is the permissible level
of functional testosterone for women athletes. As a
result, there is no way for a woman to get herself
tested in private, in advance of the games, to see if she
should avoid the possibility of being plucked out of
play for a sex crime, so to speak. It also seems odd
that apparently the committee isn’t going to decide a
level until they get a case. That’s like writing a crimi-
nal law after you’ve arrested a suspect.
The new policy gives away another problem in its
title: “IOC Regulations on Female Hyperandrogen-
ism.” Why specify “female”? Because the IOC is
allowing male athletes to play with conditions that
cause them to be hyperandrogenized—sometimes
the very same conditions for which women will be
disqualifi ed! The result is that a woman’s supposed
disease is accepted by the IOC as a man’s natural
advantage. This hardly seems like a fair way to treat
a lady, unless your goal is to keep her down.
Third, the policy appears to be out of whack
with another IOC policy known as “the Stockholm
Consensus,” designed for dealing with male-to-
female transsexual athletes. That policy requires
transgender women—women who were raised as
boys—to medically squash their androgen levels
way down, seemingly well below where the policy
on “female hyperandrogenism” would likely allow
intersex women raised as girls to still play.
And whereas the female hyperandrogenism pol-
icy hints that a women with one of the “problem”
intersex conditions might be chucked out if her
medical records indicate she’s benefi tted from a
lifetime of male-typical functional androgens, the
Stockholm Consensus allows transgender women
with those same lifetime androgen histories to play,
so long as they have endocrinologically obeyed the
IOC’s rules for their womanhood for the previous
couple of years.
In spite of these problems with the new IOC pol-
icy, and even though I fully support the right of any
individual to self-identify socially as any gender she
But the Anatomists still think we should base
our sex division in sports on some sort of biological
feature, even if it means we have to just pick one.
They point out that sports require us to create all
sorts of rules that aren’t simply natural and self-
evident, so why not do it here, too?
And so, the IOC . . . decided that, for the London
Olympic Games, the rule of sex [would] be based
on something called “functional androgens” (or
“functional testosterone”). This means that an ath-
lete who was raised a girl and identifi es as a woman
will be allowed to play as a woman so long as the
IOC does not discover that her body makes and re-
sponds to high levels of androgens. Androgens, of
which testosterone is one type, naturally occur in
both male and female bodies, but higher production
usually means more male-typical development.
Notice that the IOC won’t just be looking at how
much androgens a woman’s body makes , but also
how much her cells respond. This is because some
women are born with testes that make a lot of tes-
tosterone, but they lack androgen-sensitive recep-
tors, so the androgens have little-to-no effect on
their cells. This condition is called complete An-
drogen Insensitivity Syndrome. Those who have
it—women like Spanish hurdler Maria Patino—
develop essentially as girls and women.
The new IOC policy isn’t meant to pick out
these women. The athletes who are targeted by
this policy on “female hyperandrogenism” include
women born with conditions that can result in mas-
culinization—conditions including partial Andro-
gen Insensitivity Syndrome and Congenital Adrenal
This hormone-honing approach to sex divisions
in sports appalls the other camp, whom we might
call the Identifi ers. The Identifi ers, led mostly by
outsiders, believe the line between men and women
athletes ought to be based in self-identity. The Iden-
tifi ers take the messiness of sex development as a
reason to give up on biology as the way to distin-
guish athletes by sex. They argue that, since the
borders between sex categories are naturally open,
we should not attempt to police them. Instead, we
ought to go simply with an athlete’s self-identity as
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READING 10: All Together Now: Intersex Infants and IGM 117
about games —games that have, as their necessary
condition, bodies with bodily differences.
So, much as I am drawn, as a good political pro-
gressive, to the position of the Identifi ers who want
to just let athletes self-declare genders, and as frus-
trated as I am that the IOC still doesn’t have an ad-
equately clear policy on intersex—nor one consistent
with its policy on transsexualism—part of me feels
like we have to admit that the Anatomists are acting
more true to the game.
Does that make me a traitor to progressivism—
acknowledging that people have some biological
differences, such that some people have natural
advantages or disadvantages in some realms of life?
I don’t think so. I know the Identifi ers seem to fear
that if we acknowledge any average differences
between males and females, progress in women’s
rights and transgender rights will collapse. But
I think we are actually mature enough, as a species,
to know what is a game, and what is not.
1. Which side of the Anatomist/Identifi er debate
do you fi nd yourself most sympathetic to?
2. Which side do you think should prevail
in  Olympic competitions or other sports
3. Do Olympic Committee determinations about
sex have any bearing beyond the Games?
R E A D I N G 1 0
All Together Now: Intersex
Infants and IGM
Riki Wilchins
“There is nothing abstract about the power that sci-
ences and theories have to act materially and actually
upon our bodies and our minds, even if the discourse
or he wishes, I fi nd myself sympathetic to the Anat-
omists’ philosophy in this case. Here’s why:
Our history of liberal democracy demonstrates a
grand trend with regard to the relationship between
anatomy and identity, and that is the trend away
from using anatomy to draw distinctions in identi-
ties where social and political rights are concerned.
The Founding Fathers started this trend by chal-
lenging the idea that power must derive from blood-
line. The women’s rights movement, the civil rights
movement, the disability rights movement—all
have successfully dismantled the idea that anatomi-
cal difference should mean some people are treated
as more worthy of rights and resources than others.
As Drs. King and Seuss taught us, in a just and ra-
tional world, having a star on your belly doesn’t
make you special.
Sport has been used as one way to push this lib-
eralizing agenda—with Title IX and major league
racial integration standing as two good examples of
the push. The Identifi ers are now trying to do the
same thing in the debate on sex testing, and in
doing so, are making what might be the most
extreme version of the anti-anatomy argument: we
should not bother thinking about sex anatomy
at all, and just let anyone who says she’s a woman
play as a woman.
But maybe here we’ve fi nally hit the limit of
using sport for this kind of social agenda. I mean,
sure, we could do it—we could force sport to keep
being the Joan of Arc of liberal democracy, and so
we could decide common biological sex differ-
ences don’t matter to gender divisions in sports.
But if we do this, in the process we may be neuter-
ing sport itself.
Because at the end of the day, no matter how lit-
tle we think anatomy should matter to one’s social
and political rights, surely we can’t pretend biology
doesn’t matter in sports. Surely there’s a reason we
don’t let adults play in the t-ball leagues, and a rea-
son most women athletes want their own leagues.
And much as the IOC might try to make it sound
like the Olympic Games represent the ultimate
peace-and-justice movement on Earth, we’re not
actually talking about law and justice. We’re talking
Riki Wilchins is the founding executive director of the Gender
Public Advocacy Coalition.
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118 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
According to Brown University medical re-
searcher Dr. Anne Fausto-Sterling, one in every
2,000 births is intersex. As intersex activists say,
these are children born with unexpected genitals,
which is to say their genitals are perhaps worse,
maybe better, or at least every bit as good as yours
and mine (well, yours anyway).
Cheryl founded the Intersex Society of North
America (ISNA), a national intersex advocacy
group, and cofounded (with me) Hermaphrodites
With Attitude—an intersex protest group, in itself a
pretty rare thing. I just call her the Head Herm.
“Cheryl” was born as “Charlie,” a fairly happy,
well-adjusted little boy. His doctor, however, was
not as happy or well-adjusted.
For one thing, it must be admitted that Charlie had
a pretty small penis. For another, Charlie had “ova-
ries” that contained both testicular and ovarian tissue.
Language is again a crucial issue here, espe-
cially at the margins, where labeling is the fi rst dis-
cursive act that determines how a thing is seen and
understood. For instance, if a boy has an ovary, is it
still an ovary, especially if it also contains signifi –
cant amounts of testicular tissue, as Cheryl’s did?
Medicine gives us no nonbinary options here,
although the term gonad would do nicely enough.
Charlie was a year and a half old when—after
tests, consultations, and diagnostic conferences—
doctors decided that Charlie was actually a Cheryl.
This meant his small penis was actually an abnor-
mally large clitoris. So they cut it off.
Following the treatment protocols for a diagno-
sis of intersexuality, all evidence of Charlie’s exis-
tence was hidden. Boy’s clothes and toys were
thrown out and replaced with girl’s clothes and
toys. Out blue, in pink.
Cheryl/Charlie’s parents were warned to lie to
her if he ever asked about her history, because the
truth—intersexuality and surgery—would perma-
nently traumatize the child. Doctors feared that
acknowledging a history of intersexuality would
that produces it is abstract. It is one of the forms of
domination, its very expression.”
Monique Wittig , The Straight Mind
As Foucault once pointed out, the effects of discur-
sive power are hard to see once a discourse is in
place. Once we see gay, black, female, or transgen-
der people, it’s hard to imagine that they weren’t
always there. We imagine the cultural discourse
about them just popped up in response; rather, it
was the discourse that created such identities in the
fi rst place.
To clearly see discursive power at work, we need
bodies at society’s margins. Margins are margins
because that’s where the discourse begins to fray,
where whatever paradigm we’re in starts to lose its
explanatory power and all those inconvenient ex-
ceptions begin to cause problems.
We can see the marginalization of such bodies
as  evidence of their unimportance. Or we can see
their  marginalization as important evidence of the
model’s imperfection and begin to admit how
the  operations of language, knowledge, and truth
have shaped our consciousness.
Once we might have turned to women, gays,
transgender people, or even racial minorities for
this kind of understanding. But as each of these
groups has won greater or lesser degrees of social
legitimacy, it has become necessary to look a little
further out to fi nd a really marginal, inconvenient
body. We need a body that is still off the grid of
cultural intelligibility, one that hasn’t “set” yet into
a socially recognized identity. What we need, of
course, is a herm .
Cheryl Chase is a “true hermaphrodite.” This is
a very rare thing, since most intersex people are
“only” pseudo-hermaphrodites.
When most people hear the word hermaphro-
dite, they’re apt to think of a person born with “both
sets of genitals,” although this is actually impossi-
ble. Hermaphrodite is actually an archaic medical
term, and the correct term is intersex.
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a sex, which is a social impossibility anyway, at least
right now. They do advocate forgoing permanent gen-
ital alteration of infants for strictly cosmetic reasons
until they have grown old enough to participate in
life-altering decisions about their own bodies and
sexual health, and to offer informed consent.
A pediatric nurse in one of my presentations com-
plained, “But you don’t mention all these tests we
run to fi nd out the infant’s real sex.” The discourse
on intersex infants is concerned with discovering
what binary sex they “really” are, so we can “fi x”
them properly. The possibility that intersex
infants’ sex might not be immediately available to
us, that they might not have the sort of binary sex
the doctors are so anxious to locate and assign,
just doesn’t register. Neither does the possibility
that intersex bodies have nothing to tell us, or that
these infants are whatever sex they are because
that nonbinary outcome appears to the medical
community (and indeed to most of society) as a
logical impossibility.
As Cheryl notes, intersex is the sex that doesn’t
exist. First because it’s always another sex “under-
neath” and, second, because as soon as it appears,
we erase it. Whatever sex we “discover” in intersex
infants’ bodies is highly dependent upon what
markers we choose—hormones, genitals, overall
body structure, chromosomes, and gonads—and
how we prioritize them.
Words are real; bodies are not.
There is no pretext of transparency here: We
don’t fi t the words to the bodies; instead, it is the
bodies that must fi t the words. The only language
we have for herm-bodies is directed toward
pathologizing—and thereby delegitimating—them.
Nor can we raise the usual argument—“It’s
Nature’s way”—when Sex is questioned. Clearly,
Nature has other things in mind, even if we don’t.
In this vein, I once tried to help a network pro-
ducer who was searching for an intersex person to
interview. He was interested only in one who had
undermine the sense of gender identity they had
created in the child through secrecy and surgery.
Charlie had become Cheryl, but at an enormous
price. The operation had removed a lot what the
doctors thought was Charlie, but it also removed
most of his erotic sensation, and along with it baby
Cheryl’s future ability to have an orgasm.
“Intersexuality is a psychiatric emergency on the part
of the doctors and parents, who treat it by cutting into
the body of the infant, even though the adults—as the
ones in distress—are the real patients.”
Cheryl Chase
“The Academy is deeply concerned about the emo-
tional, cognitive, and body image development of in-
tersexuals, and believes that successful early genital
surgery minimizes these issues.”
Press Release on IGM from the American
Academy of Pediatricians (emphasis added)
“Knowledge is not made for understanding; it is made
for cutting.”
Michel Foucault, Language, Counter-Memory
The surgical procedure Cheryl underwent is
sometimes referred to as intersex genital mutila-
tion. IGM refers to cosmetic genital cutting that is
performed solely to make intersex infants resemble
normal males and females. The defi nition of IGM
does not include the small fraction of surgeries that
are preformed to cure functional abnormalities, uri-
nary obstructions, recurring infection, and so on.
It was not until the 1950s that IGM became a
common pediatric practice. Prior to that, unless in-
fants were born with genital deformities that caused
ongoing pain or endangered their health, they were
left alone. Today, according to Fausto-Sterling,
about 1,000 infants are surgically altered for cos-
metic reasons each year in U.S. hospitals, or about
fi ve every day.
Advocacy organizations like ISNA and Gender-
PAC do not advocate raising intersex children without
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120 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
well-being. IGM is always considered compassion-
ate surgery. Everything was done for his/her “own
Cheryl’s mutilation did not result from the top-
down power held by big institutions. Unlike that
reliable villain, the State, the power involved was
not that of repression and negation, so common
when sex is involved. In fact, the discourse of Sex
where Cheryl was involved did not restrain her
Sex, but rather interpreted it, compelled it, and
demanded it.
Her transformation from Charlie to Cheryl was
carried out in a micro-politics of power: small,
impersonal judgments and practices that involved
myriad individuals, power that was held by no
one  in particular but exercised by practically
everyone—except, of course, Charlie.
The power involved was productive, using lan-
guage and meaning to interpret her genitals as de-
fective, to produce her body as intersexed, and to
require that she be understood through a lens of
normal male and normal female. Through a series
of silences and erasures, it socially produced a new
person, one with a new name, history, wardrobe,
bedroom decor, and toys.
This is not the familiar “big stick” approach to
power that requires policemen, courts, and legisla-
tures. That is something we are familiar with; at
least it is something we know how to fi ght. The
power that attached itself to Charlie’s body is a dif-
ferent kind of power entirely, one we have little ex-
perience in dealing with, let alone have strategies to
The Science involved in Charlie’s surgery was
also of a different order than we are accustomed to.
That Science is logical, objective, and impartial. But
the Science that has attached itself to herm-bodies is
not disinterested at all, but rather interested in the
most urgent way with preserving the universality of
Sex and with defending society’s interest in repro-
duction. In fact, one of IGM’s basic rules is that any
infant who might one day be able to become preg-
nant as an adult must be made into a female.
This kind of Science is characterized by a delib-
erate nonknowing, by its refusal to recognize the
been surgically misassigned the “wrong sex.” Our
conversation went like this:
Producer: We’re looking for someone whose sex
was misassigned and who was then raised as
the wrong sex, like John/Joan.
Me: How do we know if it was the wrong sex?
Producer: If they were really male but assigned
female, or really female but assigned male.
Me: Okay. But what if they were really intersex?
Producer: Right. I get your point. But we’re
looking for someone who was misassigned.
Me: But if they’re really intersex, then any
assignment would be a misassignment.
Producer: Right. I get your point. Really.
Me: Why don’t you interview Cheryl Chase?
She/he’s well known and very articulate.
Producer: Cheryl was misassigned?
Me: Yes. She/he was raised as a boy, then they
decided she/he was a girl.
Producer: So she’s really male?
Me: No, she/he’s really Cheryl.
Producer: Right. I get it. I really do. But she’s
really a girl, right?
Me: Well, to me she/he looks like a woman, but
do you mean hair, hormones, chromosomes,
or genitals?
Producer: You know. Her real sex.
Me: Cheryl’s real sex is intersex.
Producer: Uh-huh. I get it, honest. But can you
give me an intersex person who was
Cheryl/Charlie had no say in what was done to him/
her, nor had she/he complained that anything was
wrong with him/her. The doctors and nurses
involved were not spiteful or intolerant. On the
contrary, they were dedicated healers, trained in pe-
diatrics and deeply committed to Cheryl/ Charlie’s
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Up until a few years ago, the U.S. government
was funding research into the best treatments for
norm-transcending kids. Tax dollars were appropri-
ated to pay for a new sort of knowledge manipula-
tion: the prevention of “sissy boys.” This has helped
fuel a new counterscience devoted to providing bio-
logical basis for homosexuality. Our power over
such bodies is enabled by the kinds of knowledge
we create about them.
By asserting that the knowledge and language
we create is transparent and objective, we confer
enormous authority to it. We insulate it from criti-
cism and deny its political origins; we justify ex-
cesses that might otherwise be unthinkable. At the
margins, Science no longer asks but tells. Nature no
longer speaks the truth, but is spoken to. Here,
where our narrative of Sex breaks down, Knowl-
edge fi nally bares its teeth.
Cheryl can be understood as a genitally mutilated
female, a genitally mutilated male, a transgender
individual, an intersex individual, a man who sleeps
with women, a woman who sleeps with women, or
even a man with a vagina. This proved to be a real
obstacle when Cheryl dealt with identity-based
When we approached the board of a national
women’s organization for help, the organization’s
representatives responded that IGM was a terrible
practice, and someone should stop it. But why, they
wanted to know, was IGM a women’s issue?
We pointed out that the overwhelming majority
of infants diagnosed as “intersex” are otherwise un-
remarkable children whose clitorises happen to be
larger than two standard deviations from the mean—
an arbitrary measure equal to about three eighths of
an inch. It turns out birth sex is like a menu. If your
organ is less than three eighths of an inch long, it’s
a clitoris and you’re a baby girl. If it’s longer than an
inch, it’s a penis and you’re a baby boy.
It is a startling example of the power of lan-
guage, knowledge, and science to create bodies to
most obvious facts of the infant bodies before it.
It is remarkable for its sturdy denial of any facts
or  interpretations that might contradict its own
Medical theories of Sex, like so much of theory, are
concerned with the resolution and management of
difference. Intersex infants represent one of soci-
ety’s most anxious fears—the multiplicity of Sex,
the pinging under the binary hood, a noise in the
engine of reproduction that must be located and
This kind of Science is not limited to bodies. Its
psychiatric counterpart is called Gender Identity
Disorder, or GID. GID does for insubordinate gen-
ders what IGM does for insubordinate genitals.
In GID, noncomplaining children as young as
3  and as old as 18 are made to undergo treatment
that includes behavioral modifi cation, confi nement
to psychiatric wards, and psychotropic medication,
all because they transcend binary gender norms
and/or cross-gender identify. These treatment mea-
sures are intended to help the child fi t back into a
defi ned gender role.
In many cases the psychiatrists who treat GID
believe that norm-transcending “sissy boys” and
“tomboy girls” are more likely to grow up to be
gay, and GID treatment is designed to prevent
homosexuality in adults. Yet gay activists largely
ignore GID because they represent gay and lesbian
Americans, and a 3-year-old doesn’t have that kind
of identity yet.
Of course the effort to regulate gender in chil-
dren is not limited to those “at the margins.” We
have a host of social practices designed to mascu-
linize boys and feminize girls that start at birth.
For instance, infants who cry are more likely to be
described as angry by adults who think they are
boys, sad if they think they are girls. Caregivers
are more likely to stroke and caress babies if they
think they are girls and to bounce them if they
think they are boys.
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122 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
issue? I pointed out that many intersex infants are
heterosexualized as infants, surgically altered sim-
ply to ensure their bodies can accommodate a penis
during intercourse.
Even worse, some doctors perform IGM out of
the antique fear that girls with large clits (which no
man likes) will repel potential husbands (which
every woman needs), interfere with penetration
(which every woman enjoys), and increase their
chance of growing up to be masculinized lesbian
women (which practically no woman wants to be).
IGM was no longer an intersex issue or even a
women’s issue; it had become a gay issue.
I decided to cap my success by addressing a
meeting of transgender organizations. Gender-
queerness was their beat. This would be a walk in
the park. And it was. They understood IGM right
away. It was, they all agreed, a terrible practice, that
someone should stop. But why, they wanted to
know, was IGM a transgender issue?
Soft-pedaling Cheryl’s identities as intersex, fe-
male, or lesbian, I focused like a laser on gender
stereotypes. I pointed out that Cheryl had changed
from one sex to another: She was transgender. Even
more, IGM was a tell-tale example of enforcing ex-
actly the kind of rigid, narrow, outdated gender ste-
reotypes that hurt transgender people. In addition, a
signifi cant minority of transsexuals have some sort
of organ development (such as hormonal imbal-
ances and small or partial gonads) that could easily
have gotten them diagnosed as intersex.
After extended discussion, IGM became a trans-
gender issue.
Of course, none of these groups was ill inten-
tioned or predisposed toward excluding intersex
issues and IGM. They were all progressive, com-
mitted, and compassionate. Yet if national feminist
groups even suspected that doctors performed clito-
ridectomies on thousands of baby girls each year,
they would try to shut down hospitals across the
country. If gay rights activists suspected that doc-
tors were using hormones and surgery to erase
thousands of potential lesbians each year, queer
activists would be demonstrating in the halls of
hospitals and lobbying in the halls of Congress.
realize that, if pediatricians agreed to increase this
rule to, say, three standard deviations from the
mean, thousands of intersex infants would be in-
stantly “cured.”
On the other hand, if they decided to decrease it
to one-and-a half standard deviations, one third to
half of the female readers of this book would sud-
denly fi nd themselves intersexed, and therefore
candidates for genital surgery.
But if it’s in between, you’re a baby herm: The
organ is an enlarged clit, and it gets cut off. The
pediatrician will apologetically explain to your par-
ents that you were born genitally “deformed,”
but—through the miracle of modern Science—they
can make you into a “normal little girl.”
Of course, this never happens in reverse. No pe-
diatrician will ever apologetically explain to your
parents that, “I’m afraid your son’s penis is going to
be too big, maybe eight or nine inches long. No one
will ever be attracted to him but homosexuals and
oversexed women. If we operate quickly we can
save him.”
To help board members of the women’s organi-
zation to understand, I showed them how to make a
diagnosis. Holding up a thumb and forefi nger about
a quarter inch apart, I said, “female.” Moving them
about three-eighths of an inch apart, I said “inter-
sex.” I repeated this fi nger movement from “fe-
male” to “intersexed” over and over until heads
began to nod.
Since many intersex infants were “really”
women, this made IGM a women’s issue. The board
members even accepted Cheryl—a true hermaphro-
dite if ever there was one—as a woman.
Unfortunately, several board members insisted
that since they were a women’s group, I had to ar-
ticulate everything in terms of “intersex” girls, a
term with no meaning that contradicted everything
I was trying to tell them.
Flushed with success, I asked a gathering of
national gay organizations for their support on
IGM, too. After what I thought was an impassioned
presentation, they all agreed that IGM was a terri-
ble practice and someone should stop it. But why,
they wanted to know, was IGM a gay and lesbian
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READING 11: Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference 123
this rigidly adhered-to code. And it is a rigid code.
I recently stood in a clothing store, paralyzed with
indecision as I deliberated which sleeper to
choose for a friend’s new baby girl. The cutest
one had little honking cars on it. Yet even though
my friend lives in England, rather than Saudi
Arabia, I just couldn’t choose it. I knew that if my
friend ever did put her baby in that sleeper (rather
than just toss it in the Goodwill pile thinking, The
sooner Cordelia fi nishes that book on gender the
better . . .), she would spend the rest of the day
correcting strangers who congratulated her on her
beautiful baby boy.
And well before dinnertime she would have
learned that you can dress babies in clothing in-
tended for the other sex or you can avoid being
looked at as if you were insane, but you cannot do
both. And yet this dress code for young children,
despite being so strict, is a relatively recent phe-
nomenon. Until the end of the nineteenth century,
even fi ve-year-old children were being dressed in
more-or-less unisex white dresses, according to
sociologist Jo Paoletti. The introduction of colored
fabrics for young children’s clothing marked the
beginning of the move toward our current pink-blue
labeling of gender, but it took nearly half a century
for the rules to settle into place. For a time, pink
was preferred for boys, because it was “a decided
and stronger” color, a close relative to red, symbol-
izing “zeal and courage.” Blue, being “more deli-
cate and dainty” and “symbolic of faith and
constancy” was reserved for girls. Only toward the
middle of the twentieth century did existing prac-
tices become fi xed.

Yet so thoroughly have these preferences be-
come ingrained that psychologists and journalists
now speculate on the genetic and evolutionary ori-
gins of gendered color preferences that are little
more than fi fty years old.
For example, a few years
ago an article in an Australian newspaper discussed
the origins of the pink princess phenomenon. After
trotting out the ubiquitous anecdote about the
mother who tried and failed to steer her young
daughter away from the pink universe, the journal-
ist writes that the mother’s failure “suggests her
But none of these scenarios have happened, all
because an arbitrary defi nition means that these in-
fants aren’t female or possibly lesbian or even
transgender. They’re this other thing called inter-
sex, which is not an issue for women or gays or
transgender people; it’s a medical issue. Presented
with an enormously damaging and barbaric prac-
tice that harms thousands of kids, no group was
able to embrace IGM as an issue. The rules of iden-
tity meant that intersex infants—the noise in the
system—didn’t fi t. . . .
1. What are particular words, phrases, and con-
cepts that especially contribute to the “need”
for genital surgery?
2. Would you agree that the genital surgeries
Wilchins describes are for cosmetic reasons?
R E A D I N G 1 1
Delusions of Gender:
How Our Minds, Society,
and Neurosexism Create
Cordelia Fine
If you’re ever feeling bored and aimless in a shop-
ping mall, try this experiment. Visit ten children’s
clothing stores, and each time approach a sales-
person saying that you are looking for a present
for a newborn. Count how many times you are
asked, “Is it a boy or a girl?” You are likely to have
a 100 percent hit rate if you try this one spare af-
ternoon. It is so ubiquitous now to dress and ac-
cessorize boys and girls differently, from birth,
that it is easy to forget to wonder why we do this
or to ask what children themselves might make of
Cordelia Fine, professor at the University of Melbourne, is
an academic psychologist and writer.
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124 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
Imagine, for a moment, that we could tell at
birth (or even before) whether a child was left-
handed or right-handed. By convention, the parents
of left-handed babies dress them in pink clothes,
wrap them in pink blankets, and decorate their
rooms with pink hues. The left-handed baby’s bot-
tle, bibs, and pacifi ers—and later, cups, plates, and
utensils, lunch box, and backpack—are often pink
or purple with motifs such as butterfl ies, fl owers,
and fairies. Parents tend to let the hair of left-
handers grow long, and while it is still short in
babyhood a barrette or bow (often pink) serves as a
stand-in. Right-handed babies, by contrast, are
never dressed in pink; nor do they ever have pink
accessories or toys. Although blue is a popular color
for right-handed babies, as they get older any color,
excluding pink or purple, is acceptable. Clothing
and other items for right-handed babies and chil-
dren commonly portray vehicles, sporting equip-
ment, and space rockets; never butterfl ies, fl owers,
or fairies. The hair of right-handers is usually kept
short and is never prettifi ed with accessories.
Nor do parents just segregate left- and right-
handers symbolically, with color and motif, in our
imaginary world. They also distinguish between
them verbally. “Come on, left-handers!” cries out
the mother of two left-handed children in the park.
“Time to go home.” Or they might say, “Well, go
and ask that right-hander if you can have a turn on
the swing now.” At playgroup, children overhear
comments like, “Left-handers love drawing, don’t
they,” and “Are you hoping for a right-hander this
time?” to a pregnant mother. At preschool, the
teacher greets them with a cheery, “Good morning,
left-handers and right-handers.” In the supermar-
ket, a father says proudly in response to a polite
enquiry, “I’ve got three children altogether: one
left-hander and two right-handers.”
And fi nally, although left-handers and right-
handers happily live together in homes and com-
munities, children can’t help but notice that
elsewhere they are often physically segregated. The
people who care for them—primary caregivers,
child care workers, and kindergarten teachers,
for  example—are almost all left-handed, while
daughter was perhaps genetically wired that way”
and asks, “is there a pink princess gene that sud-
denly blossoms when little girls turn two?” Just in
case we mistake for a joke the idea that evolution
might have weeded out toddlers uninterested in ti-
aras and pink tulle, the journalist then turns to
prominent child psychologist Dr. Michael Carr-
Gregg for further insight into the biological basis of
princess mania: “The reason why girls like pink is
that their brains are structured completely differ-
ently to boys,” he sagely informs us. “Part of the
brain that processes emotion and part of the brain
that processes language is one and the same in girls
but is completely different in boys.” (Now where
have we heard that before?) “This explains so
much—you can give a girl a truck and she’ll cuddle
it. You can give a boy a Barbie doll and he’ll rip its
head off.”

But what is also overlooked is why , according to
Paoletti, children’s fashions began to change. Dresses
for boys older than two years old began to fall out of
favor toward the end of the nineteenth century. This
was not mere whim, but seemed to be in response to
concerns that masculinity and femininity might not,
after all, inevitably unfurl from deep biological roots.
At the same time that girls were being extended
more parental license to be physically active, child
psychologists were warning that “gender distinc-
tions could be taught and must be.” Some pants,
please, for the boys. After the turn of the century,
psychologists became more aware of just how sensi-
tive even infants are to their environments. As a re-
sult, “[t]he same forces that had altered the clothing
styles of preschoolers—anxiety about shifting gen-
der roles and the emerging belief that gender could
be taught—also transformed infantswear.”

In other words, color-coding for boys and girls
once quite openly served the purpose of helping
young children learn gender distinctions. Today,
the original objective behind the convention has
been forgotten. Yet it continues to accomplish ex-
actly that, together with other habits we have that
also draw children’s attention to gender, as a num-
ber of developmental psychologists have insight-
fully argued.

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have developed the ability to make mental notes
regarding what goes along with being male or fe-
male: they will look longer, in surprise, at a picture
of a man with an object that was previously only
paired with women, and vice versa.
This means
that children are well-placed, early on, to start
learning the gender ropes. As they approach their
second birthday, children are already starting to
pick up the rudiments of gender stereotyping.
There’s some tentative evidence that they know for
whom fi re hats, dolls, makeup, and so on are in-
tended before their second birthday.
And at around
this time, children start to use gender labels them-
selves and are able to say to which sex they them-
selves belong.

It’s at this critical point in their toddler years that
children lose their status as objective observers. It
is hard to merely dispassionately note what is for
boys and what is for girls once you realize that you
are a boy (or a girl) yourself. Once children have
personally relevant boxes in which to fi le what they
learn (labeled “Me” versus “Not Me”), this adds an
extra oomph to the drive to solve the mysteries
of  gender.
Developmental psychologists Carol
Martin and Diane Ruble suggest that children
become “gender detectives,” in search of clues as to
the implications of belonging to the male or female
Nor do they wait for formal instruction. The
academic literature is scattered with anecdotal re-
ports of preschoolers’ amusingly fl awed scientifi c
accounts of gender difference:
[O]ne child believed that men drank tea and women
drank coffee, because that was the way it was in his
house. He was thus perplexed when a male visitor
requested coffee. Another child, dangling his legs
with his father in a very cold lake, announced “only
boys like cold water, right Dad?” Such examples sug-
gest that children are actively seeking and “chewing”
on information about gender, rather than passively
absorbing it from the environment.

In fact, young children are so eager to carve up
the world into what is female and what is male that
Martin and Ruble have reported fi nding it diffi cult
to create stimuli for their studies that children see
as gender neutral, “because children appear to seize
building sites and garbage trucks are peopled
by  right-handers. Public restrooms, sports teams,
many adult friendships, and even some schools,
are segregated by handedness.
You get the idea.
It’s not hard to imagine that, in such a society,
even very young children would soon learn that
there are two categories of people—right-handers
and left-handers—and would quickly become pro-
fi cient in using markers like clothing and hairstyle
to distinguish between the two kinds of children
and adults. But also, it seems more than likely that
children would also come to think that there must
be something fundamentally important about
whether one is a right-hander or a left-hander, since
so much fuss and emphasis is put on the distinction.
Children will, one would imagine, want to know
what it means to be someone of a particular hand-
edness and to learn what sets apart a child of one
handedness from those with a preference for the
other hand.
We tag gender in exactly these ways, all of the
time. Anyone who spends time around children will
know how rare it is to come across a baby or child
whose sex is not labeled by clothing, hairstyle, or
accessories. Anyone with ears can hear how adults
constantly label gender with words: he, she, man,
woman, boy, girl, and so on. And we do this even
when we don’t have to. Mothers reading picture
books, for instance, choose to refer to storybook
characters by gender labels (like woman ) twice as
often as they choose nongendered alternatives (like
teacher or person ). 6 Just as if adults were always
referring to people as left-handers or right-handers
(or Anglos and Latinos, or Jews and Catholics), this
also helps to draw attention to gender as an impor-
tant way of dividing up the social world into
This tagging of gender—especially different
conventions for male and female dress, hairstyle,
accessories, and use of makeup—may well help
children to learn how to divvy up the people around
them by sex. We’ve seen that babies as young as
three to four months old can discriminate between
males and females. At just ten months old, babies
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126 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
5. The salience of gender in the social world, and the active
role played by the child in gender development that the
salience and importance of gender motivates, has been
highlighted by a number of researchers, for example
(Arthur et al., 2008; Bem, 1983; Bigler & Liben, 2007;
Martin & Halverson, 1981). The material that follows all
draws on the insights of Gender Schema Theory and
especially Developmental Intergroup Theory.
6. (Gelman, Taylor, & Naguyen, 2004).
7. (Levy & Haaf, 1994).
8. For example (Serbin, Poulin-Dubois, & Eichstedt,
2002), also (Poulin-Dubois et al., 2002), who found that
knowledge was seen earlier in girls than in boys.
9. (Zosuls et al., 2009).
10. (Martin, Ruble, & Szkrybalo, 2002; Martin & Halverson,
11. (Martin & Ruble, 2004), p. 67.
12. (Ruble, Lurye, & Zosuls, 2008), p. 2.
13. (Martin & Ruble, 2004), p. 68.
14. Carol Martin, personal communication, September 9,
15. (Martin, Eisenbud, & Rose, 1995).
Arthur, A. E., Bigler, R. S., Liben, L. S., Gelman, S. A., &
Ruble, D. N. (2008). Gender stereotyping and prejudice in
young children: A developmental intergroup perspective.
In S. R. Levy & M. Killen (eds.), Intergroup attitudes and
relations in childhood through adulthood (pp. 66–86).
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Bem, S. L. (1983). Gender schema theory and its implica-
tions for child development: Raising gender-aschematic
children in a gender-schematic society. SIGNS: Journal of
Women in Culture & Society , 8(4), 598–616.
Bigler, R. S., & Liben, L. S. (2007). Developmental inter-
group theory: Explaining and reducing children’s social
stereotyping and prejudice. Current Directions in Psycho-
logical Science , 16(3), 162–166.
Fine, Cordelia (2011-08-08). Delusions of Gender: How
Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference .
Norton. Kindle Edition.
Gelman, S. A., Taylor, M. G., & Naguyen, S. P. (2004).
III.  How children and mothers express gender essential-
ism. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child
Development , 69(1), 33–63.
Hurlbert, A. C., & Ling, Y. (2007). Biological components of
sex differences in color preference. Current Biology ,
17(16), R623–R625.
Lawson, A. (2007, May 23). The princess gene. The Age , 18.
Levy, G. D., & Haaf, R. A. (1994). Detection of gender-
related categories by 10-month-old infants. Infant
Behavior & Development , 17(4), 457–459.
on any element that may implicate a gender norm
so that they may categorize it as male or female.”

For instance, when creating characters from outer
space for children, it proved diffi cult to fi nd colors
and shapes that didn’t signify gender. Even some-
thing as subtle as the shape of the head could indi-
cate gender in the eyes of the children: aliens with
triangular heads, for example, were seen as male.

(Later, we’ll see why.) And experimental studies
bear out children’s propensity to jump to Men Are
from Mars, Women Are from Venus-style conclu-
sions on rather fl imsy evidence. Asked to rate the
appeal of a gender-neutral toy (which girls and
boys on average like the same amount), boys as-
sume that only other boys will like what they them-
selves like; ditto for girls.

It’s hardly surprising that children take on the un-
offi cial occupation of gender detective. They are
born into a world in which gender is continually em-
phasized through conventions of dress, appearance,
language, color, segregation, and symbols. Every-
thing around the child indicates that whether one is
male or female is a matter of great importance. At the
same time . . . the information we provide to chil-
dren, through our social structure and media, about
what gender means—what goes with being male or
female—still follows fairly old-fashioned guidelines.
1. Fine describes the historical change in fashion
that followed anxiety about shifting gender
roles. Are there contemporary equivalents?
2. Do you think the emphasis on gender differ-
ence in clothing for children is diminishing?
3. How do you assess Fine’s comparison of gen-
der with being left- or right-handed?
1. “What color for your baby?” Parents ’ 14, no. 3 (March
1939), p. 98. Quoted in (Paoletti, 1997), p. 32.
2. (Hurlbert & Ling, 2007; Alexander, 2003).
3. (Lawson, 2007). Quotations from paras. 4, 5, 8, 8, and
10, respectively.
4. (Paoletti, 1997), pp. 30 and 31.
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READING 12: What’s Class Got to Do with It? 127
Poulin-Dubois, D., Serbin, L. A., Eichstedt, J. A.,
Sen, M. G., & Beissel, C. F. (2002). Men don’t put on make-
up: Toddlers’ knowledge of the gender stereotyping of
household activities. Social Development , 11(2), 166–181.
Ruble, D., Lurye, L., & Zosuls, K. (2008). Pink frilly dresses
(PFD) and early gender identity [Electronic Version].
Princeton Report on Knowledge . http://www.princeton
.edu/prok/issues/2-2/pink_frilly.xml. Accessed on
April 23, 2008.
Serbin, L. A., Poulin-Dubois, D., & Eichstedt, J. A. (2002).
Infants’ responses to gender-inconsistent events. Infancy ,
3(4), 531–542.
Zosuls, K. M., Ruble, D. N., Tamis-LeMonda, C. S., Shrout,
P. E., Bornstein, M. H., & Greulich, F. K. (2009). The ac-
quisition of gender labels in infancy: Implications for sex-
typed play. Developmental Psychology , 45(3), 688–701.
Martin, C. L., Eisenbud, L., & Rose, H. (1995). Children’s
gender-based reasoning about toys. Child Development,
66(5), 1453–1471.
Martin, C. L., & Halverson, C. F. (1981). A schematic pro-
cessing model of sex typing and stereotyping in children.
Child Development , 52, 1119–1134.
Martin, C. L., & Ruble, D. (2004). Children’s search for gen-
der cues: Cognitive perspectives on gender development.
Current Directions in Psychological Science , 13(2), 67–70.
Martin, C.L., Ruble, D. N., & Szkrybalo, J. (2002). Cogni-
tive theories of early gender development. Psychological
Bulletin , 128(6), 903–933.
Paoletti, J. B. (1997). The gendering of infants’ and toddlers’
clothing in America. In K. Martinez & K. L. Ames (eds.),
The material culture of gender: The gender of material
culture (pp. 27–35). Hanover, NH, and London: Univer-
sity Press of New England.
R E A D I N G 1 2
What’s Class Got to Do with It?
Michael Zweig
Whether in regard to the economy or issues of war
and peace, class is central to our everyday lives. Yet
class has not been as visible as race or gender, not
nearly as much a part of our conversations and
sense of ourselves as these and other “identities.”
We are of course all individuals, but our individual-
ity and personal life chances are shaped—limited
or enhanced—by the economic and social class in
which we have grown up and in which we exist as
Even though “class” is an abstract category of
social analysis, class is real. Since social abstrac-
tions can seem far removed from real life, it may
help to consider two other abstractions that have
important consequences for fl esh-and-blood indi-
viduals: race and gender. Suppose you knew there
were men and women because you could see the
difference, but you didn’t know about the socially
constructed concept of “gender.” You would be
missing something vitally important about the peo-
ple you see. You would have only a surface appre-
ciation of their lives. If, based only on direct
observation of skin color, you knew there were
white people and black people, but you didn’t know
about “race” in modern society, you would be igno-
rant of one of the most important determinants of
the experience of those white and black people.
Gender and race are abstractions, yet they are pow-
erful, concrete infl uences in everyone’s lives. They
carry signifi cant meaning despite wide differences
in experience within the populations of men,
women, whites, blacks.
Similarly, suppose that based on your observa-
tion of work sites and labor markets you knew
there  were workers and employers, but you didn’t
recognize the existence of class. You would be
blind to a most important characteristic of the indi-
vidual workers and employers you were observing,
something that has tremendous infl uence in their
lives. Despite the wide variety of experiences and
identities among individual workers, capitalists,
and middle class people, it still makes sense to
Michael Zweig is a professor of economics at the State
University of New York, Stony Brook.
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128 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
fi nance, CEOs, chief fi nancial offi cers, chief oper-
ating offi cers, members of boards of directors,
those whose decisions dominate the workplace
and the economy, and whose economic power
often translates into dominant power in the realms
of politics, culture, the media, and even religion.
Capitalists comprise about 2 percent of the U.S.
labor force.
There are big differences among capitalists in
the degree of power they wield, particularly in the
geographic extent of that power. The CEO of a
business employing one hundred people in a city of
fi fty thousand might well be an important fi gure on
the local scene, but not necessarily in state or re-
gional affairs. On the national scale, power is prin-
cipally in the hands of those who control the largest
corporations, those employing over fi ve hundred
people. Of the over twenty-one million business en-
terprises in the United States, only sixteen thousand
employ that many. They are controlled by around
two hundred thousand people, fewer than two-
tenths of 1 percent of the labor force.
Even among the powerful, power is concen-
trated at the top. It’s one thing to control a single
large corporation, another to sit on multiple corpo-
rate boards and be in a position to coordinate strat-
egies across corporations. In fact, if we count only
those people who sit on multiple boards, so-called
interlocking directors, they could all fi t into Yan-
kee Stadium. They and the top political leaders in
all branches of the federal government constitute a
U.S. “ruling class” at the pinnacle of national
Capitalists are rich, of course. But when vice-
president Dick Cheney invited a select few to help
him formulate the country’s energy policy shortly
after the new Bush administration came into offi ce
in 2001, he didn’t invite “rich people.” He invited
people who were leaders in the energy industry,
capitalists. The fact that they were also rich was
incidental. Capitalists are rich people who control
far more than their personal wealth. They control
the wealth of the nation, concentrated as it is in the
largest few thousand corporations. There is no
acknowledge the existence and importance of class
in modern society. In fact, without a class analysis
we would have only the most superfi cial knowledge
of our own lives and the experiences of others we
observe in economic and political activity. . . .
When people in the United States talk about
class, it is often in ways that hide its most impor-
tant parts. We tend to think about class in terms of
income, or the lifestyles that income can buy. . . .
[But class can be better understood] as mainly a
question of economic and political power. . . .
Power doesn’t exist alone within an individual or a
group. Power exists as a relationship between and
among different people or groups. This means that
we cannot talk about one class of people alone,
without looking at relationships between that class
and others.
The working class is made up of people who,
when they go to work or when they act as citizens,
have comparatively little power or authority. They
are the people who do their jobs under more or
less close supervision, who have little control over
the  pace or the content of their work, who aren’t
the boss of anyone. They are blue-collar people
like construction and factory workers, and white-
collar workers like bank tellers and writers of rou-
tine computer code. They work to produce
and distribute goods, or in service industries or
government agencies. They are skilled and
unskilled, engaged in over fi ve hundred different
occupations tracked by the U.S. Department of
Labor: agricultural laborers, baggage handlers,
cashiers, fl ight attendants, home health care aides,
machinists, secretaries, short order cooks, sound
technicians, truck drivers. In the United States,
working class people are by far the majority of the
population. Over eighty-eight million people were
in working class occupations in 2002, comprising
62 percent of the labor force.

On the other side of the basic power relation in
a capitalist society is the capitalist class, those
most senior executives who direct and control the
corporations that employ the private-sector work-
ing class. These are the “captains of industry” and
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READING 12: What’s Class Got to Do with It? 129
able to win for working people. “Middle class
workers” are supposed to be “most people,” those
with stable jobs and solid values based in the work
ethic, as opposed to poor people—those on welfare
or the “underclass”—on one side, and “the rich” on
the other. When people think about classes in terms
of “rich, middle, and poor,” almost everyone ends
up in the middle.
Understanding class in terms of power throws a
different light on the subject. In this view, middle
class people are in the middle of the power grid that
has workers and capitalists at its poles. The middle
class includes professional people like doctors,
lawyers, accountants, and university professors.
Most people in the “professional middle class” are
not self-employed. They work for private compa-
nies or public agencies, receive salaries, and an-
swer to supervisors. In these ways they are like
But if we compare professional middle class
people with well-paid workers, we see important
differences. A unionized auto assembly worker
doing a lot of overtime makes enough money to live
the lifestyle of a “middle class worker,” even more
money than some professors or lawyers. But a well-
paid unionized machinist or electrician or auto-
worker is still part of the working class. Professors
and lawyers have a degree of autonomy and control
at work that autoworkers don’t have. The difference
is a question of class.
It is also misleading to equate the working class
as a whole with its best-paid unionized members.
Only 9 percent of private sector workers belong to
unions, and millions of them are low-paid service
employees. The relatively well-paid manufacturing
industries are not typical of American business,
and they are shrinking as a proportion of the total
The middle class also includes supervisors in the
business world, ranging from line foremen to senior
managers below the top decision-making execu-
tives. As with the professional middle class, some
people in the supervisory middle class are close to
working people in income and lifestyle. We see this
lobby in Washington representing “rich people.”
Lobbyists represent various industries or associa-
tions of industries that sometimes coordinate their
efforts on behalf of industry in general. They repre-
sent the interests that capitalists bring to legislative
and regulatory matters.
Something similar operates for the working
class. Over thirteen million people are in unions in
the United States. Most of these unions—like
the  United Auto Workers (UAW); the American
Federation of State, County, and Municipal Em-
ployees (AFSCME); the Carpenters; and the
International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT)—
maintain offi ces in Washington and in major and
even smaller cities where their members work. In
addition to engaging in collective bargaining at
the workplace, these unions lobby for their mem-
bers and occasionally coordinate their efforts to
lobby for broader working class interests. Sixty-
eight unions have joined under the umbrella of the
American Federation of Labor, Congress of In-
dustrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) to pool re-
sources and try to advance the interests of working
people in general. These organizations represent
workers, not “the poor” or “middle-income peo-
ple,” even though some workers are poor and
some have an income equal to that of some in the
middle class.

In between the capitalist and the working classes
is the middle class. The “middle class” gets a lot of
attention in the media and political commentary in
the United States, but this term is almost always
used to describe people in the middle of the income
distribution. People sometimes talk about “middle
class workers,” referring to people who work for a
wage but live comfortable if modest lives. Especially
in goods-producing industries, unionized workers
have been able to win wages that allow home owner-
ship, paid vacations, nice cars, home entertainment
centers, and other consumer amenities.
When class is understood in terms of income or
lifestyle, these workers are sometimes called “mid-
dle class.” Even leaders of the workers’ unions use
the term to emphasize the gains unions have been
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130 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
of the labor force in the United States—sizable,
but far from the majority, far from the “typical”
Like the working class and the capitalists, the
middle class is represented in the political process
by professional associations and small business
groups. There is no “middle-income” lobby, but
there are, for example, the Trial Lawyers Association,
the American Medical Association, the American
Association of University Professors, the National
Association of Realtors.
Clearly, classes are not monolithic collections of
socially identical people. We have seen that each class
contains quite a bit of variation. Rather than sharp
dividing lines, the borders between them are porous
and ambiguous—important areas to study and better
understand. Also, beyond the differences in occupa-
tions and relative power within classes, which lead to
differences in incomes, wealth, and lifestyles, each
class contains men and women of every race, na-
tionality, and creed. Yet, despite these rich internal
variations and ambiguous borders, a qualitative dif-
ference remains between the life experience of the
working class compared with that of the profes-
sional and managerial middle class, to say nothing
of differences both of these have with the capitalists.
1. How is social class like and also different from
race, sex, gender, and sexual orientation?
2. Would you agree with Zweig that “without a
class analysis, we would have only the most
superfi cial knowledge of our own lives and the
experience of others”?
1. For a detailed discussion of the class composition of the
United States, on which these and the following fi ndings
are based, see Michael Zweig, The Working Class Ma-
jority: America’s Best Kept Secret (Ithaca, NY: Cornell
University Press, 2000), chap. 1.
2. Some middle class people are represented by unions,
such as university professors in the American Federation
of Teachers (AFT) and legal aid attorneys in the UAW.
Most union members are in the working class.
mostly at the lower levels of supervision, as with
line foremen or other fi rst-level supervisors. They
often are promoted from the ranks of workers, con-
tinue to live in working class areas, and socialize
with working class friends. But a foreman is not a
worker when it comes to the power grid. The fore-
man is on the fl oor to represent the owner, to exe-
cute orders in the management chain of command.
The foreman is in the middle—between the work-
ers and the owners. When a worker becomes a su-
pervisor, he or she enters the middle class. But just
as the well-paid “middle class worker” is atypical,
so “working class bosses” make up a small fraction
of supervisory and managerial personnel in the
U.S. economy.
We see something similar with small business
owners, the third component of the middle class.
Some come out of the working class and continue
to have personal and cultural ties to their roots. But
these connections do not change the fact that work-
ers aspire to have their own business to escape the
regimentation of working class jobs, seeking in-
stead the freedom to “be my own boss.” That free-
dom, regardless of how much it might be limited by
competitive pressures in the marketplace and how
many hours the owner must work to make a go of it,
puts the small business owner in a different class
from workers.
At the other end of the business scale, senior
managers and high-level corporate attorneys and
accountants share quite a bit with the capitalists
they serve. They have considerable authority, make
a lot of money, and revolve in the same social cir-
cles. But they are not the fi nal decision makers.
They are at a qualitatively different level in the
power grid from those they serve, who pay them
well for their service but retain ultimate authority.
They, too, are in the middle class.
In all three sections of the middle class—
professionals, supervisors, and small business
owners—there are fuzzy borders with the working
class and with the capitalists. Yet the differences in
power, independence, and life circumstances
among these classes support the idea of a separate
middle class. The middle class is about 36 percent
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READING 13: The Silver Spoon: Inheritance and the Staggered Start 131
our parents. The baton is passed, and for a while,
both parents and children run together. When the
exchange is complete, the children are on their own
as they position themselves for the next exchange
to the next generation. Although each new runner
may gain or lose ground in the competition, each
new runner inherits an initial starting point in
the race.
In this intergenerational relay race, children
born to wealthy parents start at or near the fi nish
line, while children born into poverty start behind
everyone else. Those who are born close to the fi n-
ish line need no merit to get ahead. They already
are ahead. The poorest of the poor, however, need
to traverse the entire distance to get to the fi nish
line on the basis of merit alone. In this sense, meri-
tocracy applies strictly only to the poorest of the
poor; everyone else has at least some advantage of
inheritance that places him or her ahead at the start
of the race.
In comparing the effects of inheritance and
individual merit on life outcomes, the effects of
inheritance come fi rst, followed by the effects of in-
dividual merit—not the other way around. Figure 1
depicts the intergenerational relay race to get ahead.
R E A D I N G 1 3
The Silver Spoon: Inheritance
and the Staggered Start
Stephen J. McNamee and Robert K. Miller Jr.
To heir is human.
—Jeffrey P. Rosenfeld, Legacy of Aging
A common metaphor for the competition to
get  ahead in life is the foot race. The imagery is
that  the fastest runner—presumably the most
meritorious—will be the one to break the tape at
the fi nish line. But in terms of economic competi-
tion, the race is rigged. If we think of money as a
measure of who gets how much of what there is
to get, the race to get ahead does not start anew
with each generation. Instead, it is more like a
relay race in which we inherit a starting point from
Stephen J. McNamee is a professor of sociology at the Univer-
sity of North Carolina, Wilmington. Robert K. Miller, Jr. is
a  professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina,
F I G U R E 1
The intergenerational race to get ahead. Note: solid lines are effects of
inheritance; dashed lines are potential effects of merit.
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132 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
The solid lines represent the effects of inheritance
on economic outcomes. The dotted lines represent
the potential effects of merit. The “distance” each
person needs to reach the fi nish line on the basis of
merit depends on how far from the fi nish line each
person starts the race in the fi rst place.
It is important to point out that equivalent
amounts of merit do not lead to equivalent end re-
sults. If each dash represents one “unit” of merit, a
person born poor who advances one unit on the
basis of individual merit over a lifetime ends up at
the end of her life one unit ahead of where she
started but still at or close to poverty. A person who
begins life one unit short of the top can ascend to the
top based on an equivalent one unit of merit. Each
person is equally meritorious, but his or her end po-
sition in the race to get ahead is very different.
Heirs to large fortunes in the world start life
at or  near the finish line. Barring the unlikely
possi bility of parental disinheritance, there is
virtually no realistic scenario in which they end
up destitute— regardless of the extent of their
innate talent or individual motivation. Their future
is fi nancially secure. They will grow up having the
best of everything and having every opportunity
money can buy.
Most parents want the best for their children. As
a result, most parents try to do everything they can
to secure their children’s futures. Indeed, that paren-
tal desire to provide advantages for children may
even have biological origins. Under the “inclusive
fi tness-maximizing” theory of selection, for in-
stance, benefi ciaries are favored in inheritance ac-
cording to their biological relatedness and
reproductive value. Unsurprisingly, research shows
that benefactors are much more likely to bequeath
estates to surviving spouses and children than to un-
related individuals or institutions (Schwartz 1996;
Willenbacher 2003). In a form of what might be
called “reverse inheritance,” parents may invest in
children to secure their own futures in the event that
they become unable to take care of themselves. Par-
ents may also invest in their children’s future to re-
alize vicarious prestige through the successes of
their children, which may, in turn, be seen as a vali-
dation of their own genetic endowments or child-
rearing skills.
Regardless of the source of parental motivation,
most parents clearly wish to secure children’s fu-
tures. To the extent that parents are successful in
passing on advantages to children, meritocracy
does not operate as the basis for who ends up with
what. Despite the ideology of meritocracy, the real-
ity in America, as elsewhere, is inheritance fi rst and
merit second. . . .
Inheritance is more than bulk estates bequeathed to
descendants; more broadly defi ned, it refers to the
total impact of initial social-class placement at birth
on future life outcomes. Therefore, it is not just the
superwealthy who are in a position to pass advan-
tages on to children. Advantages are passed on, in
varying degrees, to all of those from relatively priv-
ileged backgrounds. Even minor initial advantages
may accumulate during the life course. In this way,
existing inequalities are reinforced and extended
across generations. As Harvard economist John
Kenneth Galbraith put it in the opening sentence of
his well-known book The Affl uent Society , “Wealth
is not without its advantages and the case to the
contrary, although it has often been made, has never
proved widely persuasive” (1958, 13). Specifi cally,
the cumulative advantages of wealth inheritance
include the following.
Childhood Quality of Life
Children of the privileged enjoy a high standard of
living and quality of life regardless of their indi-
vidual merit or lack of it. For the privileged, this
not only includes high-quality food, clothing, and
shelter but also extends to luxuries such as enter-
tainment, toys, travel, family vacations, enrich-
ment camps, private lessons, and a host of other
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READING 13: The Silver Spoon: Inheritance and the Staggered Start 133
indulgences that wealthy parents and even middle-
class parents bestow on their children (Lareau
2003). Children do not earn a privileged lifestyle;
they inherit and benefi t from it long before their
parents are deceased.
Knowing with Which Fork to Eat
Cultural capital refers to what one needs to know to
function as a member of the various groups to
which one belongs. All groups have norms, values,
beliefs, ways of life, and codes of conduct that
identify the group and defi ne its boundaries. The
culture of the group separates insiders from outsid-
ers. Knowing and binding by these cultural codes
of conduct is required to maintain one’s status as a
member in good standing within the group. By
growing up in privilege, children of the elite are
socialized into elite ways of life. This kind of cul-
tural capital has commonly been referred to as
“breeding,” “refi nement,” “social grace,” “savoir
faire,” or simply “class” (meaning upper class).
Although less pronounced and rigid than in the
past, these distinctions persist into the present. In
addition to cultivated tastes in art and music (“high-
brow” culture), cultural capital includes, but is not
limited to, interpersonal styles and demeanor, man-
ners and etiquette, and vocabulary. Those from
more humble backgrounds who aspire to become
elites must acquire the cultural cachet to be ac-
cepted in elite circle, and this is no easy task. Those
born to it, however, have the advantage of acquiring
it “naturally” through inheritance, a kind of social
osmosis that takes place through childhood social-
ization (Lareau 2003).
Having Friends in High Places
Everybody knows somebody else. Social capital
refers to the “value” of whom you know. For the
most part, privileged people know other privileged
people, and poor people know other poor people.
Another nonmerit advantage inherited by children
of the wealthy is a network of connections to people
of power and infl uence. These are not connections
that children of the rich shrewdly foster or cultivate
on their own. The children of the wealthy travel in
high-powered social circles. These connections
provide access to power, information, and other re-
sources. The difference between rich and poor is
not in knowing people; it is in knowing people in
positions of power and infl uence who can do things
for you.
Early Withdrawals on the
Family Estate
Children of the privileged do not have to wait until
their parents die to inherit assets from them. Inter
vivos transfers of funds and “gifts” from parents to
children can be substantial, and there is strong
evidence suggesting that such transfers account
for a greater proportion of intergenerational trans-
fers than lump-sum estates at death (Gale and
Scholz 1994). Inter vivos gifts to children provide
a means of legally avoiding or reducing estate
taxes. In this way, parents can “spend down” their
estates during their lives to avoid estate and in-
heritance taxes upon their deaths. Furthermore, in
2001 the federal government enacted legislation
that is scheduled to ultimately phase out the fed-
eral estate tax. Many individual states have also
reduced or eliminated inheritance taxes. The im-
pact of these changes in tax law on intergenera-
tional transfers is at this point unclear. If tax
advantages were the only reasons for inter vivos
transfers, we might expect parents to slow down
the pace of inter vivos transfers. But it is unlikely
that the fl ow of such transfers will be abruptly cur-
tailed because they serve other functions. Besides
tax avoidance, parents also provide inter vivos
transfers to children to advance their children’s
current and future economic interests, especially
at critical or milestone stages of the life cycle.
These milestone events include going to college,
getting married, buying a house, and having chil-
dren. At each event, there may be a substantial in-
fusion of parental capital—in essence an early
withdrawal on the parental estate. One of the
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134 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
home only to return later to live with parents. Social
scientists report that 34 percent of young adults are
now moving back in with their parents during their
twenties ( Contexts 2008). The reasons for adult
children returning to live at home are usually fi nan-
cial: adult children may be between jobs, between
marriages, or without other viable means of self-
support. Such living arrangements are likely to in-
crease during periods of high unemployment,
which in early 2009 topped 8 percent of the civilian
labor force.
If America operated as a “true” merit system,
people would advance solely on the basis of merit
and fail when they lacked merit. In many cases
however, family resources prevent, or at least re-
duce, “skidding” among adult children. One of
the authors of this book recalls that when he left
home as an adult, his parents took him aside and
told him that no matter how bad things became
for him out there in the world, if he could get to a
phone, they would wire him money to come
home. This was his insurance against destitution.
Fortunately, he has not yet had to take his parents
up on their offer, but neither has he forgotten it.
Without always being articulated, the point is that
this informal familial insurance against down-
ward mobility is available in varying degrees, to
all except the poorest of the poor, who simply
have resources to provide.
Live Long and Prosper
From womb to tomb, the more affl uent one is, the
less the risk of injury, illness, and death (Budrys
2003; Cockerham 2000; National Center for
Health Statistics 2007; Wermuth 2003). Among
the many nonmerit advantages inherited by those
from privileged backgrounds is higher life expec-
tancy at birth and a greater chance of better health
throughout life. There are several possible rea-
sons for the strong and persistent relationship be-
tween socioeconomic status and health. Beginning
with fetal development and extending through
childhood, increasing evidence points to the
most  common forms of inter vivos gifts is pay-
ment for children’s education. A few generations
ago, children may have inherited the family farm
or the family business. With the rise of the modern
corporation and the decline of family farms and
businesses, inheritance increasingly takes on more
fungible or liquid forms, including cash transfers.
Indeed, for many middle-class Americans, educa-
tion has replaced tangible assets as the primary
form by which advantage is passed on between
What Goes Up Doesn’t Usually
Come Down
If America were truly a meritocracy, we would ex-
pect fairly equal amounts of both upward and
downward mobility. Mobility studies, however,
consistently show much higher rates of upward
than downward mobility. There are two key reasons
for this. First, most mobility that people have expe-
rienced in American in the past century, particu-
larly occupational mobility, was due to industrial
expansion and the rise of the general standard of
living in society as a whole. Sociologists refer to
this type of mobility as “structural mobility,” which
has more to do with changes in the organization of
society than with the merit of individuals. A second
reason why upward mobility is more prevalent than
downward mobility is that parents and extended
family networks insulate children from downward
mobility. That is, parents frequently “bail out,” or
“rescue,” their adult children in the event of life
crises such as sickness, unemployment, divorce, or
other setbacks that might otherwise propel adult
children into a downward spiral. In addition to
these external circumstances, parents also rescue
children from their own failures and weaknesses,
including self-destructive behaviors. Parental res-
cue as a form of inter vivos transfer is not a gener-
ally acknowledged or well-studied benefi t of
inheritance. Indirect evidence of parental rescue
may be found in the recent increase in the number
of “boomerang” children, adult children who leave
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Another reason for the health-wealth connection
is that the rich have greater access to quality
health care. In America, access to quality health
care is still largely for sale to the highest bidder.
Under these conditions, prevention and interven-
tion are more widely available to the more affl u-
ent. Finally, not only does lack of income lead
to poor health, but poor health leads to reduced
earnings. That is, if someone is sick or injured,
he or she may not be able to work or may have
limited earning power.
effects of “the long reach of early childhood” on
adult health (Smith 1999). Prenatal deprivations,
more common among the poor, for instance, are
associated with later life conditions such as retar-
dation, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes
and hypertension. Poverty in early childhood is
also associated with increased risk of adult dis-
eases. This may be due in part to higher stress
levels among the poor. There is also evidence that
cumulative wear and tear on the body over time
occurs under conditions of repeated high stress.
I Am a Pakistani Woman
I am a Pakistani woman, raised in the U.S. and Canada,
and often at odds with the Western standard of beauty.
As a child in Nova Scotia and later growing up in New
York and Indiana, I was proud of my uniqueness. On
traditional Pakistani and Muslim holidays, I got to wear
bright, fun clothes from my country and colorful jewelry.
I had a whole rich tradition of my own to celebrate in ad-
dition to Christmas and Easter. However, as I started
school, I somehow came to realize that being different
wasn’t so great—that in other people’s viewpoint, I looked
strange and acted funny. I learned the importance of fit-
ting in and behaving like the other girls. This involved
dressing well, giggling a lot, and having a superior, but
flirtatious attitude toward boys. I was very outgoing and
had very good grades, so outwardly I was able to “as-
similate” with some success. But my sister, who was
quiet and reticent, often took the brunt of other children’s
cruelty. I realize how proud and ashamed I was of my
heritage when I look at my relationship with my family.
A lesson I learned early on in the U.S. was that being
beautiful took a lot of money. It is painful, as an adult, for
me to consider the inexorable, never-ending pressure
that my father was under to embody the dominant,
middle-class cultural expressions of masculinity, as in
success at one’s job, making a big salary, and owning
status symbols. I resented him so much then for being a
poor, untenured professor and freelance writer. I wanted
designer clothes, dining out at nice restaurants, and a
big allowance. Instead, I had a deeply spiritual thinker,
writer, and theologian for a dad. I love(d) him and am so
very grateful for what he’s taught me, but as a child I
didn’t think of him as a success.
The prettiest girls in school all had a seemingly end-
less array of outfits, lots of makeup and perfume, and
everything by the “right” designers. I hated my mom for
making many of my clothes and buying things on sale
(and my mom was a great seamstress). I felt a sense of
hopelessness that I could never have the resources or
opportunities necessary to compete, to be beautiful.
Instead I found safety in conformity. When I was in
high school, the WASPy, preppy look was hot; it repre-
sented the epitome of success and privilege in America.
I worked hard to purchase a wardrobe of clothes with a
polo-horse insignia, by many hours at an after-school job.
I tried to hide my exotic look behind Khakis, boat shoes,
hair barrettes, and pearl studs. There was comfort in con-
formity. I saw the class “sex symbol” denigrated for wear-
ing tight dresses and having a very well-developed body
for a sixteen-year-old, and the more unique dressers dis-
missed as frivolous, trendy, and more than a little eccen-
tric. You couldn’t be too pretty, too ugly, too different—you
had to just blend in.
Though I did it well, I perpetually felt like an imposter.
This rigidly controlled, well-dressed preppy going
through school with good grades in advanced placement
classes in no way represented what I felt to be my true
Hoorie I. Siddique
READING 13: The Silver Spoon: Inheritance and the Staggered Start 135
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136 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
wealth and health may be related to the psychologi-
cal stress of relative deprivation, that is, the stress of
being at the bottom end of an unequal social pecking
order, especially when the dominant ideology attri-
butes being at the bottom to individual defi ciencies.
Despite the adage that “money can’t buy happi-
ness,” social science research has consistently
shown  that happiness and subjective well-being
tend to be related to the amount of income and
wealth people possess (Frey and Stutzer 2002;
Frank 2007a; Schnittker 2008). This research
shows that people living in wealthier (and more
democratic) countries tend to be happier and that
rates of happiness are sensitive to overall rates of
unemployment and infl ation. In general, poor peo-
ple are less happy than others, although increments
that exceed average amounts of income only
slightly increase levels of happiness. That is, be-
yond relatively low thresholds, additional incre-
ments of income and wealth are not likely to result
in additional increments of happiness. Although
money may not guarantee a long, happy, and
healthy life, a fair assessment is that it aids and
abets it. . . .
The United States has high levels of both income
and wealth inequality. In terms of the distribution of
income and wealth, America is clearly not a middle-
class society. Income and especially wealth are not
evenly distributed, with a relatively small number of
well-off families at one end and a small number of
poor families much worse off at the other. Instead,
the overall picture is one in which the bulk of the
available wealth is concentrated in a narrow range at
the very top of the system. In short, the distribution
of economic resources in society is not symmetrical
and certainly not bell-shaped: the poor who have the
least greatly outnumber the rich who have the most.
Moreover, in recent decades, by all measures, the
rich are getting richer, and the gap between the very
rich and everyone else has appreciably increased.
Overall, the less affl uent are at a health disad-
vantage due to higher exposure to a variety of un-
healthy living conditions. As medical sociologist
William Cockerham points out,
Persons living in poverty and reduced socioeconomic
circumstances have greater exposure to physical
(crowding, poor sanitation, extreme temperatures),
chemical and biochemical (diet, pollution, smoking,
alcohol, and drug abuse), biological (bacteria, viruses)
and psychological (stress) risk factors that produce ill
health than more affl uent individuals. (1998, 55).
Part of the exposure to health hazards is occupa-
tional. According to the Department of Labor,
those in the following occupations (listed in order
of risk) have the greatest likelihood of being killed
on the  job: fi shers, timber cutters, airplane pilots,
structural metal workers, taxicab drivers, construc-
tion laborers, roofers, electric power installers,
truck drivers, and farm workers. With the exception
of airline pilot, all the jobs listed are working-class
jobs. Since a person’s occupation is strongly
affected by family background, the prospects for
generally higher occupational health risks are in
this sense at least indirectly inherited. Finally,
although homicides constitute only a small propor-
tion of all causes of death, it is worth noting that the
less affl uent are at higher risk for being victims of
violent crime, including homicide.
Some additional risk factors are related to indi-
vidual behaviors, especially smoking, drinking, and
drug abuse—all of which are more common among
the less affl uent. Evidence suggests that these behav-
iors, while contributing to poorer health among the
less affl uent, are responsible for only one-third of
the “wealth-health gradient” (Smith 1999, 157).
These behaviors are also associated with higher psy-
chological as well as physical stress. Indeed, the less
affl uent are not just at greater risk for physical ail-
ments; research has shown that the less affl uent are
at signifi cantly higher risk for mental illness as
well  (Cockerham 2000; Feagin and McKinney
2003). Intriguing new evidence suggests that, apart
from material deprivations, part of the link between
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READING 14: The Great Divergence: America’s Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do about It 137
Lareau, Annette. 2003. Unequal Childhood: Class, Race,
and Family Life. Berkeley: University of California
National Center for Health Statistics. 2007. Health, United
States, 2007, with Chart-book on Trends in the Health of
Americans. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health
Statistics, U.S. Department of Health and Human
Smith, James P. 1999. “Healthy Bodies and Thick Wallets:
The Dual Relation between Health and Economic Status.”
Journal of Economic Perspectives 13: 145–66.
Wermuth, Laurie. 2003. Global Inequality and Human
Needs: Health and Illness in an Increasingly Unequal
World . Boston: Allyn Bacon.
R E A D I N G 1 4
The Great Divergence: America’s
Growing Inequality Crisis and
What We Can Do about It
Timothy Noah
During the past thirty-three years the difference in
America between being rich and being middle class
became much more pronounced. People with high
incomes consumed an ever-larger share of the na-
tion’s total income, while people in the middle saw
their share shrink. For most of this time the phe-
nomenon attracted little attention from the general
public and the press because it occurred in incre-
ments over one third of a century. During the previ-
ous fi ve decades—from the early 1930s through
most of the 1970s—the precise opposite had oc-
curred. The share of the nation’s income that went
to the wealthy had either shrunk or remained stable.
At the fi rst signs, during the early 1980s, that this
was no longer happening, economists fi gured they
were witnessing a fl uke, an inexplicable but tempo-
rary phenomenon, or perhaps an artifact of faulty
statistics. But they weren’t. A democratization of
The greater the amount of economic inequality in
society, the more diffi cult it is to move up within the
system on the basis of individual merit alone. In-
deed, the most important factor in terms of where
people will end up in the economic pecking order of
society is where they started in the fi rst place.
Economic inequality has tremendous inertial force
across generations. Instead of a race to get ahead
that begins anew with each generation, the race is in
reality a relay race in which children inherit differ-
ent starting points from parents. Inheritance, broadly
defi ned as one’s initial starting point in life based on
parental position, includes a set of cumulative non-
merit advantages for all except the poorest of the
poor. These include enhanced childhood standard
of  living, differential access to cultural capital,
differential access to social networks of power and
infl uence, infusion of parental capital while parents
are still alive, greater health and life expectancy, and
the inheritance of bulk estates when parents die. . . .
1. On what grounds do McNamee and Miller con-
clude that America is not a middle-class soci-
ety? Is their conclusion supportable?
2. In what ways does America function as a meri-
tocracy and in what ways does it not?
Budrys, Grace. 2003. Unequal Health: How Inequality Con-
tributes to Health or Illness . Lanham, MD: Rowman &
Littlefi eld.
Cockerham, William. 1998. Medical Sociology. 7th ed.
Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Feagin, Joe. R., and Mary D. McKinney. 2003. The Many
Costs of Racism. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefi eld.
Frey, Bruno S., and Alois Stutzer. 2002. Happiness and Eco-
nomics: How the Economy and Institutions Affect Well-
being. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Galbraith, John Kenneth. 1958. The Affl uent Society. New
York: Mentor Press.
Gale, William G., and John Karl Scholz. 1994. “Intergenera-
tional Transfers and the Accumulation of Wealth.”
Journal of Economic Perspectives 8: 145–60. Timothy Noah is a journalist and author.
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138 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
more unequal in recent decades. The trend is global.
A 2008 report by the Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development, which represents
thirty-four market-oriented democracies, concluded
that since the mid-1980s, income inequality had in-
creased in two thirds of the twenty-four OECD coun-
tries for which data were available, which included
most of the world’s leading industrial democracies.

But the level and growth rate of income inequality in
the United States has been particularly extreme.
There are various ways to measure income dis-
tribution, and by all of them the United States ranks
at or near the bottom in terms of equality. The most
common measure, the Gini coeffi cient, is named for
an Italian statistician named Corrado Gini (1884–
It measures distribution—of income or any-
thing else—on a scale that goes from 0 to 1. Let’s
imagine, for instance, that we had fi fty marbles to
distribute among fi fty children. Perfect equality of
distribution would be if each child got one marble.
The Gini coeffi cient would then be 0. Perfect in-
equality of distribution would be if one especially
pushy child ended up with all fi fty marbles. The
Gini coeffi cient would then be 1.
As of 2005, the
United States’ Gini coeffi cient was 0.38, which on
the income-equality scale ranked this country
twenty- seventh of the thirty OECD nations for
which data were available. The only countries with
more unequal income distribution were Portugal
(0.42), Turkey (0.43), and Mexico (0.47). . . . When
you calculated the percentage of national income
that went to the top 1 percent, the United States was
the undisputed champion. Its measured income dis-
tribution was more unequal than that of any other
OECD nation.
As of 2007 (i.e., right before the
2008 fi nancial crisis), America’s richest 1 percent
possessed nearly 24 percent of the nation’s pretax
income, a statistic that gave new meaning to the
expression “Can you spare a quarter?” (I include
capital gains as part of income, and will do so
whenever possible throughout this book.) In 2008,
the last year for which data are available, the reces-
sion drove the richest 1 percent’s income share
down to 21 percent.
To judge from Wall Street’s
record bonuses and corporate America’s surging
incomes that Americans had long taken for granted
as a happy fact of modern life was reversing itself.
Eventually it was the steady growth in income in-
equality that Americans took for granted. The di-
vergent fortunes of the rich and the middle class
became such a fact of everyday life that people sel-
dom noticed it, except perhaps to observe now and
then with a shrug that life was unfair. . . .
. . . As late as 1979, the prevailing view among
economists was that incomes in any advanced in-
dustrial democracy would inevitably become more
equal or remain stable in their distribution. They
certainly wouldn’t become more unequal. That
sorry fate was reserved for societies at an earlier
stage of development or where the dictatorial pow-
ers of the state preserved privilege for the few at the
expense of the many. In civilized, mature, and free
nations, the gaps between rich, middle class, and
poor did not increase.
That seemed the logical lesson to draw from U.S.
history. The country’s transformation from an agrar-
ian society to an industrial one during the late nine-
teenth and early twentieth centuries had created a
period of extreme economic inequality—one whose
ramifi cations can still be glimpsed by, say, pairing a
visit to George Vanderbilt’s 125,000-acre Biltmore
Estate in Ashville, North Carolina, with a trip to the
Tenement Museum on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
But from the early 1930s through the early 1970s,
incomes became more equal, and remained so, while
the industrial economy lost none of its rude vitality.
As the 1970s progressed, that vitality diminished, but
income distribution remained unchanged. “As mea-
sured in the offi cial data,” the Princeton economist
Alan Blinder wrote in 1980, “income inequality was
just about the same in 1977 . . . as it was in 1947.”

What Blinder couldn’t know (because he didn’t have
more recent data) was that this was already begin-
ning to change. Starting in 1979, incomes once
again began to grow unequal. When the economy
recovered in 1983, incomes grew even more un-
equal. They have continued growing more unequal
to this day.
The United States is not the only advanced indus-
trialized democracy where incomes have become
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Upward mobility is America’s creed. Circum-
stances at the bottom might be hard, but a plucky
young bootblack with his eye on the main chance
can rise in the world through hard work. Americans
believe this more fervently than do citizens of other
advanced industrial democracies. But the limited
data we have show that we demonstrate it less than
most of those other countries do. The United States
today is no longer, by international standards, a
land notably rich in opportunities to move up the
income ladder.
A survey of twenty-seven nations conducted
from 1998 to 2001 asked participants whether
they agreed with the statement “People are re-
warded for intelligence and skill.” The country
with the highest proportion answering in the af-
fi rmative was the United States (69 percent), com-
pared to a median among all countries of about 40
percent. Similarly, more than 60 percent of Amer-
icans agreed that “people get rewarded for their
effort,” compared to an international median of
less than 40 percent. When participants were
asked whether coming from a wealthy family was
“essential” or “very important” to getting ahead,
the percentage of American affi rmatives was much
lower than the international median: 19 percent
versus 28 percent.

The nonprofi t Pew Charitable Trusts sponsored
a U.S. poll on income mobility in March 2009,
when the country was enduring the worst recession
since the Great Depression. Thirty-nine percent of
the respondents agreed with the statement that it
was common for someone in the United States to
start out poor and become rich. A poll taken six
years before by the Gallup organization found that
31 percent of Americans expected to get rich them-
selves before they die, with “rich” defi ned by re-
spondents (according to the median) as an income
of $120,000 per year (roughly in the top 10 per-
cent). Among those age eighteen to twenty-nine,
51 percent expected to get rich.

Economic reality does not match these expecta-
tions. Only 6 percent of Americans born at the
bottom of the heap (defi ned as the lowest fi fth
in income distribution, i.e., those whose family
profi tability in the years following the 2008 fi nan-
cial crisis, income share for the top 1 percent will
resume its upward climb momentarily, if it hasn’t
already. We already know from census data that in
2010 income share for the bottom 40 percent fell
and that the poverty rate climbed to its highest point
in nearly two decades.

In addition to having an unusually high level of
income inequality, the United States has seen in-
come inequality increase at a much faster rate than
most other countries. Among the twenty-four
OECD countries for which Gini-coeffi cient change
can be measured from the mid-1980s to the mid-
aughts, only Finland, Portugal, and New Zealand
experienced a faster growth rate in income in-
equality. Of these, only Portugal ended up with a
Gini rating worse than the United States’. Another
important point of comparison is that some OECD
countries saw income inequality decline during
this period. France, Greece, Ireland, Spain, and
Turkey all saw their Gini ratings go down (though
the OECD report’s data for Ireland and Spain
didn’t extend beyond 2000). That proves it is not
woven into the laws of economics that an advanced
industrial democracy must, during the present
epoch, see its income-inequality level fall, or even
stay the same. Some of these countries are becom-
ing more economically egalitarian, not less, just as
the United States did for much of the twentieth

Many changes in the global economy are making
incomes less equal in many countries outside the
United States, but the income-inequality trend of the
past three decades has been unusually fi erce here in
the world’s richest nation. Americans usually invoke
the term “American exceptionalism” to describe
what it is that makes our country so much more
blessed than all others. But American exceptional-
ism can also describe ingrained aspects of our coun-
try’s economy, or government, or character, that put
us at a disadvantage on the world stage. Income in-
equality is one of the more notable ways that the
United States differs, in ways we can only regret,
even from nations that resemble us more than they
do not. . . .
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140 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
nations of western Europe—what we once called
the Old World.
Short answer: very poorly. A 2007 study by the
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Devel-
opment combined a number of previous estimates
and found income heritability to be greater (and
economic mobility therefore lower) in the United
States than in Demark, Australia, Norway, Finland,
Canada, Sweden, Germany, Spain, and France. Italy
was a little bit less mobile than the United States,
and the United Kingdom brought up the rear.
This ranking was based on a somewhat conservative
U.S. estimate of 47 percent income heritability;

Mazumder of the Chicago Fed . . . puts it at 50 to
60 percent which would rank the United States
either tied with the United Kingdom for last place or
dead last after the United Kingdom. Almost (argu-
ably every) comparably developed nation for which
we have data offers greater income mobility than the
United States. A common American criticism of the
incomes go up to about $25,000) ever make it in
adulthood to the top (defi ned as the highest fi fth in
income distribution, i.e., those whose family in-
comes are above $100,000).
The most striking
fi nding about upward mobility in contemporary
America concerns the relationship between who
your parents are and how much money you can ex-
pect to make. Parentage is a greater determinant of
a man’s future earnings than it is of his height and
Height and weight are infl uenced by the
genes passed from parents to children. Future earn-
ings are not. But you wouldn’t know that from
available data on economic mobility in the United
States. . . .
To summarize the society-wide trend: Upward
mobility in the United States is not as brisk as econ-
omists once believed it was. There’s some evidence
that it has slowed since the 1970s. Certainly it
hasn’t accelerated. Now let’s look at how the United
States stacks up against traditionally class-bound
United Kingdom
Intergenerational Earnings Elasticity
Income Heritability by Country
United States
0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50%
Source: Anna Cristina D’Addio, “Intergenerational Transmission of
Disadvantage: Mobility or Immobility Across Generations? A Review of
the Evidence for OECD Countries,” Social, Employment, and Migration
Working Paper 52 (Paris: OECD, 2007), 33.
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4. The Gini coeffi cient is derived from the Lorenz curve, a
graphic representation of income distribution named for
an American economist named Max Otto Lorenz (1876–
1959). The Lorenz curve plots cumulative percentage
population share (x-axis) against cumulative percentage
income share (y-axis). Perfect equality is when every
population share matches every income share. This hy-
pothetical distribution is represented by a straight line
extending at a forty-fi ve-degree angle. Actual real-world
distribution, which is always unequal to some degree, is
represented by a line that curves underneath the forty-
fi ve-degree line. Imagine the two lines as representing a
bow that you would use to shoot an arrow (only forget
the arrow and forget pulling the string, which must re-
main a straight line). The lower the real-world distribu-
tion dips—the more curved the bow is—the more
unequal the distribution. The Gini coeffi cient is derived
by calculating the area inside the bow and then dividing
that by the sum of the area inside the bow plus the area
below the bow.
5. Growing Unequal ?, 25, 32, 51– 52.
6. Facundo Alvaredo, Tony Atkinson, Thomas Piketty,
and Emmanuel Saez, “The World Top Incomes
Database,” http://g-mond.parisschoolofeconomics.eu
7. Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the
United States: 2010 (Washington: U.S. Census Bureau,
2011), 10, 14.
8. Growing Unequal ?, 27, 51. Finland’s very low Gini rat-
ing (0.27) ranks it the seventh most income-equal nation
in the OECD, while New Zealand’s very high Gini coef-
fi cient (0.34) ranks it a mere four places above the
United States’ dismal twenty-seventh out of thirty. Por-
tugal’s disturbingly high level of income inequality and
high rate of increase in income inequality, which exceed
those in the United States, appear to result largely from
the fact that nearly 78 percent of its households are
headed by people who lack a high school degree. By
European standards, that’s an extraordinarily low high
school graduation rate. But even in poorly educated Por-
tugal, the top 1  percent’s income share is just a little
more than half what it is in the United States. To achieve
American-style income inequality, you need lots of poor
people, which Portugal has, and lots of rich people,
which it lacks.
9. 1999 Social Inequality III survey, International Social
Survey Program. Quoted in Julia B. Isaacs, Isabel V.
Sawhill, and Ron Haskins, Getting Ahead or Losing
Ground: Economic Mobility in America (Washington:
Brookings Institution, 2008), 37. Scott Winship, an eco-
nomic studies fellow at Brookings’s Center on Children
and Families, informs me that the question about
whether coming from a wealthy family was “essential”
“socialist” countries of western and particularly
northern Europe is that by providing guaranteed
health care and a social safety net for the poor and
unemployed that is more comprehensive than the
one in the United States, these nations diminish their
economies’ ability to create economic opportunity.
That argument is refuted by the evidence presented
here that western and northern European countries
provide, in fact, greater opportunity than the United
States to move up the economic ladder. . . .
1. How do you explain the strength and persis-
tence of Americans’ belief in the possibility of
their upward mobility? Do you think this has
changed in recent times?
2. How do you assess your own chances for up-
ward mobility?
1. Alan Blinder, “The Level and Distribution of Economic
Well-Being,” Working Paper 488 (Cambridge, MA:
National Bureau of Economic Research, 1980).
2. Growing Unequal? Income Distribution and Poverty
in OECD Countries (Paris: Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development, 2008), 27.
3. I would be remiss if I failed to note here the awkward
debt that the science of income and wealth distribution
owes to Italian fascism. Gini was president of Italy’s
Central Institute of Statistics under Benito Mussolini.
Another pioneer in the fi eld was the French-Italian Vil-
fredo Pareto (1848– 1923), inventor of an alternative
measure called the Pareto distribution. Pareto was a
dedicated Fascist who harbored truly repellant beliefs,
but Gini appears to have been much less interested in
politics than in statistics. Il Duce was an enthusiastic
student of statistical science, presumably in the service
of measuring whether the trains were in fact running on
time (and other less praiseworthy effi ciencies). The fas-
cism connection is a ripe opportunity for right-wing
demagogues to condemn all discussion of income distri-
bution—one that, unaccountably, was never seized in
the journalist Jonah Goldberg’s 2007 tome, Liberal Fas-
cism: The Secret History of the American Left, from
Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. But math is math,
and Pareto’s and, especially, Gini’s statistical work have
withstood the test of time.
READING 14: The Great Divergence: America’s Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do about It 141
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142 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
Lisa Diamond is a professor of psychology at the University of
R E A D I N G 1 5
Sexual Fluidity: Understanding
Women’s Love and Desire
Lisa M. Diamond
In 1997, the actress Anne Heche began a widely
publicized romantic relationship with the openly
lesbian comedian Ellen DeGeneres after having
had no prior same-sex attractions or relationships.
The relationship with DeGeneres ended after two
years, and Heche went on to marry a man. The ac-
tress Cynthia Nixon of the HBO series Sex and the
City developed a serious relationship with a woman
in 2004 after ending a fi fteen-year relationship
with a man. Julie Cypher left a heterosexual mar-
riage for the musician Melissa Etheridge in 1988.
After twelve years together, the pair separated and
Cypher—like Heche—has returned to heterosex-
ual relationships. In other cases, longtime lesbians
have unexpectedly initiated relationships with
men, sometimes after decades of exclusively same-
sex ties (examples include the feminist folk singer
Holly Near, the activist and writer Jan Clausen,
and Deborah Sundahl, a founding editor of the les-
bian magazine On Our Backs ). What’s going on?
Are these women confused? Were they just going
through a phase before, or are they in one now?
Consider, too, the growing number of popular
terms that have been coined to describe women
with changing patterns of same-sex and other-sex
behavior, such as “heterofl exibility,” “has-bian,”
and “LUG—lesbian until graduation.”
This new
lexicon has been matched by increasing media de-
pictions of women who pursue sexual contact that
runs counter to their avowed sexual orientation,
ranging from the much-ballyhooed kiss between
Madonna and Britney Spears at the MTV Video
Music Awards to fi lms such as Kissing Jessica Stein
and Chasing Amy , which depicts a lesbian becom-
ing involved with a man, contrary to the more wide-
spread depictions of heterosexual women becoming
involved in same-sex relationships. The reason such
cases are so perplexing is that they fl atly contradict
prevailing assumptions about sexual orientation.
These assumptions hold that an individual’s sexual
predisposition for the same sex or the other sex is an
or “very important” to getting ahead was asked once
again in the 2009 Social Inequality IV survey. This time
the international median was an even higher 32 percent.
But the countries polled in 2009 were different from
those polled in 1999, and in 2009 the United States
wasn’t polled on this question at all.
10. Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll for Pew Charitable
Trusts Economic Mobility Project, Mar. 12, 2009, at http://
203.12.09 ; Gallup poll, “Half of Young People
Expect to Strike It Rich,” Mar. 11, 2003, at http://www
strike-rich.aspx; and Thomas A. DiPrete, “Is This a
Great Country? Upward Mobility and the Chance for
Riches in Contemporary America,” Nov. 28, 2005, at
/richesl12805 .
11. Isaacs et al., Getting Ahead , 19.
12. Bhashkar Mazumder, “Sibling Similarities, Differences
and Economic Inequality,” Working Paper 2004–13
(Chicago: Federal Reserve Bank, 2004), 23.
13. Anna Cristina d’Addio, “Intergenerational Transmis-
sion of Disadvantage: Mobility or Immobility Across
Generations? A Review of the Evidence for OECD
Countries,” OECD Social, Employment and Migration
Working Papers 52 (Paris: OECD, 2007), 33; and Miles
Corak, “Do Poor Children Become Poor Adults? Les-
sons from a Cross Country Comparison of Generational
Earnings Mobility,” Discussion Paper No. 1993 (Bonn:
Institute for the Study of Labor [IZA], 2006), 53, 63.
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READING 15: Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire 143
and experiences. Instead, women of all orientations
may experience variation in their erotic and affec-
tional feelings as they encounter different situa-
tions, relationships, and life stages. This is why a
woman like Anne Heche can suddenly fi nd herself
falling madly in love with Ellen DeGeneres after an
exclusively heterosexual past, and why a longtime
lesbian can experience her very fi rst other-sex at-
tractions in her late forties.
The notion of sexual fl uidity is not a new one.
Rather, evidence for this phenomenon has circu-
lated in the scientifi c literature for decades, though
it has tended to be “submerged in the data rather
than explicitly theorized.” . . .

I am well aware that the notion of sexual fl uidity
is potentially controversial and susceptible to
politically motivated distortions.
For that reason,
I would like to address some of the most common
misconceptions at the outset:
Does fl uidity mean that all women are bisexual ?
No. Just as women have different sexual orienta-
tions, they have different degrees of sexual fl uidity.
Some women will experience relatively stable pat-
terns of love and desire throughout their lives, while
others will not. Currently, we simply do not know
how many women fall into each group because a
number of different factors determine whether a
woman’s capacity for sexual fl uidity will actually
manifest itself.
Does fl uidity mean that there is no such thing as
sexual orientation? No. Fluidity can be thought of
as an additional component of a woman’s sexuality
that operates in concert with sexual orientation to
infl uence how her attractions, fantasies, behaviors,
and affections are experienced and expressed over
the life course. Fluidity implies not that women’s
desires are endlessly variable but that some women
are capable of a wider variety of erotic feelings and
experiences than would be predicted on the basis of
their self-described sexual orientation alone.
Does sexual fl uidity mean that sexual orientation
can be changed? No. It simply means that a wom-
an’s sexual orientation is not the only factor deter-
mining her attractions. A predominantly heterosexual
woman might, at some point in time, become
early-developing and stable trait that has a consis-
tent effect on that person’s attractions, fantasies, and
romantic feelings over the lifespan. What few peo-
ple realize, however, is that these assumptions are
based primarily on men’s experiences because most
research on sexual orientation has been conducted
on men.
Although this model of sexual orientation
describes men fairly accurately, it does not always
apply so well to women.
Historically, women who deviated from this
model by reporting shifts in their sexuality over
time—heterosexual women falling in love with fe-
male friends, lesbian women periodically dating
men—were presumed few in number and excep-
tional in nature. In other words, they were just incon-
venient noise cluttering up the real data on sexual
orientation. Yet as research on female sexuality has
increased over the years, these “exceptional” cases
now appear to be more common than previously
thought. In short, the current conventional wisdom
about the nature and development of sexual orienta-
tion provides an incomplete picture of women’s ex-
periences. Researchers now openly acknowledge that
despite signifi cant advances in the science of sexual-
ity over the past twenty years, “female sexual orienta-
tion is, for the time being, poorly understood.”

This situation is now changing. As scientists have
begun investigating female and male sexual orienta-
tion as distinct phenomena instead of two sides of
the same coin, consensus is gradually building on
why women appear so different from men. Specifi –
cally, we have found that one of the fundamental,
defi ning features of female sexual orientation is its
fl uidity. We are now on the brink of a revolutionary
new understanding of female sexuality that has pro-
found scientifi c and social implications.
Sexual fl uidity, quite simply, means situation-
dependent fl exibility in women’s sexual respon-
siveness. This fl exibility makes it possible for some
women to experience desires for either men or
women under certain circumstances, regardless of
their overall sexual orientation. In other words,
though women—like men—appear to be born with
distinct sexual orientations, these orientations do
not provide the last word on their sexual attractions
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144 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
individuals of the same sex, the other sex, or both
sexes, regardless of whether this pattern of desire is
manifested in sexual behavior. A woman can have a
lesbian orientation but never have a same-sex rela-
tionship, just as she can have a heterosexual orienta-
tion and still pursue multiple same-sex affairs. Most
scientists consider desire, not behavior, the marker
of sexual orientation. “Sexual identity” refers to a
culturally organized conception of the self, usually
“lesbian/gay,” “bisexual,” or “heterosexual.” As
with sexual orientation, we cannot presume that
these identities correspond to particular patterns of
behavior. Nor can we presume that they correspond
to particular patterns of desire. Because sexual
identities represent self-concepts, they depend on
individuals’ own notions about the most important
aspects of their sexual selves. These notions, as
we will see, can vary quite a bit from individual to
individual. Moreover, some people—particularly
women—reject conventional lesbian/gay/bisexual
identity labels in favor of alternative labels such as
“queer,” “questioning,” or “pansexual.” Others re-
ject all identity labels in order to make room for a
broad range of sexual possibilities, as well as to
acknowledge the fact that all labels are somewhat
I devote substantial attention to this
issue later in the book, as it is directly related to the
phenomenon of fl uidity.
Global terms like “homosexuality” or “lesbian-
ism” imply that same-sex desires, behaviors, and
identities cluster together as part of an overall syn-
drome. But again, this is not always true. For this
reason I fi nd such terms to be potentially misleading.
Instead, I use the term “same-sex sexuality” to refer
to all experiences of same-sex desire, romantic affec-
tion, fantasy, or behavior. A person might experience
one and only one form of same-sex sexuality (like
same-sex attractions), or perhaps several (such as
same-sex attraction and a lesbian identity), but I do
not assume that any of these experiences necessarily
cluster together. Correspondingly, I use the term
“other-sex sexuality” to refer to all aspects of other-
sex desire, romantic affection, fantasy, or behavior
(readers will be more familiar with the phrase “oppo-
site-sex,” but researchers have increasingly gravitated
attracted to a woman, just as a predominantly les-
bian woman might at some point become attracted
to a man. Despite these experiences, the women’s
overall orientation remains the same.
Does fl uidity mean that sexual orientation is a
matter of choice? No. Even when women undergo
signifi cant shifts in their patterns of erotic response,
they typically report that such changes are unex-
pected and beyond their control. In some cases they
actively resist these changes, to no avail. This fi nd-
ing is consistent with the extensive evidence . . .
showing that efforts to change sexual orientation
through “reparative therapy” simply do not work.

Does fl uidity mean that sexual orientation is due
to “nurture” instead of “nature”? No. In fact, sex-
ual fl uidity sheds no light on this question, since it
deals with the expression of same-sex and other-sex
attractions rather than with their causes. Questions
of causation typically receive the most debate and
attention, but questions about expression are
equally important. Nonetheless, fl uidity raises im-
portant questions about how we think about bio-
logical versus cultural infl uences on sexuality, and
it highlights the need for more integrative models.
Couldn’t all individuals be characterized as
fl uid? Perhaps, though women appear to be more
fl uid than men. Certainly, few researchers would
argue that sexual orientation is the sole factor deter-
mining each and every instance of sexual desire and
behavior. Human sexual responses have been
shown to be somewhat fl exible, and thus any indi-
vidual should be capable of experiencing desires
that run counter to his or her overall sexual orienta-
For example, many men from different cul-
tures and times have been shown to periodically
pursue sexual behaviors that are atypical of their
overall pattern of desire.
But in general, the degree
of fl uidity in women appears substantially greater
than in men, though we do not yet have enough data
to fully evaluate this possibility. . . .
. . . I use the term “sexual orientation” to mean a
consistent, enduring pattern of sexual desire for
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of a person’s identity or orientation, any experience
with same-sex sexuality—from fantasy to unre-
quited love to sexual behavior—violates societal
norms prescribing exclusive heterosexuality,
thereby making that person a sexual minority.
The writer Minnie Bruce Pratt, refl ecting on the
confusion she experienced when she fi rst discov-
ered her capacity for same-sex sexuality, recalled
being aware that such an abrupt change seemed im-
possible and incongruous:
I didn’t feel “different,” but was I? (From whom?)
Had I changed? (From what?) Was I heterosexual in
adolescence only to become lesbian in my late twen-
ties? Was I lesbian always but coerced into hetero-
sexuality? Was I a less authentic lesbian than my
friends who had “always known” that they were sexu-
ally and affectionally attracted to other women? What
kind of woman was a lesbian woman?

Pratt perfectly captures the conundrum created
by sexual fl uidity. Because our culture believes that
all individuals are, unequivocally, one sexual type
or the other (such that a lesbian must have “always
known” of her essential lesbian nature), women
with more complex and variable patterns of sexual
experience are inherently suspect. No wonder Pratt
felt “inauthentic” when comparing herself with the
cultural prototype of lesbianism as uniformly sta-
ble, early developing, and exclusive.
Yet it is this rigid prototype that is inauthentic, not
experiences like Pratt’s. Greater appreciation and
awareness of sexual fl uidity are critical not only for
building more accurate models of sexuality but also
for communicating to women—young and old, les-
bian and heterosexual, married and single—that fl ex-
ible, changing patterns of sexual response are normal
rather than deviant, and that they can occur in any
woman at any stage of life. This information needs to
be integrated into the numerous educational and ther-
apeutic programs aimed at providing support and ac-
ceptance for individuals coming to grips with their
same-sex desires. If such programs cling to rigid
models of sexual orientation that inadequately
toward “other-sex” because it is more scientifi cally
accurate. The two sexes are certainly different from
each other, but they are by no means opposites).
Terms like “lesbian” and “bisexual” are also prob-
lematic. Do they refer to an individual’s sexual orien-
tation, sexual identity, or sexual behavior? To avoid
confusion, I always pair these terms with the words
“orientation” and “identity.” Hence a “lesbian sexual
orientation” can be taken to mean a pattern of near-
exclusive desire for the same sex, even if a woman
does not call herself a lesbian. A “lesbian sexual iden-
tity,” in contrast, refers to a woman’s self-description
and self-presentation. Thus she might have a bisexual
orientation but a lesbian identity (or vice versa).
When referring to desires and behavior, I use the
descriptors “same-sex” and “other-sex.” I refer to
attractions and behaviors pursued with both sexes
(either concurrently or sequentially) as “nonexclu-
sive.” If being 100 percent attracted to one sex
means that you are exclusively attracted, then all
other patterns of attraction are nonexclusive. I use
this term rather than “bisexual,” which has a wide
range of different defi nitions across cultures and
communities, making it potentially confusing. Of
course, “nonexclusive” comes with its own prob-
lems. Because the term “exclusive” is often used to
describe monogamous sexual relationships, “non-
exclusivity” could be misinterpreted as sexual infi –
delity. This is not what I mean! I use “nonexclusive”
simply to refer to the capacity to experience both
same-sex and other-sex desires and behaviors,
though not necessarily at the same point in time.
Someone with nonexclusive attractions might have
experienced only other-sex attractions up until ado-
lescence, and then only same-sex attractions there-
after. Someone else might experience desires for
both women and men concurrently. All that matters
is that for that person, both types of desire are pos-
sible, in contrast to someone who has always been
exclusively attracted to one sex or the other.
Finally, when speaking in the most general sense
about individuals who have any experience with
same-sex sexuality, at the level of orientation,
desire, behavior, or identity, I use the term “sexual
minority.” This term captures the fact that regardless
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146 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
Any model of female sexual orientation that fails to
account for their experiences is no model at all.
1. How does Diamond defi ne sexual fl uidity?
2. Do Americans now generally assume that
women’s sexuality is fl uid? How prevalent is
the assumption of sexual fl uidity?
3. Why is the idea of sexual fl uidity controver-
1. Reviewed in Diamond, 2003b.
2. Reviewed in Mustanski, Chivers, and Bailey, 2002. Also
see Blackwood and Wieringa, 2003, for an anthropologi-
cal perspective on the invisibility of female same-sex
3. Rahman and Wilson, 2003, p. 1371.
4. Kitzinger and Wilkinson, 1995, p. 95.
5. For perspectives on these issues see Brookey, 2000;
Gonsiorek, 2004; Stein, 1994; Tygart, 2000.
6. Drescher, 2002.
7. Bancroft, 1989; Cass, 1990; Money, 1988.
8. Gagnon and Simon, 1968; Garland, Morgan, and Beer,
2005; Herdt, 1984; Laumann et al., 1994; Murray, 2000.
9. See Diamond, 2003a, 2005c; Hollander, 2000; Rust, 2003.
10. Pratt, 1995, p. 11.
Bancroft, J. H. (1989). Sexual desire and the brain. Sexual
and Marital Therapy , 3, 11–27.
Blackwood, E., and S. E. Wieringa. (2003). Sapphic shad-
ows: Challenging the silence in the study of sexuality. In
L. D. Garnets and D. C. Kimmel, eds., Psychological per-
spectives on lesbian, gay, and bisexual experiences , 2nd
ed. (pp. 410–434). New York: Columbia University Press.
Brookey, R. A. (2000). Saints or sinners: Sociobiological
theories of male homosexuality. International Journal of
Sexuality and Gender Studies , 5, 37–58.
Cass, V. (1990). The implications of homosexual identity
formation for the Kinsey model and scale of sexual
preference. In D. P. McWhirter, S. A. Sanders, and J. M.
Reinisch, eds., Homosexuality/heterosexuality: Concepts
of sexual orientation (pp. 239–266). New York: Oxford
University Press.
Diamond, L.M. (2003a). Was it a phase? Young women’s
relinquishment of lesbian/bisexual identities over a fi ve-
year period. Journal of Personality and Social Psychol-
ogy , 84, 352–364.
represent the enormous variability in female sexual-
ity, women may end up feeling doubly deviant, their
experiences refl ecting neither mainstream societal
expectations nor perceived norms of “typical” gay
experience. We must refashion science and public
outreach to better represent women’s experiences.
But this brings its own challenges. Almost every
time I present my research publicly, someone raises
their hand and asks, “Isn’t the idea of fl uidity dan-
gerous? Couldn’t it feed right into antigay argu-
ments that sexual orientation can—and should—be
changed?” Let me be clear: fl uidity does not, in
fact, imply that sexual orientation can be intention-
ally changed. But I know from experience that some
people will nonetheless manipulate and misuse the
concept of fl uidity, despite my best efforts to de-
bunk such distortions. Yet the solution to this dan-
ger is not to brush fl uidity under the rug and stick to
outdated, overly simplistic models of sexuality.
Such an approach offers no real protection against
political distortion: the truth is that any scientifi c
data on sexual orientation can be—and pretty much
have been—appropriated to advance particular
worldviews. If scientists discovered tomorrow that
same-sex sexuality was 100 percent genetically de-
termined, some people would say, “Aha, this proves
that homosexuality is normal, natural, and deserv-
ing of social acceptance and full legal status!” Oth-
ers would say, “Aha, this proves that homosexuality
is a dangerous genetic disorder that can be screened
for, corrected, and eliminated!” In short, there are
no “safe” scientifi c fi ndings—all models of sexual-
ity are dangerous in the present political climate.
The only way to guard against the misuse of scien-
tifi c fi ndings is to present them as accurately and
completely as possible, making explicit the conclu-
sions that they do and do not support. . . .
The well-being of all women will be improved
through a more accurate, comprehensive under-
standing of female sexuality in all its diverse and
fl uid manifestations. In short, women like Anne
Heche, Cynthia Nixon, Julie Cypher, and Holly
Near are not “noise in the data” on sexual orienta-
tion. Rather, they are the data with something im-
portant to tell us about the nature of female sexuality.
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READING 16: The Biology of the Homosexual 147
lesbian, gay, and bisexual experiences , 2nd ed. (pp. 227–
269). New York: Columbia University Press.
Stein, E. (1994). The relevance of scientifi c research about
sexual orientation to lesbian and gay rights. Journal of
Homosexuality , 27, 269–308.
Tygart, C. E. (2000). Genetic causation attribution and pub-
lic support of gay rights. International Journal of Public
Opinion Research , 12, 259–275.
R E A D I N G 1 6
The Biology of the Homosexual
Roger N. Lancaster
Three studies, published close on each other’s heels
in the early 1990s, have been widely ballyhooed in
the mass media as establishing the “organic seat,”
the “hormonal link,” and the “genetic cause” of
homosexual desire and gay identity: Simon LeVay’s
“gay brain” research, Michael J. Bailey and Rich-
ard Pillard’s “gay twins” survey, and Dean Hamer’s
“gay gene” study. Major design fl aws, problems
with the defi nition and operationalization of terms,
and alternative interpretations of the data were lost
in the din of blaring headlines: “First Evidence of a
Biological Cause for Homosexuality,” “Genes Tied
to Sexual Orientation; Study of Gay Men Bolsters
Theory,” “Study Shows Homosexuality Is Innate,”
“Genes Linked to Being Gay,” “Report Suggests
Homosexuality Is Linked to Genes,” “Study Pro-
vides New Evidence of a ‘Gay Gene’” . . .

Simon LeVay’s much-cited “gay brain” study was
published, with much fanfare, in 1991. The journal
Science set the tone for press reportage, vigorously
spinning LeVay’s study to the media under its own
press-release headline: “the homosexual brain:
biological basis for sexual orientation?”

————. (2003b). What does sexual orientation orient?
A biobehavioral model distinguishing romantic love and
sexual desire. Psychological Review , 110, 173–192.
————. (2005). What we got wrong about sexual identity
development: Unexpected fi ndings from a longitudinal
study of young women. In A. Omoto and H. Kurtzman,
eds., Sexual orientation and mental health: Examining
identity and development in lesbian, gay, and bisexual
people (pp. 73–94). Washington, D.C.: American Psycho-
logical Association Press.
———— Gonsiorek, J. C. (2004). Refl ections from the con-
version therapy battlefi eld. Counseling Psychologist , 32,
Drescher, J. (2002). Sexual conversion (“reparative”) thera-
pies: History and update. In B. E. Jones and M. J. Hill,
eds., Mental health issues in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and
transgender communities (pp. 71–91). Arlington, VA:
American Psychiatric Publishing.
Gagnon, J. H., and W. Simon. (1968). The social meaning of
prison homosexuality. Federal Probation , 32, 28–29.
Garland, J. T., R. D. Morgan, and A. M. Beer. (2005). Impact
of time in prison and security level on inmates’ sexual
attitude, behavior, and identity. Psychological Services , 2,
Herdt, G. (1984). Ritualized homosexuality in Melanesia.
Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Hollander, G. (2000). Questioning youths: Challenges to
working with youths forming identities. School Psychol-
ogy Review , 29, 173–179.
Kitzinger, C., and S. Wilkinson. (1995). Transitions from
heterosexuality to lesbianism: The discursive production
of lesbian identities. Developmental Psychology , 31,
Laumann, E. O., J. H. Gagnon, R. T. Michael, and F. Mi-
chaels. (1994). The social organization of sexuality: Sex-
ual practices in the United States. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press.
Money, J. (1988). Gay, straight, and in-between: The sexol-
ogy of erotic orientation. New York: Oxford University
Murray, S. O. (2000). Homosexualities . Chicago: University
of Chicago Press.
Mustanski, B. S., M. L. Chivers, and J. M. Bailey. (2002). A
critical review of recent biological research on human
sexual orientation. Annual Review of Sex Research , 13,
Pratt, M. B. (1995). S/he. Ithaca, NY: Firebrand Books.
Rahman, Q., and G. D. Wilson. (2003). Born gay? The psy-
chobiology of human sexual orientation. Personality and
Individual Differences , 34, 1337–1382.
Rust, P.C.R. (2003). Finding a sexual identity and commu-
nity: Therapeutic implications and cultural assumptions in
scientifi c models of coming out. In L. D. Garnets and
D.  C. Kimmel, eds., Psychological perspectives on
Roger N. Lancaster is a professor of anthropology and cultural
studies at George Mason University.
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148 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
the resulting numbers lie close to the statistical
margin of error—and that the reclassifi cation of a
small number of brains in the study would render
LeVay’s fi ndings statistically insignifi cant.

To make matters more complicated, LeVay talks
as though identifying, delineating, and measuring
the third interstitial nucleus were a simple matter.
This is not the case.
The nucleus LeVay measured
is a tiny structure by no means clearly differentiated
from the similar neural tissue surrounding it. The
fact that LeVay, rather than a colleague, performed
the measurements, coupled with the absence of a
“blind rater” to confi rm his measurements indepen-
dently, departs from the usual standards in research
of this sort and does nothing to lend credibility to
the fi ndings.

Worse yet, all of the “homosexual” men in
LeVay’s sample died from AIDS-related illnesses.
Both AIDS and HIV medical treatments are known
to affect a variety of brain structures. LeVay’s in-
clusion of six (again, presumably) “heterosexual”
men who died from AIDS scarcely addresses this
Nor does the subsequent examination of
the brain of one gay man who died from causes
other than AIDS.

In serious publications, LeVay rightly acknowl-
edges that his results are open to a variety of inter-
pretations. For instance, even if his results held—and
to date his fi ndings have not been replicated by a
single subsequent study—it is by no means clear
whether LeVay’s average difference would measure
biological “cause” or sociological “effect.” As
LeVay himself puts it, “It is not possible, purely on
the basis of my observations, to say whether the
structural differences were present at birth, and lat-
ter infl uenced the men to become gay or straight, or
whether they arose in adult life, perhaps as a result
of the men’s sexual behavior.”
It is also not possible
to say whether the average structural differences
have anything to do with sexual object choice per se
or with other aspects of life associated with sexual
object choice. Certainly, extended anxieties, social
stress, the experience of inequality, sexual activity
and inactivity, and various other cumulative life ex-
periences affect organic processes, brain structures,
and hormonal systems in human beings. . . .
LeVay found that the third interstitial nucleus of
the hypothalamus (a neural structure at the base of
the brain) is, on the average, smaller in gay men and
straight women than in straight men.
(In theory,
lesbians’ hypothalami would resemble those of
straight men—in other words, where gay men show
a “feminized” pattern, lesbians would show a “mas-
culinized” effect.) . . . The hypothalamus affects
certain endocrine functions and is thought to infl u-
ence “basic urges” such as hunger, thirst, and sex-
ual arousal. . . .
The results of LeVay’s research were widely dis-
seminated in mass-media outlets, but LeVay’s data
are less impressive than the public was led to be-
lieve, and his study is plagued with methodological
problems. LeVay’s study examined the hypothal-
ami of forty-one cadavers. While living, nineteen of
the subjects were described in hospital records as
“homosexual” (a fi gure that includes one “bisex-
ual”). We do not actually know for how long, or
with what degree of consistency, or for that matter
even whether the “homosexual” subjects described
themselves as gay. We know only what someone
saw fi t to observe (speculate?) in their hospital re-
cords. We also do not know how the other subjects
described themselves when they were alive, nor do
we know anything about anyone’s sexual fantasies
or sexual histories, but for purposes of LeVay’s
study, the sixteen other male subjects are presumed
to have been “heterosexual,” and all six women
subjects are presumed to have been “heterosexual.”
Many critics have commented on the vagueness—
indeed, the capriciousness—of the labels and clas-
sifi cations employed by LeVay.
Needless to say, important aspects of LeVay’s
research were not always given due weight in sci-
ence journalism. Note, for instance, that the much-
reported difference between “gay” and “straight”
men in LeVay’s sample is a statistical average, not
an absolute difference. Individual measurements
overlap: Some of the men in the “gay” sample had
larger hypothalami than most of the men in the
“straight” sample. Since many individuals did not
fi t the “average” picture, one could not thus predict
who was what simply by looking at his hypothala-
mus. Such results in such a small sample mean that
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READING 16: The Biology of the Homosexual 149
blood brothers, which would further seem to falsify
the genetic hypothesis. And by defi nition, the mono-
zygotic twins are genetically identical—yet only
half of the pairs were sexually concordant. Given
the conditions and assumptions of Bailey and Pil-
lard’s study, this fi gure could be viewed as surpris-
ingly high or as revealingly low. It could even
indicate that sexual orientation has no genetic basis
This is because twin studies normally use pairs
of identical twins who were separated at birth. Such
studies thus attempt to view the development of ge-
netically identical individuals in (supposedly) dif-
ferent environments.
Since the identical twins in
Bailey and Pillard’s study in fact shared a family
environment, it is a non sequitur to claim that the
comparatively high (although theoretically low?)
degree of concordance is genetically caused. It
might just as easily result from the fact that the two
occupy the same environment. As Hubbard and
Wald put it: “If being a fraternal twin exerts an en-
vironmental infl uence, it does not seem surprising
that this should be even truer for identical twins,
who the world thinks of as ‘the same’ and treats
accordingly, and who often share those feelings of
Gilbert Zicklin goes even further:
“The intensely shared life of identical twins, in-
cluding the phenomena of identifi cation, mirroring,
and imitation, might plausibly constitute fertile
ground for the development of same-sex erotics.”

Zicklin’s suggestion is at least as plausible as the
invocation of “genetic causation” to explain the
52 percent of identical-twin pairs who were concor-
dant and “environmental factors” to account for the
48 percent who were discordant, an accounting that
in no way follows from the data, but that dominated
media presentations of the topic.
Consider the extraordinary anecdote related in
Newsweek ’s 1992 cover story, “Born or Bred: The
Origins of Homosexuality.”
Until the age of twenty-eight, Doug Barnett (not his
real name) was a practicing heterosexual. He was
vaguely attracted to men, but with nurturing parents,
a lively interest in sports and appropriate relations
with women, he had little reason to question his pro-
clivities. Then an astonishing thing happened: his
LeVay has made far less cautious claims in pub-
lic discussions of his study. LeVay’s interpretation
of his results, aggressively forwarded in a variety of
media, is in no small part driven by his personal
conviction that he was “born gay” and from his be-
lief that the innatist scenario advances the social
interests of gays and lesbians. LeVay thus favors a
biologically reductive argument: The hypothala-
mus is the “seat” of sexual desire, and sexual object
choice (or preference, or orientation) is physically
there, in the third interstitial nucleus. As LeVay told
Newsweek, “I felt if I didn’t fi nd any [differences
between gay and straight men’s hypothalami],
I would give up a scientifi c career altogether.”
. . .
Only months later the same year LeVay’s study
appeared, Michael Bailey and Richard Pillard
published the results of a survey they conducted
among gay men and their brothers.
The researchers
recruited respondents by placing ads in gay newspa-
pers across the Midwest and Southwest, ultimately
gathering information on 56 pairs of identical
(monozygotic) twins, 54 pairs of fraternal (dizy-
gotic) twins, 142 non-twin brothers, and 57 pairs of
adoptive brothers. They found that the “concordance
rate” of homosexual self-identifi cation—that is,
the  percentage of pairs in which both brothers
called  themselves gay—was highest for identical
twins (52  percent), next highest for fraternal twins
(22 percent), and lowest for non-twin and adoptive
brothers (roughly 10 percent each).
Once again, methodological concerns and alter-
native interpretations were ignored or brushed
aside. And once again, headlines trumpeted “mount-
ing evidence” of a genetic basis for homosexuality.
How one interprets this data is largely a matter of
the perspective one takes. As Ruth Hubbard and
Elijah Wald dryly observe: “The fact that fraternal
twins of gay men were roughly twice as likely to be
gay as other biological brothers shows that environ-
mental factors are involved, since fraternal twins are
no more similar biologically than are other biologi-
cal brothers.”
Indeed, genetically unrelated adop-
tive brothers show the same concordance rate as
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150 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
study—that is, within the assumption that their re-
sults are meaningful, that their numbers actually
refl ect real trends among siblings. But this is not
necessarily the case.
The authors’ sampling procedure almost gua-
rantees a certain skewing. It is based on the self-
selection of volunteers recruited through gay
newspapers, rather than on a random sample of the
general population. Given the stated aims of the
study, which are clear enough in the ad, and given
the cultural and political background of the question,
which includes the active promotion of “innatist”
scenarios in most gay newspapers, it is altogether
possible that those who were most motivated to par-
ticipate were those who already believed that sexual
orientation is genetically determined. And it is alto-
gether conceivable that those most likely to respond
to the ad—to nominate themselves for study—
would be concordant sets of identical twins.
These are not minor problems. They fatally un-
dermine the study’s reliability. As Zicklin elaborates:
The overrepresentation of concordant MZ [monozy-
gotic, identical] twins is quite possible, since gay MZ
twins are likely to be more interested in studies that
highlight the special meaning of close biological con-
nections, and they might also have less trepidation
about participating since there is a greater likelihood
that they would be “out” with one another than would
any other pair of male siblings. Conversely, some
twins who perceive themselves as discordant on sex-
ual orientation may be motivated to avoid studies
wherein this difference may be revealed. Thus Bailey
and Pillard have a double problem: they attract the
kind of twins who fi t their hypothesis and deter the
ones who might weaken it.

Bailey and Pillard skirt the usual standards of twin
studies, sampling procedures, and logical deduc-
tion. Again, only those already committed to the
notion that homosexuals have biologically marked
bodies would be swayed by this kind of evidence.
The 1993 study by Dean Hamer and his associates
is usually praised for being the most serious,
identical twin brother “came out” to him, revealing
he was gay. Barnett, who believed sexual orientation
is genetic, was bewildered. He recalls thinking, “If
this is inherited and we’re identical twins—what’s
going on here?” To fi nd out, he thought he should try
sex with men. When he did, he says, “The bells went
off, for the fi rst time. Those homosexual encounters
were more fulfi lling.” A year later both twins told
their parents they were gay.

The author of the Newsweek piece relates this tale as
evidence of a fi xed, clear-cut, and genetic basis for
sexual orientation.
That is, no doubt, what the pro-
tagonist, “Doug Barnett,” himself believes. But the
tale could be read just as easily as a demon stration
of the fl ux, ambiguity, and capriciousness—indeed,
the suggestibility —of sexual desire. The subject’s
description of his life as a “practicing heterosexual”
is in no sense unusual. In various surveys, beginning
with the Kinsey study, large percentages of men
whose sexual activity is predominately or exclu-
sively heterosexual agree, in principle, that every-
one experiences “vague feelings” of “occasional
attraction” toward members of their own sex.

Such fi ndings are conveniently forgotten in the cur-
rent rush to geneticize and typologize desire. The
Newsweek anecdote could be understood as a
particularly sharp example of the “twinning”
behavior Zicklin invokes. Indeed, if taken seriously,
it could even be understood from a constructionist
perspective—why not?—as a gauge of the social
force of reductionist theories in shaping personal
life and identity formation.
In the end, even if we take Bailey and Pillard’s
fi gures as reliable ones, we simply do not know
which had more of an effect on the identical twins’
sexuality, shared genes or a shared environment,
and we cannot even be sure whether we are moni-
toring a genetic tendency through degrees of sib-
ling relatedness, a social tendency for twins—
especially identical twins—to be alike, to mimic
mirror, and “twin” each other, or even a homoerotic
tendency among identical twins.
So far, all of these interpretations lie within the
realm of a generous reading of Bailey and Pillard’s
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READING 16: The Biology of the Homosexual 151
(“Hey, Mom, Thanks for the Genes!” is the message
that with minor variations appeared on gay T-shirts
across the country—a line that proved even more
popular than the camp come-on “How Big Is Your
In his scientifi c (as opposed to journalistic or
popularizing) publications, Hamer has been careful
to avoid extreme variants of biological determinist
arguments. Indeed, Hamer himself often points out
that a “link” is not the same as a “cause.” He distin-
guishes between “genetic infl uences” and “genetic
destiny,” and even while in search of a “gay gene,”
he often puts the term inside eyebrow-raising quo-
tation marks.
Still, there is something less than
fully congruous about searching for a “gay gene”
while claiming that one does not exist, and the
problems with Hamer’s study are quite serious.
The pedigree studies invite certain preliminary ob-
servations. First, not all of the families in Hamer’s
samples exhibit the “maternal pattern” highlighted
in the subsequent genetic study of gay brothers.
The results suggest a “signifi cant” but not dramatic
elevation of homosexuality among the maternally
linked relatives of gay men.
Next, some of the raw numbers supporting the
idea of a maternal linkage are in fact quite low.
In  the fi rst pedigree study, 7 of 96 gay men (7.3
percent) reported having a gay maternal uncle, as
opposed to only 2 of 119 (1.7 percent) who reported
a gay paternal uncle. But there is little difference
between the 4 of 52 (7.7 percent) who reported a
gay maternal cousin on their aunt’s side and the 3 of
56 (5.4 percent) who reported a gay paternal cousin
on their uncle’s side.
In consequence, the difference between rates of
homosexuality among maternal and paternal kin is
statistically signifi cant only if one assumes a (rela-
tively low) 2 percent “base rate” of male homosex-
uality. As Edward Stein and others have pointed
out, the difference becomes statistically insignifi –
cant if one assumes a (more plausible) base rate of
4 percent.

Finally, given such small raw numbers, Hamer’s
pedigree analysis is open to charges that it fails to
sophisticated, and careful of the three major studies
purporting to substantiate a link between genes and
male homosexuality.
Hamer’s research team recruited an original
group of 76 gay men for a pedigree study. (A “ped-
igree study” is an attempt to determine how a trait
is distributed among members of a kin group.) One
or more relatives from 26 of these men’s families
were also interviewed, for a total of 122 partici-
pants. Hamer’s team found elevated levels of ho-
mosexuality among gay men’s maternal uncles and
among their maternal cousins, linked by aunts, as
compared to their paternally linked relatives.
Hypothesizing transmission of a homosexual gene
through the X chromosome, the researchers then
recruited 38 pairs of gay brothers for a second ped-
igree study. These pairs of gay brothers were spe-
cifi cally culled from families without known
lesbians or paternally linked homosexuals in order
to eliminate subjects likely to display “nonmater-
nal” routes of “transmission.” The second pedigree
study found a somewhat more pronounced mater-
nal pattern. Finally, the Hamer team performed
DNA linkage analysis on the 38 pairs of gay broth-
ers from the second pedigree study, plus two pairs
of gay brothers from the fi rst study. Hamer et al.
reported that 33 of 40 pairs (or 82 percent) shared a
DNA marker, Xq28, located on the tip of the
X chromosome. (The term “DNA marker” denotes
a strip of DNA that is usually transmitted “whole”
from parent to offspring; it thus allows geneticists
to work with units of a few million base pairs of
DNA, rather than trying to sort out individual genes
from among several billion base pairs. Xq28, as the
authors note, is large enough to contain several
hundred genes.)
Hamer et al. conclude: “We have
now produced evidence that one form of male
homosexuality is preferentially transmitted through
the maternal side and is genetically linked to
chromosomal region Xq28.” The authors suggest
that a thorough mapping of the region will
eventually yield a gene involved in homosexual
expression, but they also suggest that more than
one gene might contribute to sexual orientation,
and that environmental factors also play a role.

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152 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
It is important to specify fi rst what has not been
shown by Hamer’s group. First, no “gay gene” has
been identifi ed. Nor can we safely conclude that
one is there, in Xq28, like a needle in the proverbial
haystack, awaiting discovery. All kinds of traits
“run in families” without having a genetic basis.
And because human populations are quite variable,
when a trait “runs in families,’” a “DNA sequence
that is a marker for a particular trait in one family
may not be associated with that trait in another.”

The complexity of the relationships between genes,
heredity, and even relatively simple phenotypic and
behavioral characteristics has frustrated the search
for genes “for” all manner of things that would ap-
pear far more straightforward than sexual desire.
There also is no genetic on/off switch for homo-
sexuality. Even after a deliberate screening and se-
lection process designed to produce a “maternal
pattern” of “linkages,” if not “transmission,” not all
the pairs of gay brothers whose X chromosomes
were examined shared DNA markers for Xq28.
A subsequent study by the Hamer group reported a
somewhat lower percentage of Xq28 concordance
among gay brothers.
Even a generous interpreta-
tion of these results along the lines laid out by the
authors clearly does not indicate a simple or direct
genetic “cause” for homosexuality.
There is no conceivable genetic “test” for homo-
sexuality. Specifi cally, it has been reported that a
percentage of pairs of self-identifi ed gay brothers,
culled from certain highly selected samples, share a
genetic marker. Note that this selectively culled
group of gay brothers share that marker with each
other , not with unrelated gay men. Thus, even if
Hamer’s results hold, no one can take a blood sam-
ple and look at this genetic marker to determine
whether a person is gay or straight.
Finally, in larger terms, the search for an “or-
ganic seat” or “biological cause” of homosexuality
remains an undemonstrated conceit—a mishmash
of selective citation from the animal kingdom and
speculative parallels to poorly understood human
processes. Although various commentators have
speculated that some gene in Xq28 might play a
role in sexual orientation by way of neurohormonal
account for even the most obvious relevant effects of
gender and family relations in American society.
Women—mothers—play a much greater role than
men in negotiating and cementing family ties, a ten-
dency that is well established in the sociological and
anthropological literature.
As a result, Americans
tend to be closer to and to know more about their
maternal relatives than their paternal ones. This
sociological effect is likely to be even more pro-
nounced in the case of gay men than in society at
large. Given the role of fathers in perpetuating cul-
tural expectations of masculinity, given the cultural
anxieties that a gay son refl ects upon his father, and
given the nature of the idealized maternal role (nur-
turing caregiver), it is certainly conceivable that on
the average, gay men tend to be closer to their moth-
ers and to know more about their maternal, consan-
guineal kin than they are to their fathers, about whose
blood relations they know correspondingly less.

Hamer’s team did attempt to apply a reasonable
check on information provided by the gay men.
They also interviewed at least one relative each for
twenty-six participants (for a total of forty-six rela-
tives interviewed). On this basis, Hamer concluded
that the information provided by the seventy-six
total participants was reliable. One might suggest,
instead, that the claims were merely consistent : that
one relative tended to think pretty much what an-
other relative thought. Since extensive networks of
the gay men’s relatives were not systematically in-
terviewed, either or both of the above sociological
factors could fully account for the maternally
skewed results of Hamer’s pedigree study.

At this point in a review of Hamer’s study, it is usu-
ally conceded: “Yes, but Hamer’s group nonethe-
less found something —a genetic marker—shared
by gay brothers, and that is in itself signifi cant.”
And after all, Hamer’s group claims only to have
established a genetic link for “one form” of male
homosexuality—presumably the kind genetically
transmitted along maternal lines. Still, there is con-
siderably less signifi cance here than one could
glean from media reports, which took Hamer’s
study as the charmed third to seal the argument.
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READING 16: The Biology of the Homosexual 153
infl ated claims in the fi eld of “behavioral genetics,”
the design of Hamer’s study makes it extremely
sensitive to a small number of families matching or
not. The real question is not “Is there a gene for
homosexuality?” but rather, “Is the 82 percent
concordance result suffi ciently different from the
50 percent rate that would occur by chance to be
meaningful?” The concordance rate in the second
study lies considerably closer to the 50 percent rate
that would presumably occur in a DNA linkage anal-
ysis of pairs of brothers chosen entirely at random.

More signifi cant than any technical problems with
Hamer’s research design, however, are fundamental
problems with the conception of the research and
with the untested and untestable assumptions em-
bedded therein. As is frequently the case with such
research, the Hamer study implicitly understands
phenotype (the aggregate physical and behavioral
characteristics of an organism, usually understood
as the product of a dynamic interaction between
genes and environment) as the more or less direct
expression of genotype (the state of the organism’s
genes, or the inherited genetic “givens” that are
brought to the interaction), thus demoting “environ-
mental” factors to an order of secondary impor-
tance. Whereas genes “for” this or that trait are
conceived as playing a stable and “active” role in
constructing the person, the environment serves as a
backdrop and plays an essentially “passive” role,
either speeding along the pre-given results or posing
obstacles for the normal course of their expression.
This conception has the effect of obscuring the
peculiar environment established by the study itself.
Note the selection process that produced the sib-pair
sample: There are always two gay brothers, mater-
nally linked to other homosexual kin. We do not
know how to compare this very specifi c sample
with gay men who do not have gay brothers or other
gay kin. This is no minor quibble, for the sampling
procedure makes it impossible to distinguish envi-
ronmental and social factors from genetic ones.
There might well be major social differences be-
tween the development and experience of sexuality
where a gay sibling is present, as opposed to sexual
links with the hypothalamus, no one has specifi ed
exactly how this might happen, much less tested a
coherent hypothesis. In view of the aforementioned
problems with LeVay’s hypothalamus work, it is
unlikely that they will. . . .
The questions raised about the reliability of
Hamer’s pedigree studies are crucial. Because the
pedigree study is based on such poor design for
sociological research, the likelihood is increased
that the Xq28 concordance rates are the equivalent
of “false positive” readings, results that appear to be
signifi cant but that are not replicated in subsequent
research. (This kind of result happens all the time,
even in unimpeachable, well-designed research.)
Notably, the Hamer group did not try to deter-
mine how many nongay brothers share this region
of the chromosome with their gay brothers, much
less whether pairs of straight brothers exhibit high
rates of Xq28 concordance among themselves. This
is not a trivial matter, because unless we know the
Xq28 concordance rates for gay men with their het-
erosexual brothers, we have no way of interpreting
the meaning of the 82 percent rate among gay
brothers reported in the fi rst study or the 67 percent
rate reported in the Hamer group’s follow-up study.
Hamer’s conclusions—that the gay men received a
maternal chromosome for homosexuality and that
Xq28 is a (or even the ) genetic site involved in sex-
ual orientation—depend on a viable control group
that has never been established. The absence of
such a control group renders Hamer ’s fi rst study’ s
results virtually meaningless.
The follow-up study, which found a lower rate
of Xq28 consonance between gay brothers, did re-
port a very small sample of eleven families in which
two gay brothers shared the Xq28 marker and also
had a nongay brother. It is reported that nine of the
nongay brothers did not share the marker with their
two gay brothers and that two did—but these num-
bers are very small indeed, scarcely adequate for a
viable control group.
Perhaps most signifi cantly, the Xq28 concor-
dance rate for gay brothers fell from 83 percent in
the fi rst study to 67 percent in the second study. As
Jonathan Marks makes clear in his discussion of
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154 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
understandings of genetics and heritability. Headlines
tell us that biologists have unearthed the “roots” of
sexual orientation, or that geneticists have identifi ed
the gene “for” thrill seeking or a love of novelty. . . .

Such reportage, directed at the lay public, inevitably
glosses complex technical questions. But it is not
always clear that the research itself, considered apart
from its splashy publicity, maintains a properly sci-
entifi c approach to the question of heritability or the
role of genetics in biological processes.
In the vernacular, heredity denotes what is
“given,” what is “in” the “blood”: It is the part of
human variation that is “caused” by genetic “na-
ture,” rather than by environmental “nurture.” The
folk conception of heredity also implies “immuta-
bility”: The leopard cannot change his spots, and
short of wearing colored contact lenses, human be-
ings cannot change the color of their eyes.

The biological conception of heritability is more
precise and less deterministic. In biological terms,
heritability is a measure of the likelihood that a trait
present in one generation will recur in subsequent
generations sharing a common gene pool in the
same environment. Expressed as an equation, he-
redity includes both a numerator and a denomina-
tor. Richard Lewontin, Steven Rose, and Leon
Kamin give that equation this way:
Heritability = H = genetic variance
genetic variance +
environmental variance
where “genetic variance” refers to “the average per-
formance of different genotypes” and “environ-
mental variance” refers to the “variation among
individuals of the same genotype.”

Two important qualifi cations follow from this
formula. First, scientists attempting to determine
the heritability of a trait assess average genetic vari-
ation. They do not measure genetic “causes.” Sec-
ond, environmental variation is part of the
denominator—a basic point that is often forgotten
in genetic research on complex human behaviors.
Note what limited arguments a properly biologi-
cal conception of heritability and genetic factors
development and experience in other kinds of
settings. Hamer has presumably accounted for this
objection by claiming that he has identifi ed “one
form” of male homosexuality—presumably the
kind genetically “transmitted” from mother to son.
But this does not necessarily follow, and there are
no compelling grounds for concluding it, unless one
assumes that Xq28 in fact hides a “gay gene,” which
has not been demonstrated.
An alternative hypothesis, then: If older and suc-
cessfully homosexual relatives serve as role models,
fostering a sense of esteem for the homosexual feel-
ings of younger relatives during crucial periods, then
the “trait” in question might actually be “ transmitted”
socially, from uncle to nephew, from cousin to
cousin, from brother to brother. . . . And the “form”
of homosexuality identifi ed here might mean only
that there is an environmental difference—in that
having a gay brother constitutes a different environ-
ment than not having a gay brother.
In this context, consider the most generous possi-
ble reading of Hamer’s results, on their own terms—
including the assumption that there must be some kind
of “linkage” between genes and sexual object choice.
Even assuming that Hamer’s data, in toto, are reliable,
there is no way of specifying exactly what is shared by
gay brothers in Xq28: some gene directly related to
sexuality and sexual orientation? Or some gene that
has nothing to do with sexuality directly, but that can
become linked, indirectly and under certain circum-
stances, to sexuality? In other words, the question of
cause versus effect—indeed, of multiple causes and
effects—has not been settled. Are consonant sibling
pairs simply expressing a genetic predisposition to-
ward homosexuality? Or are they being subtly social-
ized into homosexuality based on some other
characteristic or set of traits? Or are they indirectly
prodded toward the resolution of various confl icts
through a homosexual outcome? Or even, yet again:
Are they discovering and/or coming to emphasize a
homosexual potential by way of some other character-
istic, or by way of some other affi nity with close kin?
Media reportage of genetic research like Hamer’s
invariably traffi cs in over-simplifi ed, folkloric
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READING 16: The Biology of the Homosexual 155
dramatically to changes in the environment—but
not in any linear or straightforward way.
experiments by Jens Clausen, David Keck, and
William Heisey elegantly illustrate this principle.

The scientists took three clippings each from several
different individual plants of the species Achillea
millefolium . Such clippings will produce “clone”
plants genetically identical to their parent plant and
to each other. The scientists planted the clippings
from each of the different plants in three different
environments to observe how they grew under dif-
ferent conditions: one each at low, medium, and
high elevations. The genetically identical plants
grew to different heights at different elevations, but
some were “tall” at low elevations, “short” at me-
dium elevations, and “tall” again at high elevations.
Others exhibited the opposite relationship: “short,”
“tall,” and “short” from low to high elevation. Some
showed a wide range of variation in different cli-
mates, others a narrow range. Although it was clear
that the plants’ heights were affected by elevation, it
proved impossible to predict just how individuals
would actually respond to different environments.

Let us imagine, then, that homosexuality has a
heritability factor, and that Hamer and his team are
on to something. Even if one takes the Hamer results
at face value—and I have tried to indicate some of
what might be wrong with the research itself—and
even if the fi ndings withstand subsequent restudies,
which is already very doubtful, the correlation of
some form of sexual variation with some kind of
genetic variation has many fewer implications than
the lay public (or for that matter much of the science
establishment) seems to think. Even a relatively
high correlation—a high heritability factor (the
worst-case scenario for partisans of a construction-
ist perspective)—could not preclude dramatic or
unpredictable environmental effects on sexual ori-
entation. Nor could it preclude the possibility that,
under other circumstances, the “trait” in question
could manifest itself differently or among altogether
different kin groups.
Genetic research like Hamer’s almost never
announces itself with anything resembling the
range of caveats appropriate for properly restrained
actually permits. To say that a trait is “highly
heritable”—that a high percentage of phenotypic
variation is correlated to genetic variance—does
not preclude saying that the trait also responds dra-
matically to environmental conditions. For exam-
ple, if we say that height among a group of human
beings has a heritability factor of about .9, or
90 percent, what this implies is that children in that
group tend to be about the same height as their par-
ents, all other things being equal.
But height also
responds, impressively, to environmental factors,
especially to childhood nutrition. Drought in the
Sahel and famine in North Korea produce children
whose height is substantially less than that of their
parents, as is their body weight, among other
things. In much of Asia, a shift away from tradi-
tional rice-and-fi sh staples to a cuisine more
closely resembling the Western diet, with its em-
phasis on red meat, has dramatically raised the
average height—along with body weight, average
cholesterol levels, cardiovascular ailments, and the
like. Heritability, then—even an extremely high
measure of heritability—does not imply inevitabil-
ity, immutability, or even genetic “causation.” To
say that a trait is “highly heritable” for a given
population means only that the trait in question re-
curs at a certain rate among genetically related kin
reproducing in a shared and relatively stable envi-
ronment. It also implies a number of very substan-
tial contingency clauses. If the environment
changes, whether by accident, by migration, or as a
result of changes introduced by the activity of the
population itself, then the trait in question could
also change dramatically.
To make matters yet more complicated, the heri-
tability of a given trait can vary from group to group
and place to place: “Some populations may have a
lot of genetic variance for a character[istic], some
only a little. Some environments are more variable
than others.”
For certain complex traits correlated
to polygenic factors, environmental changes could
signal the appearance of the trait in families where it
was previously absent—or its elimination from lines
where it had previously occurred. Finally, some sim-
ple, highly heritable traits in some species respond
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156 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
4. See Edward Stein’s calculations in The Mismeasure of
Desire: The Science, Theory, and Ethics of Sexual Ori-
entation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999),
5. Gail Vines, Raging Hormones: Do They Rule Our Lives?
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 112.
John Maddox, “Is Homosexuality Hardwired?” Nature
353 (1991): 13.
6. Gilbert Zicklin, “Media, Science, and Sexual Ideology:
The Promotion of Sexual Stability,” in A Queer World:
The Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader , ed.
Martin Duberman (New York: New York University
Press; 1997), 383.
7. See Simon LeVay, The Sexual Brain (Cambridge, Mass.:
MIT Press, 1993), 121–22. William Byne, “LeVay’s
Thesis Reconsidered,” in A Queer World , 325, and Stein,
The Mismeasure of Desire , 201.
8. Stein, The Mismeasure of Desire , 210. Simon LeVay and
Dean Hamer, “Evidence for a Biological Infl uence in
Male Homosexuality,” Scientifi c American 270 (May
1994): 44–49.
9. LeVay, The Sexual Brain , 122.
10. David Gelman with Donna Foote, Todd Barrett, and
Mary Talbot, “Born or Bred?” Newsweek , February 24,
1992, 49. See also Ruth Hubbard and Elijah Wald, Ex-
ploding the Gene Myth: How Genetic Information Is
Produced and Manipulated by Scientists, Physicians,
Employers, Insurance Companies, Educators, and Law
Enforcers (Boston: Beacon, 1993), 97–98.
11. Michael J. Bailey and Richard Pillard, “A Genetic Study
of Male Sexual Orientation,” Archives of General Psy-
chiatry 48 (1991): 1089–96. See also Michael J. Bailey
and Richard Pillard, “Are Some People Born Gay?”
New York Times , December 17, 1991.
12. Hubbard and Wald, Exploding the Gene Myth , 97.
13. Actually, adoption procedures tend to select for rela-
tively homogeneous, middle-class environments, even
for twins separated at birth. And it turns out that many
twins called “separated at birth” were not really so sepa-
rated after all. Many such twins are actually reared by
different sets of relatives in the same town.
14. Hubbard and Wald, Exploding the Gene Myth , 97.
15. Zicklin, “Media, Science, and Ideology,” 385.
16. David Gelman et al., “Born or Bred: The Origins of
Homosexuality,” Newsweek , February 24, 1992, 46.
17. I leave aside here a discussion of all those terms that give
away more than they need divulge of the author’s pre-
suppositions, for example, “nurturing” parents, a “lively
interest” in sports, and “appropriate relations with
18. See the section entitled “Homosexual Outlet” in Alfred
C. Kinsey et al., Sexual Behavior in the Human Male
(Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders, 1948), 610–66.
19. Zicklin, “Media, Science, and Sexual Ideology,” 384.
biogenetic research. More often than not, it lapses
into an essentially folkloric understanding of herita-
bility; the search for “the” “gay” “gene,” the confu-
sion of “genetic correlation” with “genetic causation.”
That is because biologists, as a group, tend to be
committed to an ideology of biological reductionism,
with its reifi cation of practices into things, even
when such reduction runs contrary to their own best
They also tend to reject the notion that
science cannot answer every question.

Readers will no doubt see where I stand. I do not
believe that homosexuality is really susceptible to
even “good” biological research. As a complex,
meaningful, and motivated human activity, same-
sex desire is simply not comparable to questions like
eye color, hair color, or height. I am not even con-
vinced that “desire” can be defi nitively identifi ed,
isolated from other human feelings, objectively
classifi ed, gauged, or compared. For how are we to
measure the “occurrence” (or non-occurrence) of a
“trait” that is itself relational, subtle, and subject to
varied modalities and modulations? And how are we
to measure environmental constancy across genera-
tions on a subject defi ned by contestation, volatility,
and change?
1. What are some of the fl aws Lancaster identifi es
in this research on sexuality?
2. Should one study sexuality in the same way
that one studies genetic traits such as eye or
hair color?
1. Thomas H. Maugh II and Nora Zamichow, Los Angeles
Times , August 30, 1991. Malcolm Gladwell, Washington
Post , December 17, 1991. Jamie Talan, Newsday ,
December 9, 1991. Kim Painter, USA Today, December 17,
1991. Natalie Angier, New York Times , July 16, 1993. Curt
Suplee, Washington Post , October 31, 1995.
2. Anne Fausto-Sterling, Myths of Gender: Biological The-
ories about Women and Men , rev. ed. (1985; New York:
Basic Books, 1992), 257.
3. Simon LeVay, “A Difference in Hypothalamic Structure
between Heterosexual and Homosexual Men,” Science
253 (1991): 1034–37.
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READING 16: The Biology of the Homosexual 157
Xq28 in Males but Not in Females,” Nature Genetics 11,
no. 3 (1995): 248–56.
29. Jonathan Marks, “Behavioral Genetics,” chapter 5 in
What It Means to Be 98 Percent Chimpanzee (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 2002).
30. Natalie Angier, “Variant Gene Tied to a Love of New
Thrills, ” New York Times , January 2, 1996. See Angier’s
follow-up story later the same year, which reports a fail-
ure to replicate the original studies: “Maybe It’s Not a
Gene behind a Person’s Thrill-Seeking Ways,” New York
Times , November 1, 1996.
31. Although the shorthand that refers to genetic “causes” is
appealing when simple Mendelian traits such as eye
color are under discussion, the idea of a genetic “cause”
founders when polygenic traits are in question. Simple
Mendelian traits account for only a small percentage
of human traits. See Hubbard and Wald’s discussion in
Exploding the Gene Myth , 40–42.
32. R. C. Lewontin, Steven Rose, and Leon J. Kamin, Not in
Our Genes: Biology, Ideology, and Human Nature (New
York: Pantheon, 1984), 97.
33. To be more precise, it means that 90 percent of the
variance in height for a population is accounted for by
genetic variance. See Lewontin, Rose, and Kamin, Not
in Our Genes , 97.
34. Ibid.
35. This important point is meticulously illustrated by
Richard Lewontin, from whom I draw the following
example, in The Triple Helix: Gene, Organism, and
Environment (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University
Press, 2000), 20–24.
36. Jens Clausen, David Keck, and William Heisey, Experi-
mental Studies on the Nature of Species, Vol. 3: Environ-
mental Responses of Climatic Races of Achillea ,
Carnegie Institution of Washington Publication 581
(1958), 1–129.
37. I leave aside certain well-known paradoxes of the scien-
tifi c approach to heritability. Since heritability is a mea-
sure of variance , certain traits that are absolutely genetic
show no variation—hence, zero heritability. (Imagine a
population in which everyone has brown eyes.) Correla-
tively, if certain other traits “run in families” (because of
where the families live) or are socially attached to a ge-
netic trait (like skin color), they display high heritability,
despite having plainly environmental origins. See Edward
Stein’s discussion in The Mismeasure of Desire , 142–44.
38. See Richard Lewontin’s short masterpiece of science
criticism, Biology as Ideology: The Doctrine of DNA
(New York: HarperPerennial, 1992).
39. See John Horgan, The End of Science: Facing the Limits of
Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientifi c Age (Reading,
Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1996), and The Undiscovered
Mind—How the Human Mind Defi es Replication, Medica-
tion, and Explanation (New York: The Free Press, 1999).
20. See Dean Hamer and Peter Copeland, The Science of
Desire: The Search for the Gay Gene and the Biology of
Behavior (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994), 21.
21. Dean Hamer, Stella Hu, Victoria Magnuson, Nan Hu,
and Angela Pattatucci, “A Linkage between DNA Mark-
ers on the X Chromosome and Male Sexual Orienta-
tion,” Science 261 (1993): 321–27.
22. Hamer and Copeland, The Science of Desire , 203–4,
23. Stein, The Mismeasure of Desire , 217. Neil Risch, E.
Squires-Wheeler, and B. J. B. Keats, “Male Sexual Orien-
tation and Genetic Evidence,” Science 262 (December 24,
1993): 2063–65.
24. On the matrilateral skewing of American and English
kinship systems, especially but not exclusively patterns
of kinship in the lower classes, see David M. Schneider
and Raymond T. Smith, Class Differences in American
Kinship (1973; Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press,
1978), 9, 40–43, 53–55. On the signifi cance of maternal
kin work, see Micaela di Leonardo, “The Female World
of Cards and Holidays: Women, Families, and the Work
of Kinship,” Signs 12, no. 3 (1987): 440–53.
25. See Zicklin, “Media, Science, and Sexual Ideology,” 385.
26. In The Science of Desire and in response to Hamer’s crit-
ics, Hamer and Copeland report that the Hamer team did
attempt other checks: the fi rst was to ponder the distribu-
tion of lesbian relatives of the gay male subjects. Theo-
retically, if the maternal links simply refl ected better
knowledge of one’s maternal kin, then there ought to also
be elevated reportage of lesbianism along maternal lines.
Hamer and Copeland report that the research team found
no such pattern. The second check was to review lesbian
informants’ reportage of gay male relatives from a sepa-
rate study. The authors report that there was no signifi cant
difference between maternal and paternal links for les-
bian subjects (103–4). Of course, these “checks” assume
that communication about relatives’ sex lives occurs in a
transparent environment unaffected by either sexual in-
tolerance or gender inequalities—that talk about sex is
uninfl ected by different maternal as opposed to paternal
(and male as opposed to female, or mother-son, as op-
posed to mother-daughter, etc.) strategies of revelation
and concealment. . . . It is by no means unthinkable that
such factors could differentially distribute family knowl-
edge about gays and lesbians. As Edward Stein demon-
strates in The Mismeasure of Desire (218), it remains
altogether plausible that the elevated maternal pattern of
homosexuality reported by gay subjects is a strictly socio-
logical effect, derived from partial knowledges, selec-
tively revealed and asymmetrically conveyed.
27. Hubbard and Wald, Exploding the Gene Myth , 75.
28. Stella Hu, Angela Pattatucci, C. Patterson, L. Li, D.W.
Fulker, S. S. Cherny, L. Kruglak, and Dean Hamer,
“Linkage between Sexual Orientation and Chromosome
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158 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
8. Why do you insist on fl aunting your hetero-
sexuality? Can’t you just be what you are and
keep it quiet?
9. Would you want your children to be hetero-
sexual, knowing the problem they’d face?
10. A disproportionate majority of child molesters
are heterosexuals. Do you consider it safe to
expose your children to heterosexual teachers?
11. Even with all the societal support marriage re-
ceives, the divorce rate is spiraling. Why are there
so few stable relationships among heterosexuals?
12. Why do heterosexuals place so much emphasis
on sex?
13. Considering the menace of overpopulation,
how could the human race survive if everyone
were heterosexual like you?
14. Could you trust a heterosexual therapist to be
objective? Don’t you fear that the therapist
might be inclined to infl uence you in the direc-
tion of his or her own leanings?
15. How can you become a whole person if you
limit yourself to compulsive, exclusive hetero-
sexuality and fail to develop your natural,
healthy homosexual potential?
16. There seem to be very few happy heterosexu-
als. Techniques have been developed that might
enable you to change if you really want to.
Have you considered trying aversion therapy?
1. What is your reaction to the Heterosexual
2. What are the assumptions behind these
R E A D I N G 1 7
The Heterosexual Questionnaire
Martin Rochlin
This Heterosexual Questionnaire reverses the ques-
tions that are very often asked of gays and lesbians
by straight people. By having to answer this type
of question, the heterosexual person will get some
intellectual and emotional insight into how oppres-
sive and discriminatory a “straight” frame of refer-
ence can be to lesbians and gays.
1. What do you think caused your heterosexuality?
2. When and how did you fi rst decide you were a
3. Is it possible that your heterosexuality is just a
phase you may grow out of?
4. Is it possible that your heterosexuality stems
from a neurotic fear of others of the same
5. If you’ve never slept with a person of the same
sex, is it possible that all you need is a good
gay lover?
6. To whom have you disclosed your heterosex-
ual tendencies?
7. Why do you heterosexuals feel compelled to
seduce others into your lifestyle?
Martin Rochlin (1928–2003) was one of the founders of the
Association of Gay Psychologists and a leader in the campaign
that led to removing homosexuality from the list of mental
disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental
Disorders .
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READING 18: Disability Defi nitions: The Politics of Meaning 159
modern industrial societies. In this process of identi-
fi cation and classifi cation, disability has always been
an important category, in that it offers a legitimate
social status to those who can be defi ned as unable to
work as opposed to those who may be classifi ed as
unwilling to do so (Stone, 1985). Throughout the
twentieth century this process has become ever more
sophisticated, requiring access to expert knowledge,
usually residing in the ever-burgeoning medical and
paramedical professions. Hence the simple dichot-
omy of the nineteenth century has given way to a
whole new range of defi nitions based upon clinical
criteria or functional limitation.
A third reason why defi nitions are important
stems from what might be called “the politics
of  minority groups.” From the 1950s onwards,
though earlier in the case of alcoholics, there was
a growing realisation that if particular social prob-
lems were to be resolved, or at least ameliorated,
then nothing more or less than a fundamental re-
defi nition of the problem was necessary. Thus a
number of groups including women, black people
and homosexuals, set about challenging the pre-
vailing defi nitions of what constituted these prob-
lems by attacking the sexist and racist biases in
the language used to underpin these dominant
defi nitions. They did this by creating, substituting
or taking over terminology to provide more posi-
tive imagery (e.g., gay is good, black is beautiful,
etc.). Disabled people too have realised that domi-
nant defi nitions of disability pose problems for
individual and group identity and have begun to
challenge the use of disablist language. Whether it
be offensive (cripple, spastic, mongol, etc.) or
merely depersonalising (the handicapped, the
blind, the deaf, and so on), such terminology has
been attacked, and organisations of disabled peo-
ple have fostered a growing group consciousness
and identity.
There is one fi nal reason why this issue of defi –
nitions is important. From the late fi fties onwards
there was an upswing in the economy and an
increasing concern to provide more services for
R E A D I N G 1 8
Disability Defi nitions:
The Politics of Meaning
Michael Oliver
The social world differs from the natural world in
(at least) one fundamental respect; that is, human
beings give meanings to objects in the social world
and subsequently orient their behavior towards
these objects in terms of the meanings given to
them. W. I. Thomas (1966) succinctly puts it thus:
“if men defi ne situations as real, they are real in
their consequences.” As far as disability is con-
cerned, if it is seen as a tragedy, then disabled peo-
ple will be treated as if they are the victims of some
tragic happening or circumstance. This treatment
will occur not just in everyday interactions but will
also be translated into social policies which will
attempt to compensate these victims for the trage-
dies that have befallen them.
Alternatively, it logically follows that if disabil-
ity is defi ned as social oppression, then disabled
people will be seen as the collective victims of an
uncaring or unknowing society rather than as indi-
vidual victims of circumstance. Such a view will
be translated into social policies geared towards
alleviating oppression rather than compensating
individuals. It almost goes without saying that at
present, the individual and tragic view of disabil-
ity dominates both social interactions and social
A second reason why defi nitions are important
historically centres on the need to identify and
classify the growing numbers of the urban poor in
Michael Oliver is professor emeritus of disability studies at the
University of Greenwich in the United Kingdom.
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160 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
This reformulation is not only about methodol-
ogy or semantics, it is also about oppression. In
order to understand this, it is necessary to under-
stand that, according to OPCS’s own fi gures, 2231
disabled people were given face-to-face interviews
(Martin et al., 1988, Table 5.2). In these interviews,
the interviewer visits the disabled person at home
and asks many structured questions in a structured
way. It is in the nature of the interview process that
the interviewer presents as expert and the disabled
person as an isolated individual inexperienced in re-
search, and thus unable to reformulate the questions
in a more appropriate way. It is hardly surprising
that, given the nature of the questions and their di-
rection that, by the end of the interview, the disabled
person has come to believe that his or her problems
are caused by their own health/disability problems
rather than by the organization of society. It is in this
sense that the process of the interview is oppressive,
reinforcing onto isolated, individual disabled peo-
ple the idea that the problems they experience in
everyday living are a direct result of their own per-
sonal inadequacies or functional limitations. . . .
disabled people out of an ever-growing national
cake. But clearly, no government (of whatever per-
suasion) was going to commit itself to a whole
range of services without some idea of what the fi –
nancial consequences of such a commitment might
be. Thus, after some pilot work, the Offi ce of Popu-
lation Censuses and Surveys (OPCS) was commis-
sioned in the late sixties to carry out a national
survey in Britain which was published in 1971
(Harris, 1971). Subsequent work in the interna-
tional context (Wood, 1981) and more recently a
further survey in this country, which has recently
been published (Martin, Meltzer and Elliot, 1988),
built on and extended this work. However, this
work has proceeded isolated from the direct experi-
ence of disability as experienced by disabled peo-
ple themselves, and this has led to a number of
wide-ranging and fundamental criticisms of it. . . .
It could be argued that in polarising the tragic and
oppressive views of disability, a confl ict is being
created where none necessarily exists. Disability
has both individual and social dimensions and that
is what offi cial defi nitions from Harris (1971)
through to WHO [World Health Organization]
(Wood, 1981) have sought to recognize and to op-
erationalize. The problem with this, is that these
schemes, while acknowledging that there are social
dimensions to disability, do not see disability as
arising from social causes. . . .
This view of disability can and does have op-
pressive consequences for disabled people and can
be quite clearly shown in the methodology adopted
by the OPCS survey in Britain (Martin et al., 1988).
[ Table 1 presents] a list of questions drawn from the
face-to-face interview schedule of this survey.
These questions clearly ultimately reduce the
problems that disabled people face to their own per-
sonal inadequacies or functional limitations. It
would have been perfectly possible to reformulate
these questions to locate the ultimate causes of dis-
ability as within the physical and social environ-
ments [as they are in Table 2 ].
TA B L E 1
Can you tell me what is wrong with you?
What complaint causes your difficulty in holding, gripping
or turning things?
Are your difficulties in understanding people mainly due to
a hearing problem?
Do you have a scar, blemish or deformity which limits
your daily activities?
Have you attended a special school because of a long-
term health problem or disability?
Does your health problem/disability mean that you need
to live with relatives or someone else who can help
look after you?
Did you move here because of your health problem/
How difficult is it for you to get about your immediate
neighborhood on your own?
Does your health problem/disability prevent you from
going out as often or as far as you would like?
Does your health problem/disability make it difficult for
you to travel by bus?
Does your health problem/disability affect your work in
any way at present?
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1983). In others, impairments resulting from infec-
tious diseases are declining, only to be replaced by
those stemming from the aging of the population,
accidents at work, on the road or in the home, the
very success of some medical technologies in en-
suring the survival of some severely impaired chil-
dren and adults and so on (Taylor, 1977). To put the
matter simply, impairments such as blindness and
deafness are likely to be more common in the Third
World, whereas heart conditions, spina bifi da, spi-
nal injuries and so on, are likely to be more com-
mon in industrial societies.
Again, the distribution of these impairments is
not a matter of chance, either across different soci-
eties or within a single society, for
Social and economic forces cause disorder directly;
they redistribute the proportion of people at high or
low risk of being affected; and they create new
pathways for the transmission of disorders of all
kinds through travel, migration and the rapid diffu-
sion of information and behaviour by the mass
communication media. Finally, social forces affect
the conceptualisation, recognition and visibility of
disorders. A disorder in one place and at one time is
not seen as such in another; these social perceptions
and defi nitions infl uence both the provision of care,
the demands of those being cared for, and the size
of any count of health needs. (Susser and Watson,
1971, p. 35)
Social class is an important factor here both in
terms of the causes of impairments or what Doyal
(1979) calls degenerative diseases, and in terms of
outcomes, what Le Grand (1978) refers to as long-
standing illnesses.
Just as we know that poverty is not randomly
distributed internationally or nationally (Cole and
Miles, 1984; Townsend, 1979), neither is impair-
ment, for in the Third World at least
Not only does disability usually guarantee the poverty
of the victim but, most importantly, poverty is itself a
major cause of disability. (Doyal, 1983, p. 7)
There is a similar relation in the industrial countries.
. . . Hence, if poverty is not randomly distributed
and there is an intrinsic link between poverty and
Recently it has been estimated that there are some
500 million severely impaired people in the world
today, approximately one in ten of the population
(Shirley, 1983). These impairments are not ran-
domly distributed throughout the world but are cul-
turally produced.
The societies men live in determine their chances of
health, sickness and death. To the extent that they
have the means to master their economic and social
environments, they have the means to determine their
life chances. (Susser and Watson, 1971, p. 45)
Hence in some countries impairments are likely
to stem from infectious diseases, poverty, igno-
rance and the failure to ensure that existing medical
treatments reach the population at risk (Shirley,
TA B L E 2
Can you tell me what is wrong with society?
What defects in the design of everyday equipment like
jars, bottles and tins causes you difficulty in holding,
gripping or turning them?
Are your difficulties in understanding people mainly due
to their inabilities to communicate with you?
Do other people’s reactions to any scar, blemish or
deformity you may have, limit your daily activities?
Have you attended a special school because of your
education authority’s policy of sending people with
your health problem or disability to such places?
Are community services so poor that you need to rely on
relatives or someone else to provide you with the right
level of personal assistance?
What inadequacies in your housing caused you to move
What are the environmental constraints which make it
difficult for you to get about in your immediate
Are there any transport or financial problems which
prevent you from going out as often or as far as you
would like?
Do poorly designed buses make it difficult for someone
with your health problem/disability to use them?
Do you have problems at work because of the physical
environment or the attitudes of others?
READING 18: Disability Defi nitions: The Politics of Meaning 161
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162 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
1. Can you list some words that have changed
meaning over time?
2. Why must minority groups continue to chal-
lenge defi nitions?
Abberley, P. (1987). “The Concept of Oppression and the
Development of a Social Theory of Disability,” Disability,
Handicap and Society, Vol. 2, no. 1, 5–19.
Barrett, D., and McCann, E. (1979). “Discovered: Two Toed
Man,” Sunday Times Colour Supplement, n.d.
Cole, S., and Miles, I. (1984). Worlds Apart (Brighton:
Doyal, L. (1979). The Political Economy of Health (London:
Pluto Press).
Doyal L. (1983). “The Crippling Effects of Underdevelop-
ment” in Shirley, O. (ed.).
Harris, A. (1971). Handicapped and Impaired in Great
Britain (London: HMSO).
Le Grand, J. (1978). “The Distribution of Public Expendi-
ture: the Case of Health Care,” Economica, Vol. 45.
Martin, J., Meltzer, H., and Elliot, D. (1988). The Prevalence
of Disability Amongst Adults (London: HMSO).
Shirley, O. (ed.) (1983). A Cry for Health : Poverty and Dis-
ability in the Third World (Frome: Third World Group and
Stone, D. (1985). The Disabled State (London: Macmillan).
Susser, M., and Watson, W. (2nd ed.) (1971). Sociology in
Medicine (London: Oxford University Press).
Taylor, D. (1977). Physical Impairment — Social Handicap
(London: Offi ce of Health Economics).
Thomas, W. I. (1966). In Janowitz, M. (ed.), Organization
and Social Personality : Selected Papers (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press).
Townsend, P. (1979). Poverty in the United Kingdom
(Harmondsworth: Penguin).
Wood, P. (1981). International Classifi cation of Impair-
ments, Disabilities and Handicaps (Geneva: World Health
impairment, then neither is impairment randomly
Even a structured account of impairment cannot,
however, be reduced to counting the numbers of
impaired people in any one country, locality, class
or social group, for
Beliefs about sickness, the behaviours exhibited by
sick persons, and the ways in which sick persons are
responded to by family and practitioners are all aspects
of social reality. They, like the health care system itself,
are cultural constructions, shaped distinctly in different
societies and in different social structural settings
within those societies. (Kleinman, 1980, p. 38)
The discovery of an isolated tribe in West Africa
where many of the population were born with only
two toes illustrates this point, for this made no dif-
ference to those with only two toes or indeed the
rest of the population (Barrett and McCann, 1979).
Such differences would be regarded as pathological
in our society, and the people so affl icted subjected
to medical intervention.
In discussing impairment, it was not intended to
provide a comprehensive discussion of the nature
of impairment but to show that it occurs in a struc-
tured way. However
such a view does not deny the signifi cance of germs,
genes and trauma, but rather points out that their ef-
fects are only ever apparent in a real social and his-
torical context, whose nature is determined by a
complex interaction of material and nonmaterial fac-
tors. (Abberley, 1987, p. 12)
This account of impairment challenges the no-
tion underpinning personal tragedy theory, that im-
pairments are events happening to unfortunate
individuals. . . .
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READING 19: What Wounds Enable: The Politics of Disability and Violence in Chicago 163
“When wintertime hits, and it’s hard to get peo-
ple to stand on the corner, he goes all bootleg and
starts selling everything,” Justin mutters.
Justin’s back faces me. He’s gripping the arm-
rests of his wheelchair, raising his body up and
down—slow, fl uid movements—his triceps bulge
and his breath labors as he fi nishes his third set of
inverted push-ups. He catches me in his peripheral
vision, studying the latest contraband from a rusted
foldout chair. This “hot” merchandise means it’s
cold outside, as confi rmed by the draft that stings us
from the side door someone has left ajar. Kemo
closes it when he arrives.
“What’s Urkel doin’ here?” Kemo says as he
R E A D I N G 1 9
What Wounds Enable:
The Politics of Disability
and Violence in Chicago
Laurence Ralph
We’re in Kemo’s garage. I sit near a pile of DVD
players, cell phones, car stereos, laptops, and Inter-
net routers.

Invisibly Disabled
I am a disabled individual. I am an invisibly disabled per-
son, which makes me not disabled enough. My earliest
memories are of being in pain. Unfortunately, when
those around me could not see my pain and, when doc-
tors could not diagnose my pain, it was decided for me
that my pain did not exist. If someone grabbed my arm
and it was not “that hard,” I learned I was not supposed
to say it hurt, because it didn’t really hurt—at least not
them. This is when I began to put my disabilities in the
I was 17 years old when I went to a rheumatologist
about my medical problems. I heard the words, “Well,
I am sorry to tell you this, but your daughter has fibromy-
algia.” I smiled with relief to finally find out what it was that
was causing my problems. “Great, so . . . how do we fix
it?” I asked. The look on his face was serious and almost
sad as he told me, “Well, there is no cure. What I mean is
we can treat some of the symptoms.” That is when it hit
me; I would be in pain for the rest of my life. The medica-
tions I have had to take since I was 17 have caused their
own medical conditions. When I was 19, my rheumatolo-
gist realized I had rheumatoid arthritis as well, and when
I was 22, I began showing the signs of what I would later
find out is myoclonic epilepsy. At the age of 27, I experi-
enced a full seizure; my body was flipping around like a
fish out of water on the floor. The only time I ever remem-
ber being so scared was waking up as a child not being
able to feel my legs.
With all that I am because of, in spite of, and thanks
to my disabilities, I continue to try to keep them to myself
and people close to me. Making my disabilities visible to
someone is a choice I do not make lightly, or very often.
From experience, I know they will make certain judg-
ments about me and/or view me differently. Most of all,
I  fear people not believing me. It takes most people a
long time to believe I am in pain at all, and explaining that
I have had a lifetime of masking my pain is always a
pointless endeavor.
I find myself using phrases like “I’m all right” and
“Don’t worry about me” because worrying about me will
do no good, and I am all right—I am not completely help-
less on the ground and unable to move, not yet anyway.
As long as others are seeing me as able, I feel and act
more able. It makes it more of a reality to some extent.
Every time I see someone who is physically disabled
treated poorly because of their disability, I take it person-
ally. I see my own future and become angry, because
I know they would not treat me that way since they view
me as able . . . for now.
Heather L. Shaw
Laurence Ralph is a professor of anthropology and African and
African American Studies at Harvard University.
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164 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
result of car crashes is more common). And for our
purposes, we must note that gun violence is the pri-
mary cause of disability among Hispanics and
blacks; these two populations, in turn, make up the
majority of gang members in Chicago.
This paper is about what injury allows us to see
about the diversity among disabled populations.
My argument is that, while admirable, the focus on
assuaging social difference within the disability
right’s movement has served to obscure key distinc-
tions within disabled communities along the axes
of race and socioeconomic status. While the larger
community of disabled activists in Chicago tends to
use the social model of disability, in which there is
multiple ways to view ability and physical capaci-
ties are not devalued, disabled ex-gang members
rely on a medical model of disability that highlights
physical differences rather than seeking to diminish
them. I contend that the reliance on the medical
model is one (of many) demonstrations of the se-
verity of circumstances for these disabled, African
American ex-gang members.
I demonstrate this point by discussing how no-
tions of debt and obligation surface as critical com-
ponents of gang sociality. When it comes to the
familiar sequence (wherein a gang member shoots
an affi liate of a rival gang, and in response, mem-
bers of the rival gang retaliate) death and injury can
be thought of as forms of debt exchange. I show
that it is precisely because social relations between
gang members are so often solidifi ed through vio-
lence that expressive communication by a disabled
gang member (which transmits knowledge about
the streets and about injury) can be strategically de-
ployed to disrupt a cycle of vengeance. Since the
audience now owes it to the disabled affi liate who
sacrifi ced his life, to change theirs, wounds become
the precondition that enable social transformation.
Social scientists interested in race and urban
America have long pointed out the underbelly of
American exceptionalism. The “land of promise”
“I told you, he’s helping out with the forum.
He’s here to take notes,” Justin says.
“I don’t want you guys mentioning any gang
leaders or any sets by name,” he says, looking back
and forth between the two of us. “No blocks, no
streets, nothing like that. I don’t know who’s gonna
be around, you know.”

“Nah, I don’t do that,” Justin replies. “That’s not
the point of what I do.”
“Well, that’s good . . . that’s good, then.” Kemo
seems pleased.
“But, I am going to talk about the consequences,”
Justin continues. “You know, the consequences of
gang banging. I am going to talk about what hap-
pened to me, and how it’s affected my life.”
“I ain’t got no problem with that,” Kemo says
with a smirk. “But, good luck getting them to listen.
l’ll do my part. I’ll get them there. Then they’re all
Why would a paralyzed, ex-gang member-
turned-activist team up with a gang leader to orga-
nize a community forum on violence? What can
this event teach us about the concept of disability?
And what can this event show us about the seem-
ingly contradictory ways that people disempower
themselves in order to empower others?
In 2009 the rate of violent crime in Chicago was
almost double that of New York City and Los Ange-
les. Among the nation’s 10 largest cities, only Phil-
adelphia had higher rates of murder and violent
crime than Chicago.
What is more, during the
2008–2009 academic year, a record number of pub-
lic school students (38) were murdered. The enor-
mity of these numbers naturally focuses our
attention on murder and death. Such a focus, how-
ever, limits our understanding of urban violence.
Unacknowledged in these disheartening statistics is
a more complex reality: most victims of gun vio-
lence do not die. While the most common cause of
violence in urban areas is gun violence, a victim of
a gunshot wound is four times more likely to end up
disabled than killed. Though guns are no doubt
deadly, equally important is that gunshot injuries
constitute the second most common cause of dis-
ability in urban areas overall (only paralysis as a
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story is therefore an act of empowerment. In Crip
Theory , Robert McRuer brilliantly demonstrates
how, by turning a story of suffering into testimony,
disabled activists who “come out crip,” endow the
pejorative slur “crippled” with a positive valence.
In a similar vein, . . . the wounded storyteller’s dis-
avowal of medical experience is the basis by which
he voices his own experience of suffering. The no-
tion that a person should embrace his own wounded
body as an act of empowerment has been greatly
infl uenced by the Americans with Disabilities Act
of 1990. The Act makes discrimination based on
disability illegal, but just as importantly, it has
made acceptable the idea that people with disabili-
ties face systemic societal barriers that impact their
worldview and the ways in which they navigate
their social environment.
Though the ADA has made great strides in
providing resources for disabled people, one
unintended consequence has been that in the pro-
cess of leveling the playing fi eld, both scholars of
bodily impairment and the public have glossed over
the ways race operates within disabled communi-
My time in Eastwood reveals the perils of
such an omission. Justin’s wheelchair-bound life,
and the way he uses his disability, as we’ll see,
would be nearly unrecognizable—not to mention
incomprehensible—to, for example, a well-off,
white, middle-aged, suburban polio survivor.
. . . I aim to pinpoint how disabled populations
have always had to highlight their differences in
order to advocate for themselves, typically in ways
that are politically strategic and refl ective of their
marginalized status. I ask: how, within a model of
disability rights, do we account for the fact that,
depending on the way a disability was acquired,
what caused it, and the factors that might stop oth-
ers from becoming similarly hurt, disabled people
may choose to defi ne themselves in terms of their
. . . The success of the disability rights move-
ment has created the impression that the medical
model is harmful, an outmoded relic of a discrimi-
natory past, but the efforts of these disabled ex-gang
members suggests that perhaps the disability rights
celebrated in the Constitution of the United States,
they argue, has a fl ipside, which is the construction
of the “defective” black subject.
Whether in the
1890s, when anthropologists measured the skulls of
African descendants to show that behaviors and
abilities corresponded to different racial groups, or
more recently when scholars and government agen-
cies suggested that the socioeconomic plight of
urban blacks was associated with degenerate cul-
tural values, notions of the defective body, born in
the 19th century, continue to shape the 21st.

The nascent literature on disability can thus
serve as a point of intervention—a way to examine
the relationship between biology and culture with-
out invoking ideas of innate dysfunction—since
scholars in this fi eld have been attentive to bodily
injury, yet have also advanced a “social model” of
As these scholars have viewed disability as
an institutionalized source of oppression, compa-
rable to inequalities based on race, gender, and
sexual orientation, they have argued that it is not an
individual’s actual “impairments” which construct
disability as a subordinate social status and deval-
ued life experience but socially imposed barriers
(anything from inaccessible buildings, to limited
modes of transportation and communication, to
prejudicial attitudes).
This “social model,” not sur-
prisingly, is a radical step away from the medical
model of illness, which has dominated Western
thinking since the early 1900s, and which views
disabilities and diseases as physical conditions that
reduce a person’s quality of life, and thus pose clear
disadvantages to that person. In this way, the medi-
cal model echoes the 19th century notion of the
black defective body. It is important to point out
that advocates of disability rights have long re-
jected the medical model of disability, and instead
emphasize a rights-based model that “emphasizes
people’s personal adjustment to impairment and
their adaptation to a medical-rehabilitative regimen
of treatment.”

The medical model is often presumed to silence
a disabled person’s voice . . . because a core expec-
tation of being disabled is surrendering oneself to
the care of a physician. The act of telling one’s own
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166 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
movement has eschewed the medical model all too
soon. Although these ex-gang members in Chicago
face criticism from the wider disability rights com-
munity for highlighting variations in social differ-
ence (between “the normals” and the stigmatized,
the paralyzed and the able-bodied) they feel that
they must do so—since, as they put it, their wounds
enable them to saves lives. Though I focus on the
anti-gang forums hosted by disabled ex-gang mem-
bers, rather than their positionality within the larger
disability rights movement, both these forums, and
the tenuous subject position of the people who run
them, highlight the ways in which disabled com-
munities are stratifi ed along the lines of race, mas-
culinity, and socioeconomic status.
It is the
interplay of these culturally constructed identities
that map the contours of oppression that African
Americans face, allowing us to see the extent to
which violence becomes both a gang and community-
defi ning feature.

Days after Justin and I met with Kemo, I see him
again. Only this time, instead of a garage, he is
holding court in an abandoned lot. A group of
8  teenage boys sit on the rubbled, glass-strewn
ground at his feet. The leader of the local gang set
waves his arms, punctures his words with stares. As
he scolds the small group for failing to police their
neighborhood, Kemo looks like an urban griot.
“You know what? Y’all lack discipline,” he says.
“That’s why you got the Bandits comin’ in here
shooting up the place.” Kemo is referring to a rival
gang set, whose members recently infi ltrated his
territory, injuring two people. Pete, an affi liate who
was shot in the leg during that incident, sits next to
Kemo. The cane he will use for the rest of his life
lies between them. After Kemo praises Pete for his
bravery, and announces to the group that he is one
of the few among them who has “what it takes” to
be a gang leader, he reaches for Pete’s curved han-
dle cane and drags the rubber tip through the dirt,
sketching the boundaries of their block. X’s mark
the places he predicts rival gangs will attempt to
invade. Then he draws a series of arrows that sur-
round the Xs. These are the routes gang members
should travel to safeguard their domain.
“Y’all gotta protect your turf,” Kemo barks:
“ That’s the most important thing.”
Kemo’s depiction of his commercial strategy lit-
erally relies on a marker of disability—the cane. In
other words, the cane is the tool Kemo uses to ex-
plain to his foot soldiers how they are going to main-
tain economic control; the cane is simultaneously
a reminder of the consequences of that task. . . .
Since the 1920s, the term “gang” has been used
to describe all kinds of collectives, from groups of
well-dressed mobsters to petty criminals and juve-
nile delinquents—everything from substitute fam-
ily units to religious groups and entrepreneurial
drug-dealing cartels.
Perhaps the only thing that
has remained consistent about gangs in nearly a
century of research is their characterization as an
internal Other from the vantage point of the law—a
group that lives amongst us but does not abide by
our “normal” rules.

As we saw through Kemo’s inscription in the
dirt, the interplay between wounding and enabling
surfaces in the ways in which gang cultures have
been said to emerge out of the rationalities and
strategies of protecting “turf”—i.e. territory, prop-
erty, access—as a means to accrue good standing in
a society in which people are frequently excluded
from participation in the American polity.
On the
face of it, the violent event associated with injury
allows the disabled gang member to rise in social
stature and moral standing, similar to the war vet-
eran in contemporary American society. And like
the war veteran in contemporary society, the rhe-
torical effect of this patriotism stands in sharp relief
to reality. Unlike the gang member who has been
labeled as a police informant (or “snitch”), disabled
gang members in Eastwood are not given a “dis-
honorable discharge”—rather, they are released
from service. An “honorable discharge” would be
the appropriate analogy here. Of course, some dis-
abled gang members will prefer to resume their ac-
tivities, and in such cases, they are not so much
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of them, so he worried about their effi cacy: “I don’t
know man,” he says to me one day, as we put away
basketballs in the after-school program where he
works and I volunteer, “It’s like they’re preaching
to the choir. The guys who really need to be there,
them boys who really need to hear those stories,
they’re out on the street.”
Justin, however, has a solution: sessions offered
by a very different group of men, forums which dif-
fered from the approaches of what he refers to as
the “out-of-touch” gang-prevention programs. And,
even though Justin himself does not organize these
forums, he identifi es with the people who do. The
men who Justin is speaking of are in their early to
mid-twenties—young enough to relate. Many of
them still communicate with members of the Divine
Knights, so they do not underestimate the gang’s
infl uence in the lives of young people. Plus, their
very presence makes the consequences of gang life
salient for everyone who attends their events—
these men are all in wheelchairs. This group of
paralyzed ex-gang members fi rst met at Eastwood
Hospital. Across the last fi ve years, they partici-
pated in a rehabilitation program that teaches
people suffering from spinal cord injuries how to
adapt to their new lives. After fi nishing the program,
a few of these men petitioned the hospital to sponsor
the next step in their work: with the “In My Shoes”
program, these former gang affi liates—themselves
the victims of gun violence—travel to schools to
discuss what it feels like to have your life perma-
nently altered by a disability.
One day I accompany Justin to Jackson High,
where the school administrators decide to dedi-
cate  the bulk of the day to violence prevention
programming . . .
I watch with the boisterous crowd as four ex-
affi liates form a semi-circle on the stage of the
school’s auditorium . . .
“Welcome to the ‘In My Shoes’ program,” the
leader of the group, Darius, starts.
“What we are is a violence prevention program.
We’re a little different from other programs. Like,
we’re not here to scare you or anything like
that.  We’re basically here to educate you about
willfully ignored as forgotten about, marginalized,
or neglected. Hence, in contrast to members who
die in gang wars and become martyrs—those by-
gone affi liates often emblematized on graffi ti’d
R.I.P. t-shirts—the disabled gang member, who
cannot contribute to the organization in the way
that is most valued (that is, as a street-corner drug
dealer) becomes like the presumably honored war
veteran who begs for change by day, and is tucked
beneath a highway underpass by night.
As disability can signal honor and ignominy at
the same time, wounding as it pertains to disabled
bodies should be read as a commentary on
enabling—whether this is the enabling of gang en-
trepreneurship and the forms of violence associated
with it or, as we will see, the enabling of initiatives
to stop violence. Likewise, enabling should be read
as a commentary on wounding— whether this is the
injury that stems from the drug trade, or the crimi-
nalization of black urbanites, which make them
prone to debilitation. Hence, if this analysis of
wounding is to be read with a negative moral va-
lence, it is not because the notion of disability itself
should be devalued. Rather, the disabled subject
signals the ways in which the intersection of race
and socioeconomics funnels risk of morbidity, un-
employment, incarceration and mortality rates to-
wards young urban residents in Chicago, who are
far more likely than most of those who will read
this article to fall victim to a stray bullet in the
midst of drug-related gang warfare.
In the aftermath of 2009’s record number of shoot-
ings of public school students, community forums
on violence became commonplace in Eastwood, the
west side neighbourhood. . . . These forums were
typically sponsored by non-profi t organizations,
schools, or churches and coordinated by adults
who—though well intentioned by all accounts—
had only a tangential relationship to the troubled
youths they were targeting. . . .
Justin had attended many such forums over the
past year, but had not seen many young men at any
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168 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
places his thumb and index fi nger a couple of inches
apart: “For males it’ll probably go about tha-a-a-a-t
deep inside the pee hole before it starts draining.”
The group of adolescents erupt in a deafening
chorus of gags and grimaces—this, at the mere
thought of using a device in service of something
which seems so natural.
“And this gotta be done every four-to-six hours
for the rest of your life. Cause what can happen is,
either you’re gonna pee all over yourself . . . and
you can imagine you’re on the corner chillin’ and
all of a sudden: You’re wet.”
More groans. Now laughter. Nervous, embar-
rassed laughter. I worry that the kids in the audi-
ence are actually making fun of Darius. Some boys
point at the catheter. But Darius waits out the snick-
ers; he smiles with the kids, willing to indulge their
nervousness, willing to play the role of the hapless,
disabled person.
“Or it can stay in your system,” Darius continues
as the tittering from the crowd dies down. “And,
basically, urine is just waste. So if it stays in your
system, you can get sick, catch infections from it,
and ultimately be hospitalized. What I’ma do is
pass this around so you can check it out. It ain’t
never been used or nothing like that.”
The crowd laughs in relief.
After Darius describes how the most prominent
biological feature of manhood is transformed from
the penetrator to that which is penetrated, another
activist, Aaron, begins to speak.
“One of the most important things that you have
to look out for is the health of your skin, cause it
can also get infected. Y’all know when you’ve been
sitting down for a long time, how your butt starts to
hurt and you get a little uncomfortable. You know,
you gotta fi dget a little bit. Well in a situation like
ours, we can’t feel our butts. So what we have to do
is, we have to be constantly lifting off our chairs,
doing ‘pressure reliefs.’ So you’ll see me every
once and a while do this—” he grabs the armrests
of his chair and lifts his body above it, holding him-
self in an inverted push-up.
‘“Cause what could happen is, I can develop a
‘pressure sore’—also known as a ‘bedsore,’ or a
the  consequences of drug activities and gang life.
As you can see, all of us here have wheelchairs,” he
continues. “And the reason we have wheelchairs is
because we were out in the streets gang banging,
selling drugs. We got shot, and ultimately we got
paralyzed. So what we’re gonna do today is tell you
what happens to your body when you have a spinal
cord injury.”
The “In My Shoes” speakers have two primary
goals in a situation like this. First, they try to coun-
teract the foundational belief that perpetuating vio-
lence unifi es the gang. Next, they argue that when
the gang is no longer around, gunshot victims have
to care for themselves.
“There’s two types of spinal cord injuries,” Dar-
ius begins, “there’s a paraplegic and a quadriplegic.
Par- meaning two: it means two of your limbs are
affected. I’m a paraplegic. I’m paralyzed from the
waist down. A quadriplegic is paralyzed from the
neck down.”
“See, the thing about the spine,” he adds, “is that
it’s one of the few parts of your body that doesn’t
heal for itself. You know how if you break your arm
or you get a cut, your body naturally heals itself,
right? Well, when you have a spinal cord injury or
a  brain injury, that’s permanent because there
ain’t no medicine or no doctor in the world that can
fi x that.”
With a few sentences, Darius establishes his
authority through medical expertise. The teenagers
in the audience still fi dget, hesitant to look directly
at the injured bodies on stage. Then he tells the
crowd how much his life has changed since he has
become paralyzed.
“Aside from your movement, one of the fi rst
things that gets affected is your bladder. Y’all know
when you gotta use the washroom, you get that
feeling, right? Well when you’re in a situation like
ours, you no longer get that sensation. So what hap-
pens is that you gotta be on the clock. You know
every four-to-six hours, you have to manually ex-
tract the urine. And that’s done with one of these.
This right here is a catheter.”
He holds up a cloudy plastic bag, which is met
with a collective groan from the crowd. Then he
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also “outfold” into social space, giving shape and
meaning to the society in which we live. Borrowing
from the Kleinmans, I want to suggest that the sto-
ries of these disabled, ex-gang members are not just
about the interpersonal affects of disability. These
stories outfold as well, inviting “at risk” teenage,
black males to recognize themselves in them.

By  speaking about what it is like to be disabled
former gang members signal the mutual constitu-
tion between wounding and enabling as a means to
respond to the gang’s far-reaching infl uence in
. . . The men at Jackson High show no anger or
resentment towards the medical establishment. To
the contrary, disabled ex-gang members build
their narratives out of the medical model of dis-
ability, in order to emphasize the biological real-
ity of their now “broken” body. They do so to
amplify the magnitude of urban violence. For
members of racial groups who are prone to debili-
tation through gun violence, highlighting one’s
body as broken is a political act. The members of
“In My Shoes,” like Justin and every other dis-
abled ex-gang member I  have met, speak about
the best ways to craft their stories; they borrow
narrative techniques from each other; they re-
hearse, constantly. They learn by hearing them-
selves tell their own stories, absorbing each
others’ reactions, and experiencing their stories
being shared.
On this day, for example, one of
the disabled ex-gang members, Sam, did not
speak at all. He listened and watched, still honing
his own illness narrative in preparation for the
next school assembly when, perhaps, he will feel
ready to testify. In this way, the “In My Shoes”
speakers draw on presuppositions of illness that
enable collectively salient descriptions of disabil-
ity. Crafting their paralysis as undesirable and
preventable is crucial since it helps excavate an
altered vision of a world, already radically trans-
formed by violence. Disabled ex-gang members
hope that by seeing the world through their eyes—
the eyes of the injured—these inner city students
will come to see the effects of violence more
‘ubiquitous ulcer.’ That’s when the bone starts dig-
ging through the skin. It starts off as a little pimple;
but this is one pimple you don’t wanna pop, ’cause
you could make it worse.”
“The thing about these pressure sores is that
I  can get one in a matter of hours. If I was to sit
down in one of those chairs for two or three hours,”
Darius says, gesturing towards the wooden seats
in the crowd, “I could develop a pressure sore.”
“The problem is gettin’ rid of one,” Aaron in-
tervenes. “To get rid of one could take anywhere
from two months to a year. And the only way to
heal it is to stay off it. Bed rest. So you can imag-
ine if it’s the summer. Summer just kicked off, and
I got a pressure sore—now I gotta stay in bed to
heal it.”
“And what a lot of people don’t know,” Oscar
says, taking the reigns, “is that Christopher
Reeves, you know the actor that played Superman;
he actually passed away from one of these. He
caught a pressure sore, it got infected, and it got
into his blood. And you know how blood is con-
stantly traveling through your body? Well, it hit
his heart, and he had a heart attack. What I try to
tell people is that this is Christopher Reeves: this
is Superman. He had Superman money. And he
couldn’t prevent one of these? What’s gonna hap-
pen to one of us from the ’hood? We don’t got that
kind of money. We don’t have that kind of around-
the-clock care.”
Here, Oscar’s reference to Superman does not
merely underscore the gulf in access to medical re-
sources between a world-renowned actor and a
poor person of color. He highlights another register
of wounding: the fact that no one is actually fast
enough to dodge a speeding bullet. Even Superman
can die from a pimple.
The “In My Shoes” presentation at Jackson
High resonates with Arthur and Joan Kleinman’s
insights about the stakes of telling stories through
wounded bodies.
They argue that illness stories
transcend the bodies of the ill. It is not merely that
culture “infolds” into the body through differing
ways to defi ne disease, or varying access to, and
attitudes towards, healthcare. Our bodily processes
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170 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
most of the fi ghts I was getting into wasn’t because
of me, or something I did. It was because of my
friends. That’s why when the paralyzed speakers
came to my new school, it was kinda like a privi-
lege because before I didn’t think it was real.”
“But two of my friends just died over the past
three weeks now,” he continues. “And one of my
cousin’s friends, he died also. I know you heard
about the fi fteen-year-old boy that was found in the
dumpster. That was him. ”
Marcus takes a sip from a glass of water and
looks out of the window. I think about what he has
just told me. The notion that he does not start most
of the fi ghts in which he is engaged could be read as
a convenient excuse (especially with his mother
within earshot). But even so, the stakes of the peer
pressure that he describes are painfully high in a
context in which teenagers are regularly murdered
and debilitated. Trade in injury is so common that
even a hospital bed doesn’t necessarily occasion a
person to orient his life away from the gang. It may
simply lead him to seek revenge.
“I got jumped on a while back. I got put in the
hospital—in the trauma center. She’ll tell you,”
Marcus says, gesturing towards his mother. “When
my momma came in there I was talking to the doc-
tor like: ‘So, umm . . . What’s up? What’s your son’s
name? Can I play video games?’ I was having fun—
not knowing that something could’ve seriously been
wrong with me. When my friends came I was jump-
ing on the bed like, ‘Yeah, man, they ain’t do noth-
ing to me! They ain’t do nothing to me!’”
“I wanted revenge. I didn’t think nothing really
bad could happen. I even put the hospital band—
the one that was on my arm—I put it around my
neck and I wore it as a chain, like a trophy. My
momma said that scared her. She told me that
I could be dead, ’cause I blacked out for a second
while I was fi ghting. In the meantime, I ain’t really
know what was happening.”
“After I got out of the hospital, the next day, my
friends came to my house. They were like, ‘Man,
what up? What you gonna do?’”
“Inside my head I’m like, ‘Do I really want to go
with them, or do I wanna listen to my momma?’”
A couple of days after the assembly I run into
Marcus, a neighbor whom I haven’t seen on the
block in a while. He is a senior at Jackson High;
I ask him what he thought about “In My Shoes.”
Marcus invites me into his house; his mother is
cooking dinner and asks if I want to stay. Marcus
and I sit at the dining room table while she prepares
food in the adjoining kitchen. He tells me about
how the assembly has altered his perspective on
gang life.
“Yeah,” Marcus begins, “it was real deep to hear
them speak, ’cause my mom kept telling me that
my associations will lead me to one day, God
forbid, be in the same predicament. And my heart
was beating like 100 miles an hour, ’cause I could
just see myself in the position they’re in.”
“Most of the people I hang out with are gang
bangers,” he explains. “And I was the type that al-
ways wanted to do right, but did wrong. I didn’t
want my brothers and them fi ghting, but I was right
there in front—fi ghting everybody. But it’s kinda
like . . . over here . . . in this area . . . in the school I
go to . . . thinking about tomorrow is the last thing
you wanna do. Cause you wanna live through today. ”
Marcus’ statement is meant to set the backdrop
for life in Eastwood, where gangs are commonly
imagined as stand-in family units, where even a
teenager who opts not to join the Divine Knights
will be cognizant of who belongs to which set, and
the jurisdictions of each, where young people are
well aware that although most of the gang sets in
their neighborhood fall under the Divine Knights
umbrella, two factions can inspire violence at any
given moment, becoming de facto rivals.
It is for
this reason, at least in part, that a gang’s legacy is
heightened even as the immediacy of “tomorrow”
is diminished.
“You know how it is,” Marcus says. “We got all
the rival gangs. I actually got pulled outta my last
high school ’cause me and my friends got into it
with some Bandits. My momma feared for my life.
And I noticed when she took me out of school that
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. . . In the days after Marcus’ beating, as he
chooses to listen to his mother, a curious thing hap-
pens. He leaves school and comes home. He doesn’t
dawdle on the corner. He stays inside. His friends
stop talking to him. He gets dirty looks. At one
point the leader of his local set even visits him at
home, and says he has turned his back on his friends
and his community. In other words, he is viewed by
other affi liates as abandoning the gang. The crucial
point here is that in refusing to retaliate, by being
willing to look “weak,” by extracting himself from
social activities outside of his home, Marcus for-
goes the opportunity to cultivate bonds with his
brethren; and it is primarily because he withdraws
from a system in which injury is often proposed as
a means for debt settlement, that he is viewed as a
Intimately felt obligations have an immeasurable
impact on the ways in which a teenager like Marcus
navigates his social world. But this sense of indebt-
edness does not always have to wound. It is because
Justin knows intuitively that the most signifi cant
aspect of gang rivalry is its ability to maintain rela-
tionships between affi liates, that he brings a gang
leader to the negotiating table to talk about the crip-
pling violence that the gang set he commands has
become known for. By rechanneling gang notions
of reciprocity—and in the process allowing his
wounds to enable peace, rather than violence—
Justin frames his community forum as a harmoni-
ous way to settle debts between gang members.
In the winter of 2008, Justin decides that he
wants the “In My Shoes” program to sponsor a com-
munity forum on violence. Even though he is not
one of the speakers, he appreciates their approach.
But, when he brings his proposal to the administra-
tors at Eastwood Hospital, they decline. . . . As he
seeks fi nancial support, one of the fi rst people to
contact him is Kemo, on behalf of the Divine
Knights. He pledges to donate funds for the pur-
chase of food and promises to make the event a
mandatory meeting for his constituency.
For the next several minutes, Marcus describes
arguing with his friends about his decision not to
retaliate, and their response that he would look
“weak” if he didn’t. It wasn’t just his reputation that
was on the line, they argued, but that of the whole
set. Still, Marcus insists that he remained adamant
about resisting the temptation to strike back.
“The point is,” Marcus says, “instead of listen-
ing to my friends, I listened to what my momma
said. And they were looking at me like, ‘Dang man,
what’s wrong with you? Why you actin’ like this?”’
He pauses, takes another sip of water. His mother
has stopped preparing dinner; I can’t tell if she is
paying attention.
“So I know how hard it is to get up on stage and
do what they did. I saw one of the speakers, Darius,
the other day and I told him. I said, ‘I take my hat
off to y’all. For y’all to come to my school and have
the courage to say that in front of everybody, that
means a lot. So I thank y’all, man, for real.”’
Marcus’ insights allude to the fact that in East-
wood the obligation to seek vengeance is fre-
quently anticipated, and its fulfi llment relentlessly
planned. Here, vengeance is an enduring ritual of
exchange. Still, it is critical to note that in a context
in which the Divine Knights cultivate feuds over
territory and economic control, violence does not
merely wound. More importantly, as we will see, it
can enable. The fact that my conversation with
Marcus takes place in his mother’s house high-
lights the similarities between their familial bond
and a kind of gang sociality in which members
habitually express social obligations in an idiom of
kinship. Here, the dichotomy between the Divine
Knights’ imagined community and physical debil-
ity does not merely surface through wounds, or the
bodily pain that Marcus endures on behalf of his
gang. It is also evidenced through the invocation of
his mother who, he says, steers him away from
gang affi liation.
But despite Marcus’ discussion
of his choice to stay in the house rather than enact
revenge in the streets (to listen to “what my
momma said”), one should not read my conversa-
tion with this teenage gang member as a story of
redemption, primarily.
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172 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
and would assume I was in the same gang. So now
they started treating me like opposition. It got to the
point where I was already marked as a gang mem-
ber, so I just decided to join the gang.” . . .
“I joined up, and I never really thought twice
about it. It seemed like I was where I should be
because a lot of my friends, my cousins, and my
uncles—even my grandfather—they were all in-
volved in the gang. So it wasn’t nothing new to me.
But after awhile I started going to school less and
less, and I was surrounded by violence more and
more. I saw close family members and good friends
die. I thought, ‘If my friends and my family, they all
died for the gang, then why not me? What makes
me better than them?’ I started telling myself,
‘Man, I’m willing to die for this.’”
“At the time, I needed that mentality because
I started dealing drugs. My two closest friends were
becoming gang leaders and big-time drug dealers.
They were the ones giving the product to everyone
in my neighborhood. One day, there was a meeting
with the high-ranking gang offi cials and the
guy who was supplying both of them said that they
would have to consolidate their gang sets. He said
they could play Rock, Paper, Scissors, for all he
cared, but someone had to step up, and someone
had to fall back. It had to be done, he said. So my
two boys decided to set up a meeting.”
“It was January 3, 2000,” Justin continues after
taking a deep breath, “That day, the friend who
I worked for picked me up and told me what they de-
cided. They were gonna do it like the old-timers: meet
and fi ght, one-on-one. Whoever won the fi ght would
get the neighborhood drug market. The other person
would be the right-hand man, and make his crew fall
in line. They would even shake hands afterwards.”
“They decided to fi ght in an abandoned lot. No
one was there when we arrived, so me and my boy
got out and waited for my other friend to show.”
“After a couple minutes, a car came down the
street. I made eye contact with the driver, but didn’t
recognize him. The car kept going. When it reached
the dead end, it circled back around. It was creeping
up slowly, so my boy said ‘Let’s get outta here.’ But
by the time we got back inside, the car was right
Even though I know Justin and Kemo’s relation-
ship dates back 17 years, when the two of them
were budding gang bangers, I am initially taken
aback when I hear that Kemo, a gang leader, is con-
tributing to the forum that will talk about the haz-
ards of gang life.
One day I ask about the gang leader’s motiva-
tion: “So, Kemo is actually telling his crew to go to
the forum?” I question. “How did you convince him
to do that?”
“I mean, Kemo don’t want the killings either,”
Justin replies. “You gotta remember: some of those
boys are his cousins, and the little brothers of peo-
ple we grew up with. Besides Kemo owes me and
now I’m cashin’ in.”
On the brisk Saturday morning of May 10,
2009—three days after the 36th killing of a Chicago
public school student—Kemo delivers. He person-
ally drops off an Escalade full of young gang mem-
bers at the House of Worship for Justin’s violence
forum. Kemo and some of the leaders from the
other neighborhood gang sets linger outside of
the  church while the members of their respective
constituencies fi le in. . . . Justin is seated in his
wheelchair. He quickly grabs the crowd’s attention
by describing how he got “plugged” into the gang.
“I was raised right here in Eastwood,” Justin be-
gins after introducing himself. “And just like today,
there was a lot of violence when I was growing up.
It was real bad over here.”
“You know, Eastwood is not that big of a com-
munity,” he continues, “but when I was coming up,
there was a lot of different gang sets; and they were
all at war. To make matters worse, there was only
one high school in the entire area. So everybody
within those gang boundaries had to attend that
high school. Being that the school was within a par-
ticular gang’s territory, it was pretty rough. I re-
member in the ninth grade—before I was even in
the gang—I would get frustrated because I had to
cross rival territories to get to school. I was getting
chased, beat up, and robbed constantly. Sometimes
the people from my block would stick up for me. . .
What would happen was, members of the rival
gangs would see me with the boys from my block
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I knew is that my legs wouldn’t work. I was trying
and trying, but I couldn’t move my legs. I couldn’t
get up. I just couldn’t. I laid my head on the grass,
and that’s when I heard footsteps running away and
a car screeching off.”
“I started yelling: ‘ Help, Help. ’ I was screaming
my boys’ names. ‘ Help. ’ One-by-one, I screamed
by cousins’ names and all the people that I was
willing to die for: ‘ Help. ’”
“Then all of sudden I saw this lady look out her
window. I sat up and called out to her, the best
I  could. I said, ‘I’ve been shot. I’ve been shot.
Please, ma’am, help me. I’ve been shot.’”
“While I was waiting to see if she would come
out I tried to get up. I grabbed the storm drain and
lifted my upper body. I remember looking at my
legs and they were dangling. They were dead.
When I saw that, I fell back down.”
“The lady came out with a cell phone and called
the ambulance. If it wasn’t for her, who knows if I’d
be here today. She waited with me and tried to com-
fort me: ‘Everything’s gonna be alright ,’ she said.
‘ Don’t worry , everything’s gonna be alright. ’”
“As she’s telling me this, I see her eyes watering.
Tears are coming down her face. And I just remem-
ber thinking, like, ‘man, I don’t wanna die.’ I re-
member thinking that in my head. All my life I told
myself that, I’m willing to die for this. I was willing
to get shot. I didn’t care. But, when I was lying
there. I was scared to die. I didn’t want to die.
I don’t know why, but I didn’t want to die. ”
Justin ends his story with a somber description
of the day the doctor informs him that he will
“never walk again.” As he begins to recount his
early days in a wheelchair, what strikes me most is
how Justin felt abandoned. The pain of Kemo run-
ning from their car, and his recitation of the names
of his gang brethren while lying in the woman’s
yard, seem to eclipse even the pain of the bullets
lodged in his body.
. . . Today, Justin’s inability to feel—the physical
and psychological wounds of paralysis—enables
him to elicit rare shades of empathy and sorrow
from otherwise unshakeable young gang members.
Days prior to the event, I overheard Kemo telling
beside us. I looked up and the person in the passen-
ger seat had pulled out a pistol.”
“Tink . . . Tink . . . t-t-tink. Tink. Tink. That’s all I
heard. I saw fl ashes. My boy said, ‘ Pull off. Pull off,’
so I started driving. But I was already hit, so I lost
control of the vehicle. Eventually, I crashed. That’s
when I noticed that I was bleeding from my shoulder
and my thigh. I started screaming: ‘I got shot. I got
shot.’ Next thing you know, I hear the car door slam
shut. Just then I realized: one of my friends had left
me, and my other friend wanted me dead.” . . .
During this brief lull, I recall how weeks ago he
told me that Kemo “owes” him because they were
together when he was shot. It hadn’t registered be-
fore now: Kemo had been in the car with Justin. His
words now resonate with what I already knew about
his shooting. Another affi liate, Eric, once told me
that Kemo wanted badly to retaliate against the per-
son who shot Justin, but he forbade it. As Justin had
made a commitment to God to turn his life around
on what he thought was his deathbed, the most he
allowed Kemo to do was to confront the perpetra-
tor, tell him to leave the neighborhood, and warn
him to never come back. Because Kemo hoped that
one day Justin would change his mind and permit
revenge, the gang never informed the police about
the shooter. The assailant escaped without sanction.
As I refl ect on these circumstances, Kemo’s com-
mitment to the forum makes all the more sense—as
does Justin’s willingness, to accept his help.
“I just got out of the car and started running,”
Justin continues. “I cut through an alleyway and
stopped at the fi rst house I saw. I knocked on the
door. Then I knocked harder.”
“All of a sudden the porch lit up. I got excited at
fi rst, but then I realized that the light wasn’t coming
from inside of the house. Headlights were beaming
on the door from behind me. The car from before
was approaching fast.”
“Someone got out and started running towards
me with a gun so I hopped over the porch railing. I
almost reached the back of the house when I heard
a shot go off— BANG. ”
“I just remember falling to the ground. I wasn’t
in pain or anything like that. I was in shock. All
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174 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
their own lifelong friendship. . . . Young gang mem-
bers from rival gang sets are supposed to use
Justin’s life story as a conduit through which to
become more peaceful. Debilitated gang members’
stories of catheters and enemas, pressure sores and
bed rest, stories of their mothers warning them
about their associations, illuminate an invisible as-
pect of gang sociality: disability is a distinct, though
often frequently invisible, reality.
Unlike many researchers, gang members them-
selves acknowledge the fact of disability, and even
place paralyzed members on a pedestal in gang lore.
Disabled ex-gang members like Justin, however,
counter the prominent belief that by sacrifi cing your-
self for  the gang you’ll become a martyr or time-
honored veteran. It is critical that their method of ex-
posing this myth is by fi xing themselves as inhabitants
of imprisoned bodies—as a disabled gang member,
Tony, reminded us in yet another Eastwood forum:
“They say when you gang bang. . . when you drug
deal, the outcomes are either death or jail. You never
hear about the wheelchair. I ain’t know this was an
option. And if you think about it, it’s a little bit of both
worlds cause half of my body’s dead. Literally. From
the waist down, I can’t feel it. I can’t move it. I can’t do
nothing with it. The rest of it’s confi ned to this wheel-
chair. This is my prison for the choices I’ve made.”
This “imprisoned” body, I would add to Tony’s
statement, should not be dismissed as an outmoded
and narrow-minded conception of disability.
Rather, Tony is calling attention to his immobility
to make the argument that the violence to which his
body bears witness can and should be prevented.
1. Was it a surprise to you to learn that disability
resulting from a gunshot wound is so common
in urban areas? Why do you think this is not a
well-known fact?
2. Why might the disabled activists in Chicago
prefer the medical model of disability, rather
than the social model?
3. How effective do you think these anti-gang
forums are?
young affi liates of how Justin sacrifi ced his body so
that he could fl ee in a gun battle. It is for this reason
that Justin should be respected, the gang leader
said. Watching them now, I hope they understand:
not only did Justin sacrifi ce himself. But after doing
so, he forgave the debt that was owed to him and
transformed it into a communal project to stop the
killings. This sacrifi ce, Justin hopes, will help
youngsters like Marcus break free from the obliga-
tions that gang life is built upon.
While traveling to local high schools and talking to
“at risk” youth, disabled ex-gang members are will-
ing to insist on the defectiveness of their bodies in
order to highlight the burden that violence creates
in communities like Eastwood. Their methods con-
trast sharply with the aims of the disability rights
movement, in which constructing physical differ-
ence as an inferior identity is routinely and un-
equivocally criticized. This incongruity suggests
that paralyzed ex-gang members and the larger
world of disabled activists are not fully visible to
each other. The disconnection also points to the fact
that the disability rights movement and the fi eld of
disability studies have generally been silent about
the ways in which race and socioeconomic status
intersect. The success of the disability rights move-
ment has created the impression that the medical
model of disability breeds pity. My examination,
however, reveals another more complex possibility.
The sympathy, disgust, fear, and perhaps even the
relief at being able-bodied, are all indicative of dis-
abled, ex-gang members’ approach to anti-violence.
They essentially disempower themselves in order
to empower others. Their efforts show that a medi-
cal model of disability does not always muffl e the
voices of the injured, but can demonstrate the scale
of the social problems that African Americans
growing up in violent neighbourhoods face.
Justin and Kemo, the organizers of the forum,
attempt to address gang violence by establishing
meaningful bonds between members, a bond that
mirrors the sense of debt and obligation intrinsic to
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10. See Jain, Sarah S. 1999. “The Prosthetic Imagination:
Enabling and Disabling the Prosthesis Trope.” Science,
Technology & Human Values 24, no. 1 (Winter 1999):
31-54. Here, I borrow from Jain (1999) who similarly
views disabled bodies or bodies “dubbed as not fully
whole” through these “richly intertwined (and ulti-
mately inseparable) axes of identity.” Only instead of
socioeconomic status, Jain’s focus on prostheses draws
her to “another category that considers identity as cor-
relate to technology” (32).
11. See Crenshaw, Kimberlé, ed. 1995. Critical Race The-
ory. New York: New Press.
See also Lorde, Audre. 1984. Sister Outsider: Essays
and Speeches. Crossing Press Feminist Series. Truman-
sburg, NY: Crossing Press.
12. For the gang as mobsters see: Adler, Jeffrey S. 2006.
First in Violence, Deepest in Dirt: Homicide in Chi-
cago, 1875–1920. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard Univer-
sity Press. Asbury, Herbert. [1940] 2002. The Gangs of
Chicago: An Informal History of the Chicago Under-
world. New York: Thunder Mouth Press. For the gang
as petty criminals and juvenile delinquents see:
Thrasher, Frederic Milton. 1926 [1963]. The Gang: A
Study of 1,313 Gangs in Chicago. Abridged ed. Chi-
cago: University of Chicago Press. For the gang as sub-
stitute family units see: Decker, Scott H. and Barrik van
Winkle. 1996. Life in the Gang: Family, Friends, and
Violence. 1st ed.Cambridge University Press. For the
gang as religious groups see: Brotherton, David. 2004.
The Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation Street Poli-
tics and the Transformation of a New York City Gang.
New York: Columbia University Press. For the gang as
entrepreneurial drug-dealing cartels see: Venkatesh,
Sudhir Alladi. 2006. Off the Books: The Underground
Economy of the Urban Poor. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard
University Press.
13. Thrasher 1926, Klein 1995, Hayden 2004, Venkatesh
14. Venkatesh 2006.
15. Kleinman, Arthur and Joan Kleinman, “How Bodies
Remember: Social Memory and Bodily Experience of
Criticism, Resistance, and Delegitimation Following
China’s Cultural Revolution,” New Literary History 25
(1994): 710–711.
16. Frank, Arthur W. 1995. The Wounded Storyteller: Body,
Illness, and Ethics. 1st ed. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 50.
17. Frank 1995: 1.
18. Decker and Winkle 1996. For the geography of gang
territories, see: Jankowski, Martin Sanchez. 1991. Is-
lands in the Street: Gangs and American Urban Society.
Berkeley: University of California Press. For violence as
related to gang rivalries, see: Levitt and Venkatesh 2000.
“An Economic Analysis of a Drug-Selling Gang’s
1. In accordance with the Internal Review Board protocol
for the University of Chicago (my institutional affi lia-
tion on when this research was conducted) I have
changed the names of people (i.e. “Justin and Kemo”),
gangs (i.e. “The Divine Knights”), institutions (i.e.
“Eastwood Hospital”) and specifi c neighborhoods (i.e.
“Eastwood”) throughout this study.
2. The Divine Knight gang is split into segments, referred to
by gang members as “sets.” There are currently eight
gang sets of the Divine Knight gang dispersed throughout
Chicago. These sub-groups are overwhelmingly male
and African American. Of this membership, crews of 4 to
6 members serve as “foot soldiers,” responsible for street
level dealing in open-air markets. Approximately 8–10
members fulfi ll other drug-related duties (i.e., runners,
muscle, treasurers) (c.f. Levitt and Venkatesh 2000). The
rest of the affi liates may or may not have an explicit con-
nection to the gang’s drug distribution network. For
them, the gang is primarily a social group.
Levitt, Steven D., and Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh. 2000.
“An Economic Analysis of a Drug-Selling Gang’s
.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 115 (3):
3. These statistics are from the Annual Crime Statistics
released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in
May 2010.
4. See Muhammad, Khalil Gibran. 2010. The Condemna-
tion of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Mod-
ern Urban America. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard
University Press. See also Parenti, Christian. 1999.
Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of
Crisis. London: Verso.
5. For an early critique of biologically based theories of
innate dysfunction, see: Boas, Franz. 1910. Changes in
Bodily Form of Descendants of Immigrants. Washing-
ton, D.C.: United States Immigration Commission. For
a prominent example of a “culture of poverty” thesis,
see: Moynihan, Daniel Patrick. 1965. The Negro
Family: The Case for National Action. Washington,
D.C.: Offi ce of Policy Planning and Research, U.S.
Department of Labor.
6. Linton, Simi. 1998. Claiming Disability: Knowledge
and Identity. New York: New York University Press.
7. Berger, Ronald and Melvin Juette. 2008. Wheelchair
Warrior: Gangs, Disability, and Basketball. Philadel-
phia: Temple University Press.
See also Siebers, Tobin Anthony 2008. Disability
Theory. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
8. Berger and Juette 2008: 10.
9. For a similar critique see Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie.
2009. Staring: How We Look. New York: Oxford Uni-
versity Press.
READING 19: What Wounds Enable: The Politics of Disability and Violence in Chicago 175
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176 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
small group of visual people (Bahan, 2004; Padden
& Humphries, 1988) who use a natural visual-
gestural language and who are often confused with
the larger group who view themselves as hearing
impaired and use a spoken language in its spoken or
written form. To acknowledge this contrast, often
signaled in the scholarly literature by capital-D
Deaf versus small-d deaf , is not to deny that there is
a gray area between the two; for example, some
hard-of-hearing people are active in the American
Deaf-World; others are not. Oral deaf adults and
late-deafened adults usually consider that they have
a hearing impairment and do not self-identify as
members of the Deaf-World.
This article is concerned exclusively with the
smaller group, the Deaf-World. It aims to show that
the Deaf-World qualifi es as an ethnic group, and that
an unsuitable construction of the Deaf-World as a
disability group has led to programs of the majority
that aim to discourage Deaf children from participat-
ing in the Deaf-World (programs such as oral educa-
tion and cochlear implant surgery) and that aim to
reduce the number of Deaf births, programs that are
unethical from an ethnic group perspective. In other
words, this article makes the case that our ethical
standards for the majority’s treatment of Deaf people
depend, not surprisingly, on whether our representa-
tion of the Deaf-World is that of a disability group on
the one hand or an ethnic group on the other.
Internal Properties
Table 1 shows the criteria that have been advanced
by social scientists for characterizing a social group
as an ethnic group.
Collective Name
The members of this group have a collective name
in their manual-visual language by which they refer
to themselves. We refer to them by that name in
adopting the English gloss of their compound sign:
the Deaf-World .
Finances.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 115, no. 3:
19. Though not a central concern of this paper, I use
Marcus’ description of his neighborhood, and the rec-
ollections of his mother’s warnings, to gesture towards
the fact that it is one’s family members-oftentimes,
those who condemn gang lite the most-who become
the primary caretakers for black urban youth who are
disabled (Devlieger et al. 2007). Devlieger, Patrick J.,
Gary L. Albrecht, and Miram Hertz. 2007. The pro-
duction of disabilty culture among young African-
American men. Social Science & Medicine 64, no. 9
(May): 1948–1959.
R E A D I N G 2 0
Ethnicity, Ethics, and the
Harlan Lane
It has become widely known that there is a Deaf-
World in the United States, as in other nations, citi-
zens whose primary language is American Sign
Language (ASL) and who identify as members of
that minority culture. The size of the population is
not known, but estimates generally range from half
a million to a million members (Schein, 1989). The
English terms deaf and hearing impaired are com-
monly used to designate a much larger and more
heterogeneous group than the members of the Deaf-
World. Most of the 20 million Americans (Binnie,
1994) who are in this larger group had conventional
schooling and became deaf after acculturation to
hearing society; they communicate primarily in
English or one of the spoken minority languages;
they generally do not have Deaf spouses; they do
not identify themselves as members of the Deaf-
World or use its language, participate in its organi-
zations, profess its values, or behave in accord with
its mores; rather, they consider themselves hearing
people with a disability. Something similar is true
of most nations: There is a Deaf-World, a relatively
Harlan Lane is a professor of psychology at Northeastern
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READING 20: Ethnicity, Ethics, and the Deaf-World 177
marriage, in gaining status by enhancing the group
and acknowledging its contributions, in the giving
of culturally related names, in consensual decision
making, in defi ning oneself in relation to the cul-
ture, in distributed indebtedness, in the priority
given to evidence that arises from experience as a
member of the culture, in treasuring the language
of the Deaf-World, and in promoting among
Deaf  people dissemination of culturally salient
information (cf., Lane, 2004a; Mindess, 1999;
T. Smith, 1997).
Deaf people have culture-specifi c knowledge, such
as who their leaders are (and their characteristics);
the concerns of rank-and-fi le members of the Deaf-
World; important events in Deaf history; how to
manage trying situations with hearing people.
Knowing when and with whom to use ASL and
when to use English- marked varieties of sign lan-
guage is an important part of being recognized as
Deaf (Johnson & Erting, 1989).
The Deaf-World has its own ways of doing intro-
ductions and departures, of taking turns in a con-
versation, of speaking frankly and of speaking
politely; it has its own taboos.
Social Structure
There are numerous organizations in the American
Deaf-World: athletic, social, political, literary, reli-
gious, fraternal, and many more (Lane, Hoffmeister,
& Bahan, 1996). As with many ethnic minorities,
there are charismatic leaders who are felt to em-
body the unique characteristics of the whole ethnic
group (A. D. Smith, 1986).
“The mother tongue is an aspect of the soul of a
people. It is their achievement par excellence. Lan-
guage is the surest way for individuals to safeguard
or recover the authenticity they inherited from their
Feeling of Community
Self-recognition, and recognition by others, is a
central feature of ethnicity (Barth, 1969; A. D. Smith,
1986). Americans in the Deaf-World do indeed
feel a strong identifi cation with that world and
show great loyalty to it. This is not surprising: The
Deaf-World offers many Deaf Americans what
they could not fi nd at home: easy communication,
a positive identity a surrogate family. The Deaf-
World has the highest rate of endogamous mar-
riages of any ethnic group—an estimated 90%
(Schein, 1989).
Norms for Behavior
In Deaf culture, there are norms for relating to the
Deaf-World: for decision making, consensus is the
rule, not individual initiative; for managing infor-
mation; for constructing discourse; for gaining
status; for managing indebtedness; and many more
such rules. Cultural rules are not honored all the
time by everyone any more than are linguistic
rules. Such rules tell what you must know as a
member of a particular linguistic and cultural
group; what one actually does or says depends on
a host of intervening factors, including other rules
that have priority.
Distinct Values
The underlying values of an ethnic group can often
be inferred from cultural norms. A value that
appears to be fundamental in the Deaf-World is al-
legiance to the culture, which is expressed in priz-
ing one’s relation to the Deaf-World, in endogamous
TA B L E 1
Collective name Customs
Feeling of community Social structure
Norms for behavior Language
Values Art forms
Knowledge History
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178 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
limited in their ability to communicate with one
another. In this, they are like Diaspora groups, such
as the Jews. And, like the Diaspora ethnic minori-
ties worldwide, prejudice and discrimination in
the  host society encourage them to cultivate their
ethnicity to maintain their dignity despite social
Some scholars maintain that the core of ethnic-
ity lies in the cultural properties we have examined,
so kinship is not necessary for the Deaf-World or
any other group to qualify as an ethnic group
(Barth, 1969; Petersen, 1980; Schneider, 1972;
Sollors, 2001). Others say kinship should be taken
in its social meaning as “those to whom we owe
primary solidarity” (Schneider, 1969). “ Ethnie em-
body the sense of being a large unique family; the
members feel knit to one another and so committed
to the cultural heritage, which is the family’s in-
heritance” (A. D. Smith, 1986, p. 49). What is in-
volved is a sense of tribal belonging, not necessarily
genetic and blood ties. Certainly, there is a strong
sense of solidarity in the Deaf-World; the metaphor
of family goes far in characterizing many Deaf-
World norms and practices.
What kinship is really about, other scholars
contend, is a link to the past; it is about “intergen-
erational continuity” (Fishman, 1989). The Deaf-
World does pass its norms, knowledge, language,
and values from one generation to the next: fi rst
through socialization of the child by Deaf adults
(parent or other) and second through peer social-
ization. Here, however, there is a signifi cant differ-
ence from other ethnic groups: For many Deaf
children, socialization into Deaf culture starts late,
usually when the Deaf child meets other Deaf chil-
dren in school (Johnson & Erting, 1989). Mem-
bers of the Deaf-World have a great handicap and
a great advantage when it comes to intergenera-
tional continuity. The handicap is that their hear-
ing parents usually have a different ethnocultural
identity that, lacking a shared language, they can-
not pass on to their children. Moreover, they com-
monly do not advocate in the schools, community,
courts, and so on for their Deaf child’s primary
language. Minority languages without parental
ancestors as well as to hand it on to generations yet
unborn” (Fishman, 1989, p. 276). Competence in
ASL is a hallmark of Deaf ethnicity in the United
States and some other parts of North America.
A  language not based on sound is the primary
element that sharply demarcates the Deaf-World
from the engulfi ng hearing society.
The Arts
First, the language arts: ASL narratives, storytell-
ing, oratory, humor, tall tales, word play, panto-
mime, and poetry. Theatre arts and the visual arts
also address Deaf culture and experience.
Ethnic groups construct rootedness, with forms of
expression that include history, territory and gene-
alogy. The Deaf-World has a rich history recounted
in stories, books, fi lms, and the like. Members of
the Deaf-World have a particular interest in their
history for “[T]he past is a resource in the collective
quest for meaning [and ethnic identity]” (Nagel,
1994, p. 163). A sense of common history unites
successive generations (Fishman, 1982, 1989;
A. D. Smith, 1986).
Many ethnic groups have a belief in the land of their
ancestors. However, “territory is relevant not because
it is actually possessed but because of an alleged and
felt connection. The land of dreams is far more sig-
nifi cant than any actual terrain” (A. D. Smith, 1986,
p. 34). Land that the Deaf-World in the United States
has traditionally felt an attachment to includes the
residential schools; Deaf travel is often planned
around visits to some of those schools. There is a
Deaf utopian vision of “a land of our own” ex-
pressed in folk tales, novels, journalism, theater,
and political discussions (Bullard, 1986; Lane,
1984; Levesque, 1994; Van Cleve & Crouch, 1989;
Winzer, 1986). Deaf-Worlds are to be found around
the globe, and when Deaf members from two dif-
ferent cultures meet, they feel a strong bond al-
though they share no common territory and are
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READING 20: Ethnicity, Ethics, and the Deaf-World 179
Many scholars in the fi eld of ethnicity believe
that these “internal” properties of the ethnic group
just reviewed must also be accompanied by an “ex-
ternal” property a boundary separating the minority
from other ethnicities, in particular, the majority
ethnicity (Barth, 1969). Does the Deaf-World in the
United States occupy its own ecological niche?
Does it look to itself for the satisfaction of certain
needs, while looking to the larger society for the
satisfaction of other needs—and conversely?
Ethnic Boundaries
Table 2 shows, at the left, activities that are pri-
marily conducted by Deaf people for Deaf people
in the Deaf-World in the United States; at the
right, activities in the hearing world that impact
Deaf people; and in the middle, areas of overlap.
The more Deaf people celebrate their language
and culture, the more they affi rm their distinct
identity, the more they reinforce the boundary de-
lineating them from the hearing world. Language
comes fi rst for it always plays a powerful role in
maintaining ethnic boundaries, but especially so
in the case of Deaf people because bearing people
are rarely fl uent in visual language and members
of the Deaf-World are rarely fl uent in spoken lan-
guage. Next, Deaf-World social activities are
and community support are normally endangered.
The great advantage of the Deaf-World lies in the
fact that there will always be intergenerational
continuity for sign language because there will al-
ways be visual people who take possession of that
language in preference to any other and with it the
wisdom and values of generations of Deaf people
before them. (Although one can imagine an inter-
vention in the future that would provide high-
fi delity hearing to Deaf children and thus threaten
intergenerational continuity, it seems likely that
most countries will not be able to afford it, and
that most Deaf parents will continue to refuse such
interventions with their Deaf children.)
When we think of kinship, yet other scholars
maintain, what is at stake is common ancestors,
what Joshua Fishman (1977) termed paternity—
real or putative biological connections across gen-
erations. Johnson and Erting (1989) suggested that
what is primary in this biological criterion for kin-
ship is not genealogy but biological resemblance
across generations. In that case, members of the
Deaf-World are kin because Deaf people resemble
one another biologically in their reliance on vision
for language and for much else (Johnson & Erting,
1989). To some extent, like the members of many
other ethnic groups, Deaf people come by their bio-
logical resemblance through heredity more often
than not. The estimate commonly cited is 50% of
all people born deaf with little or no usable hearing
are so for hereditary reasons (Reardon et al., 1992).
However, another 20% are Deaf for reasons un-
known; many of those may be hereditarily Deaf
people not aware of the role of their ancestry
(S. Smith, 1995).
To summarize in the words of social scientist
Arthur Smith
By involving a collective name, by the use of sym-
bolic images of community, by the generation of ste-
reotypes of the community and its foes, by the ritual
performance and rehearsal of ceremonies, by the
communal recitation of past deeds and ancient hero’s
exploits, men and women partake of a collectivity and
its historic fate which transcend their individual exis-
tences. (A. D. Smith, 1986, p. 46)
TA B L E 2
Deaf-World Overlap Hearing world
Sign language
Social activities
Sign language
Arts and leisure
Interpreter services
Religious services
Consumer goods
and services
Deaf history
Deaf education
Deaf service
Spoken language
Law enforcement
(not Deaf related)
Military services
Garbage collection
Medical care
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180 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
people to help them (alcoholism counselors, psy-
chologists, psychiatrists, and others) and special
facilities to care for them, such as detox centers.
However, this understanding of alcoholism dates
from the latter half of the 20th century. In the fi rst
half, the temperance movement branded excessive
drinking as voluntary, and the movement promoted
not treatment but prohibition. With the shift in the
construction of alcoholism from illegal (and im-
moral) behavior to illness, the need was for medical
research and treatment, halfway houses, hospital
wards, outpatient clinics, and specialized hospitals
(Gusfi eld, 1982).
Homosexuality went from moral fl aw, to crime,
to treatable disability, to a minority group seeking
civil rights (Conrad & Schneider, 1980). Shortness
came to be seen as a disability of childhood, not a
normal variation, when growth enzyme was discov-
ered, not before (Downie et al., 1996; Werth, 1991).
Mild mental retardation came to be seen as a dis-
ability, not merely normal human variation in intel-
lect, with the arrival of the IQ test (Gelb, 1987). In
societies in which sign language use is mostly re-
stricted to Deaf people, hearing people commonly
see being Deaf as a serious problem requiring pro-
fessional intervention; but in societies in which
sign language use is widespread because of a sub-
stantial Deaf population—on Martha’s Vineyard
and Bali, for example—being Deaf is simply seen
as a trait, not a disability (Lane, Pillard, & French,
The case of the forest dwellers of Central Africa
is instructive. Their short stature, some 4.5 feet on
average, allows them modest caloric requirements,
easy and rapid passage through dense jungle cover
in search of game, and construction of small huts
rapidly disassembled and reassembled for self-
defense and hunting. The Bantu villagers, formerly
herdsmen, now farmers, have contempt for the pyg-
mies because of their puny size, and they in turn
have contempt for the villagers who are “clumsy as
elephants” in the forest, much too tall to move
swiftly and silently; they “do not know how to
walk” (Turnbull, 1962, p. 79). Each group considers
organized and conducted by Deaf people with
little or no hearing involvement. On the other
hand, law enforcement is a hearing world activity.
Religious services overlap the Deaf and hearing
worlds; there are missions to the Deaf, Deaf pas-
tors, and signed services, but the operation of the
house of worship is generally in hearing hands.
All in all, the Deaf-World keeps to itself for many
of its activities; it collaborates in a few with the
hearing world; and it leaves the really broad re-
sponsibilities such as law enforcement to the
larger society; in this, it is like other ethnic groups,
such as Hispanic Americans.
This brief survey is intended to show that the
Deaf-World in the United States today meets the
criteria put forth for ethnic groups (also see Erting,
1978, 1982; Johnson & Erting, 1979, 1982, 1984,
1989; Markowicz & Woodward, 1978; Padden &
Markowicz, 1976). Classifying the Deaf-World as
an ethnic group should encourage those who are
concerned with Deaf people to do appropriate
things: learn their language, defend their heritage
against more powerful groups, study their ethnic
history; and so on. In this light, the Deaf-World
should enjoy the rights and protections accorded
other ethnic groups under international law and
treaties, such as the United Nations Declaration
of the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or
Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (United
Nations, 2003a).
Is it also appropriate to label the Deaf-World a dis-
ability group? We do not ask whether Deaf people
in fact have a disability because it is not a matter of
fact: Disability, like ethnicity, is a social construct,
not a fact of life, although it is a property of such
constructs that they appear misleadingly to be a fact
of life. For example, the social problem of alcohol-
ism evidently consists of this: Many Americans suf-
fer from alcoholism; there are specially trained
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READING 20: Ethnicity, Ethics, and the Deaf-World 181
job when the job requires good English; they miss
out on important information because it has not
been provided in their language.
Still, say the Deaf-are-disabled advocates, why
not acknowledge the many things that physically
different people share by using a common label
(Baynton, 2002). After all, some disability activists
make a claim for disability culture, just as there is a
Deaf culture; many oppose mainstreaming, as do
many Deaf activists. Both groups pay the price of
social stigma, and stigmatized groups—among
them disabled people, blacks, women, gays, and the
Deaf—are often claimed to be biologically inferior.
Moreover, both the Deaf-World and disability
groups struggle with the troubled-persons indus-
tries for control of their destiny (Gusfi eld, 1984).
Both endeavor to promote their construction of
their identity in competition with the efforts of
professionals to promote their constructions
(Finkelstein, 1981). Finally, because there are great
differences among disability groups, accommodat-
ing one more with its unique issues need not be a
At one level, oppressed minorities do indeed
share important traits and a common struggle for
the defense and valuing of their diversity. At that
level, disabled people, blacks, women, gays, the
Deaf, and other language minorities can inform and
reinforce one another’s efforts. They can promote
an understanding of the value of diversity, learn
successful strategies from one another, and use
their combined numbers to urge government in the
right directions. At another level, however, many
practical truths apply only to individual minorities,
with their own makeup, demographics, histories,
and cultures. To minimize that diversity with the
same global representation would undermine the
most cherished goal of each group: to be respected
and valued for its difference. After all, beyond
being stigmatized because of their physical differ-
ence, what, practically speaking, do the Deaf have
in common with gays, women, blacks, Little
People, and people with mobility impairment, for
example? Deaf people have been subject to the
the other handicapped by their physical size. Each
fails to appreciate how physical makeup, culture,
and environment are intertwined.
Despite all this evidence that disability is con-
structed in a given society at a given time, many
writers addressing ethics and Deaf people, appar-
ently unaware of disability studies and medical an-
thropology, simply adopt the naïve materialist view
when it comes to disability: “Almost by defi nition
deaf persons . . . have a disability” (Gonsoulin,
2001, p. 554). “I maintain that the inability to hear
is a defi cit, a disability, a lack of perfect health”
(D. S. Davis, 1997, p. 254). And, their ethical con-
clusions turn on this postulate. We understand,
however, that disability is a label that can be applied
with more or with less aptness to a particular group.
That application is not a matter of chance, even less
is it foreordained; it is powerfully infl uenced by the
“technologies of normalization” (Foucault, 1980,
p.  21) that exist to mitigate what is seen as a dis-
ability for they have a great stake in retaining that
conception of the group. In the next section, argu-
ments that have been made for including members
of the Deaf-World among disability groups are
examined critically.
Oppression from Deaf Bodies
Advocates of classifying Deaf people with disabil-
ity groups claim that Deaf people have this in com-
mon with people who avowedly have disabilities:
They are discriminated against because general
social customs do not accommodate their bodies.
Deaf people are indeed discriminated against in
school, on the job, and in gaining access, but it is
much more their language that is the target of dis-
crimination than their bodies: “The major impact of
deafness is on communication” (Baynton, 2000,
p.  391). Thus, the Deaf are more like oppressed
language minorities than oppressed disability
groups. Like many Hispanic Americans, for exam-
ple, many Deaf people have diffi culty learning in
school because the teacher cannot communicate
with them fl uently; they have diffi culty getting a
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182 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
that society and government or surrender some of
those rights in the hope of gradually undermining
that misconstruction. This dilemma is reminiscent
of similarly oppressive choices offered to other
minority groups: for gays to embrace the disability
label and be spared classifi cation as a criminal and
entry into the army; for women to conform to the
masculine idea of the feminine ideal and gain men’s
support and approval.
In principle, it should be possible for members
of the Deaf-World in the United States to base their
demand for language access on existing legislation
and court rulings protecting language minorities.
For example, in the fi eld of education, the U.S.
Congress has passed two types of statutes to rem-
edy the disadvantage experienced by language-mi-
nority students who cannot communicate freely in
the classroom by using their primary language: the
Bilingual Education Act (P.L. 89–10, Title VII,
1965), which provides funding for a variety of pro-
grams promoting the use of minority languages in
the schools, and civil rights statutes (P.L. 88–352,
Title VI, 1964; P.L. 93–380, 1974), which impose
an affi rmative duty on the schools to give children
who speak a minority language an equal educa-
tional opportunity by lowering the English lan-
guage barriers. The provision of language rights in
Deaf education should bring with it appropriate
school curricula and materials, teachers who are
ethnic models, interpreters, real television access
through sign language, and video-telephone com-
munication. But, in practice that would require that
the public come to understand the Deaf-World as
the Deaf-World understands itself. Until this hap-
pens, the Deaf-World can expect scant support from
other ethnic groups.
Among the obstacles to a change from the dis-
ability to the ethnic construction of Deaf people are
the numerous professional organizations predicated
on the disability construction and who wish to own
the problem of Deaf children. “To ‘own’ a social
problem is to possess the authority to name that so-
cial condition a problem and to suggest what might
be done about it” (Gusfi eld, 1989, p. 433). Consider
just two of the many organizations that have Deaf
globalizing disability label, and it has widely led to
the wrong questions and the wrong answers, which
are considered later in this article under reasons to
reject it. This is the pragmatic answer to disability
scholar Lennard Davis’s proposal that Deaf people
abandon the category of ethnicity in favor of a co-
alition with gays, hearing children with Deaf par-
ents, and people with disabilities (L. Davis, 2002):
Their agendas are utterly different.
The Shared Struggle for Rights
Another argument advanced for Deaf people to
embrace the disability label is that it might assist
them in gaining more of their rights (Baynton,
2002). For example, interpreters are not normally
provided in the classroom for members of ethnic
groups; Deaf people have them in many places
under a disability umbrella. However, much that is
important to Deaf people has come through an un-
derstanding of the Deaf-World as an ethnic group.
Let us cite the burgeoning of ASL in high schools
and colleges in the United States and the increasing
acceptance of ASL classes in fulfi llment of the for-
eign language and culture requirement; the mush-
rooming of scholarship in the last 40 years
concerning Deaf ethnicity—history, arts, social
structure, culture, and language; the fl ourishing of
the interpreting profession; the development of the
discipline of Deaf studies; bilingual bicultural Deaf
education; the growing community of nations that
formally recognize their national sign language. All
these gains refl ect an understanding of the Deaf as
an ethnic group.
Although the disability label seems inappropri-
ate for the Deaf-World, its members have not
aggressively promoted governmental understand-
ing of its ethnicity and of the poor fi t of the disabil-
ity label. As a result, the majority’s accommodation
of the Deaf has come under a disability label, and
Deaf people must in effect subscribe to that label to
gain their rights in access to information, in educa-
tion, and in other areas. This is the Deaf dilemma:
retain some important rights as members of their
society at the expense of being mischaracterized by
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READING 20: Ethnicity, Ethics, and the Deaf-World 183
their families, and the wider society (Conrad &
Schneider, 1980).
When Gallaudet University’s president, I. King
Jordan, was asked on the television program Sixty
Minutes if he would like to be hearing, he replied:
“That’s almost like asking a black person if he
would rather be white . . . I don’t think of myself as
missing something or as incomplete. . . . It’s a com-
mon fallacy if you don’t know Deaf people or Deaf
issues. You think it’s a limitation” (Fine & Fine,
1990). Deaf scholars like I. King Jordan, Tom
Humphries, and MJ Bienvenu in the United States
and Paddy Ladd in England are not rejecting the
disability label because they want to avoid stigma
associated with disability (Ladd, 2003). That would
be to give them little credit. Rather, they are reject-
ing it because, as Tom Humphries has said so well,
“It doesn’t compute” (1993, pp. 6, 14). In ASL, the
sign with a semantic fi eld that most overlaps that of
the English “disability” can be glossed in English
LIMP-BLIND-ETC. I have asked numerous Deaf
informants to give me examples from that category:
They have responded by citing people in wheel-
chairs, blind people, mentally retarded people, and
people with cerebral palsy, among others, but no
informant has ever listed Deaf, and all reject it as an
example of a disability group when asked.
Further examples of how the disability label
does not compute come from Deaf preferences in
marriage and childbearing. Like the members of
many ethnic groups, culturally Deaf people prefer
to socialize with and to marry other members of
their cultural group; as noted, the Deaf have one of
the highest endogamous marriage rates of any eth-
nic group (Schein, 1989). When it comes to Deaf
preferences in childbearing, there are no hard
statistics, but in interviews with the press and
with  me, Deaf parents have expressed a wish for
children like themselves—much as all parents do
who do not see themselves as disabled. “I want my
daughter to be like me, to be Deaf,” one expectant
Deaf mother declared in an interview with the
Boston Globe . She explained that she came from a
large Deaf family, all of whom had hoped that her
baby would be born Deaf (Saltus, 1989; also see
children as clients. The American Academy of
Otolaryngology, with over 10,000 members, has
registered two paid lobbyists in Washington; the
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association,
with l15,925 members, has three (http://sopr.senate
.gov). Members of these organizations collaborate
with government offi cials in approving treatments,
in drawing up legislation, and in evaluating pro-
posed research and training activities. The Deaf-
World has none of these advantages in seeking to
promote an ethnic understanding of being Deaf.
It “Doesn’t Compute”
The overwhelming reason to reject the view of cul-
turally Deaf people as members of a disability
group concerns how Deaf people see themselves.
People who have grown up Deaf and have become
integrated into Deaf culture are naturally aware of
their biological difference, but they do not, as a
rule, see in that difference a reason to consider
them members of a disability group. This is a very
strong argument for rejecting the disability label
because there is no higher authority on how a group
should be regarded than the members of the group
themselves. Some writers, convinced that the Deaf
have a disability and baffl ed by their refusal to ac-
knowledge it, conclude that Deaf people are sim-
ply denying the truth of their disability to avoid
stigma (Baynton, 2002; Finkelstein, 1991; Gon-
soulin, 2001). But, many people have, like the
Deaf, physical differences that are not accommo-
dated (Zola, 1993)—relatively short and tall
people, for example—and they also deny they have
a disability. Surely, in doing so they are not simply
trying to avoid stigma. The gender preferences of
gay men and women were at one time viewed as an
expression of mental illness. In rejecting that dis-
ability categorization, the gay rights movement
was not simply trying to avoid a stigma; it was try-
ing instead to promote a new representation of gay
men and women that would be better for them,
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184 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
when their bodies differ from their parents in im-
portant ways that age alone does not explain. Par-
ents want children like themselves, and if they are
signifi cantly unlike, they will listen to the doctors
who say they can reduce or eliminate the differ-
ence, sometimes harming the child in the process.
It is very tempting to locate the source of the so-
cial stigma with the child rather than the society;
after all, the child is right there and much more
manageable than an entire society. Moreover,
the technologies of normalization are knocking at
the door. However, the medicalization of differ-
ence defl ects us from the real issue, which is the
stigmatizing of difference in our society. When
children who have undergone surgical normaliz-
ing become adults, many decry what was done to
them as children.
For example, it has been the practice in the
United States to operate on children with ambigu-
ous genitalia, most often carving a vagina in
male children because the surgical methods are not
available to create a suitable penis. Once grown to
adulthood, these and other intersexuals have been
campaigning to dissuade urologists from continu-
ing to perform this maiming surgery on children
(Dreger, 1998). Little People, when their parents
are not dwarfs, are frequently subjected as children
to bone-breaking surgery for limb lengthening. It is
painful, it is risky, and it is incapacitating. At best,
it places the child in a no-man’s land, neither short
as a dwarf nor average size, and most adult dwarfs
are utterly opposed to the surgery (Kennedy, 2003).
There are many more victims of the medical-
surgical imperative. One thinks of the horrors
visited on the mentally ill, like frontal lobotomy
(Valenstein, 1986), and those visited on homosexu-
als, such as deconditioning (Conrad & Schneider,
1980). Not all medical intervention in social issues
is bad, of course; sometimes, it serves us well, and
it derives great prestige from doing so. That is just
why it overreaches at times and why we have to be
wary of its abuse.
Cochlear Implant Surgery. Now to label
the Deaf child as having a disability places that
Mills, 2002). Other expectant Deaf parents report-
edly say it will be fi ne either way, Deaf or hearing.
These views contrast sharply with the tendency of
disability groups. A study of blind people, for ex-
ample, reported that they tend to shun the company
of other blind people, associate with each other
only when there are specifi c reasons for doing so,
seek sighted mates, and do not wish to transmit
their blindness to their children (Deshen, 1992).
Leaders of the disability rights movement call for
ambivalence: They want their physical difference
valued, as a part of who they are; at the same time,
they do not wish to see more children and adults
with disabilities in the world (Abberley, 1987;
Lane, 1995).
We should not be surprised that Deaf people
want Deaf spouses, welcome Deaf children, and
prefer to be together with other culturally Deaf
people—in clubs, in school, at work if possible, in
leisure activities, in political action, in sports, and
so on—in short, they see being Deaf as an inherent
good. Do not ethnic groups characteristically value
their physical difference, from the pygmies of the
Iturbi forest in Central Africa to the tall pale inhab-
itants of, say, Finland? Of course they do, so it is
perfectly expected that culturally Deaf people posi-
tively value the Deaf difference and that hearing
folks fi nd in their own cultures a preference for
hearing bodies, despite their poorer performance on
some visual processing tasks compared to the Deaf
(Lane, 2004a).
Thus, embracing the disability label in hopes it
might assist Deaf people in gaining more of their
rights is fundamentally fl awed because Deaf people
do not believe it. For Deaf people to surrender any-
way to how others defi ne them is to misrepresent
themselves, and that is the fi rst reason to reject the
disability label.
Greater Risk for the Deaf Child
There are many penalties for misrepresenting, for
allowing the disability label. An important penalty
concerns the risk to the Deaf child. It appears that
children are at greater medical and surgical risk
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READING 20: Ethnicity, Ethics, and the Deaf-World 185
surgical team commonly urge oral educational
programs on the parents and discourage sign lan-
guage use (Tye-Murray, 1992). If implanted chil-
dren are unable to learn spoken English and are
prevented from mastering ASL, they will remain
languageless for many years. Developmental mile-
stones for signed languages are similar to those for
spoken languages, and the later the acquisition
of  ASL, the poorer its mastery on the average
(Mayberry & Eichen, 1991; Newport, 1990;
Petitto, 1993). It is inexcusable to leave a child
without fl uent language for years on end. Medi-
cine is coming to realize that it is the overall qual-
ity of life of the person and not just the concerned
organ that must be considered (Reisenberg &
Glass, 1989).
Dubious Benefi ts. Advocates for childhood
implantation acknowledge that “implants do not
restore normal hearing,” and that, after the opera-
tion, “long-term habilitation continues to be essen-
tial” (Balkany et al., 2002, p. 356). According to
a recent report, 59% of implanted children are
judged by their parents to be behind their hearing
peers in reading, and 37% are behind in math
(Christiansen & Leigh, 2004). It seems unlikely
these children will be full-fl edged members of the
hearing world (Lane, 1999; Lane & Bahan, 1998).
We know that early acquisition of ASL facilitates
later mastery of English (Padden & Ramsey, 2000;
Strong & Prinz, 1997). This linguistic intervention
might deliver greater English mastery than implant
surgery; the comparison study has not been done.
On the contrary, every study that has compared the
performance of children with cochlear implants to
an unimplanted control group employed controls
that apparently had not mastered any language
(see,  for example, the literature review in Geers,
Nicholas, & Sedey, 2003). . . .
If medical and surgical procedures used with
children who are Deaf, or intersexuals, or dwarfs
required informed consent from adults like the
child, they would almost never take place. And,
when the parents are like the child, in fact they
rarely take place. . . .
child at risk for interventions like cochlear
implant surgery. Cochlear implant surgery lasts
about 3.5  hours under general anesthesia and
requires hospitalization from 2 to 4 days. A
broad, crescent-shaped incision is made behind
the operated ear, and the skin fl ap is elevated. A
piece of temporalis muscle is removed. A
depression is drilled in the skull and reamed to
make a seat for the internal electrical coil of the
cochlear implant. A section of the mastoid bone
is removed to expose the middle ear cavity. Fur-
ther drilling exposes the membrane of the round
window on the inner ear. Observing the proce-
dure under a microscope, the surgeon pierces
the membrane. A wire about 18mm long is
pushed through the opening. The wire seeks its
own path as it moves around and up the coiled
inner ear. The microstructure of the inner ear is
destroyed; if there was any residual hearing in
the ear, it is likely destroyed as well. The audi-
tory nerve itself is unlikely to be damaged, how-
ever, and the implant stimulates the auditory
nerve directly. The internal coil is then sutured
into place. Finally, the skin is sewn back over
the coil.
Clear Risks. The surgery and general anesthe-
sia entail medical and surgical risks. The incidence
of bacterial meningitis in implanted children is
30  times higher than in age-matched unimplanted
children (Daneshi et al., 2000; Reefhuis et al.,
2003). Other risks include anesthesia risk (Svirsky,
Teoh, & Neuburger, 2004); loss of vestibular func-
tion (Huygen et al., 1995); cerebrospinal fl uid leak
(Reefhuis et al., 2003); facial nerve stimulation
and injury (Kelsall et al., 1997); and damage to
the carotid artery (Gastman et al., 2002). The sur-
gery can have fatal consequences (Jalbert, 2003).
Nine of ten candidates for pediatric implant sur-
gery, those with no or little usable hearing, were
born Deaf (Allen, Rawlings & Remington, 1994;
Center for Assessment, 1992). Such children rarely
receive the main benefi t sought: fl uency in a spo-
ken language (Lane & Bahan, 1998). Compound-
ing the harm, special educators who work with the
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186 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
environment” (1883, p. 46). Residential schools,
where most Deaf children acquired language, iden-
tity, and a life partner, should be closed and Deaf
people educated in small day schools. Sign lan-
guage should be banished; Deaf teachers fi red.
Bell’s Memoir received wide newspaper coverage.
Bell’s actions led many to believe that there would
be, or already were, laws prohibiting Deaf mar-
riage. There was much consternation among Deaf
people contemplating marriage. Some hearing par-
ents of Deaf children chose to have their children
sterilized (Mitchell, 1971).
A 1912 report from Bell’s eugenics section of
the Breeders’ Association cites his census of
blind  and Deaf persons and lists “socially unfi t”
classes to “be eliminated from the human stock”
(American Genetic Association, 1912, p. 3). The
model eugenic law called for the sterilization of
feebleminded, insane, criminalistic (“including the
delinquent and the wayward”), epileptic, inebriate,
diseased, blind, Deaf, deformed, and dependent
people (“including orphans, ne’er-do-wells, the
homeless, tramps, and paupers”). By the time of
World War I, 16 states in the United States had ster-
ilization laws in force. By 1940, 30 states had such
laws (Haller, 1963). Physicians were actively in-
volved in this eugenics movement (May & Hughes,
1987). . . .
Deaf Eugenics Today
Audiometric testing, labeling, special needs school-
ing, genetic research and counseling, surgery, and
reproductive control all are means of currently or
potentially exercising power over the Deaf body. In
1992, researchers at Boston University announced
that they had identifi ed the so-called genetic error
responsible for a common type of inherited deaf-
ness. The director of the National Institute on
Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
[sic] called the fi nding a “major breakthrough that
will improve diagnosis and genetic counseling and
ultimately lead to substitution therapy or gene
transfer therapy” (“BU Team,” 1992, p. 6; “Deaf-
ness gene,” 1992, p. 141). The goal of such efforts
Survival Risk for the Deaf-World
A third argument against the disability label for the
Deaf-World concerns the risk to the Deaf-World as
a whole if that representation prevails. A majority of
people in the Deaf-World have inherited their eth-
nicity. Deaf inheritance and a failure to understand
the ethnic status of culturally Deaf people have his-
torically and at present placed the Deaf-World in
jeopardy of ethnocide and even genocide. Despite
surgical and medical experiments on large numbers
of Deaf children in the 19th century, medicine made
no inroads against the Deaf-World as a whole. How-
ever, developments in biology in the late 19th cen-
tury gave rise to the eugenics movement, which
sought to improve the race and eliminate the Deaf-
World, among other groups considered undesirable,
by selective breeding. From the point of view of the
variety of humankind favored by selective breeding,
the practice is eugenic; from the point of view of the
varieties disfavored, it is genocidal.
The most famous advocate of regulating Deaf
marriage to reduce Deaf childbirth was one of the
founders of oral education in America, Alexander
Graham Bell, who devoted his great wealth and
prestige to these eugenic measures (Lane, 1984).
When the American Breeders Association created a
section on eugenics “to emphasize the value of
superior blood and the menace to society of inferior
blood,” Bell agreed to serve. He engaged the issue of
eugenics and the Deaf population beginning in the
l880s. Sign language and residential schools were
creating a Deaf community, he warned, in which
Deaf people intermarried and reproduced, a situa-
tion fraught with danger to the rest of society. He
sounded the alarm in his Memoir Upon the Forma-
tion of a Deaf Variety of the Human Race , presented
to the National Academy of Sciences in 1883. Be-
cause there are familial patterns of deafness, Bell
wrote, “It is to be feared that the intermarriage of
such persons would be attended by calamitous
results to their off-spring” (Bell, 1883, p. 11).
Bell argued, with breathtaking hubris, that to
avoid this calamity, we must “commence our efforts
on behalf of the deaf-mute by changing his social
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READING 20: Ethnicity, Ethics, and the Deaf-World 187
and Linguistic Minorities (United Nations, 2003a),
are founded on a belief in the value of protecting
minority cultures. The declaration calls on states to
foster their linguistic minorities and ensure that
children and adults have adequate opportunities to
learn the minority language. It further affi rms the
right of such minorities to enjoy their culture and
language and participate in decisions on the
national level that affect them. Programs that sub-
stantially diminish minority cultures are engaged
in  ethnocide and may constitute crimes against
humanity. . . .
Wrong Solutions
Because they are an ethnic group whose language
and mores were long disparaged, Deaf people com-
monly feel solidarity with other oppressed groups,
the more so as the Deaf-World includes such groups
as people with disabilities, seniors, women, blacks,
and so on. Deaf people have special reasons for
solidarity with hard-of-hearing and late-deafened
people; their combined numbers have created ser-
vices, commissions, and laws that the Deaf-World
alone probably could not have achieved. Solidarity,
yes, but when culturally Deaf people allow their
ethnic identity to be subsumed under the construct
of disability, they set themselves up for wrong solu-
tions and bitter disappointments. After all, mem-
bers of the Deaf-World differ from disabled people
in their language and cultural experience, in their
body of knowledge, in their system of rules and
values, and in their models for selfhood.
If the Deaf-World were to embrace a disability
identity, it would urge on Americans an understand-
ing from which grow solutions that Deaf people
oppose. Priorities of the disabilities rights move-
ment include better medical care, rehabilitation ser-
vices, and personal assistance services (Shapiro,
1993). Deaf people do not attach particular impor-
tance to any of these services and instead campaign
for acceptance of their language and better and
more interpreters. Whereas the disability rights
movement seeks independence for people with dis-
abilities, Deaf people cherish interdependence with
as gene transfer therapy is, of course, to reduce
Deaf births, ultimately altogether. Thus, a new form
of medical eugenics applied to Deaf people is envi-
sioned, in this case by an agency of the U.S. gov-
ernment The primary characteristics of Deaf people
with this particular genetic background to be elimi-
nated are numerous Deaf relatives, sign language
fl uency, facial features such as widely spaced eye-
brows, and coloring features such as white forelock
and freckling (Fraser, 1976).
Imagine the uproar if medical scientists trum-
peted a similar breakthrough for any other ethnic
minority, promising a reduction in that ethnic
group’s children—promising fewer Navajos, fewer
Jews, whatever the ethnic group. The Australian
government indeed undertook a decades-long eu-
genic program to eliminate its aboriginal peoples
by placing their children in white boarding houses
in the city, where it was hoped they would marry
white and have white children. In 1997, a govern-
ment commission of inquiry classifi ed these and
other measures as genocide (National Inquiry,
1997). Under international law, an activity that has
the foreseeable effect of diminishing or eradicating
a minority group, even if it is undertaken for other
reasons and is not highly effective, is guilty of
genocide (National Inquiry, 1997; United Nations,
2003b). Why do governments fail to apply this
moral principle and law to the Deaf? Americans fail
to see the danger of pursuing a genocidal program
in this instance because most Americans see Deaf
people as having a disability arising from an im-
pairment. And, the goal of eradicating a disability,
although it may be in some circumstances unwise
and unethical, is not seen as genocide.
If culturally Deaf people were understood to be
an ethnic group, they would have the protections
offered to such groups. It is widely held as an
ethical principle that the preservation of minority
cultures is a good. The variety of humankind and
cultures enriches all cultures and contributes to the
biological, social, and psychological well-being of
humankind. Laws and covenants, such as the
United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Per-
sons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious
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188 SECTION I: Constructing Categories of Difference
of a people. Native Americans were once seen as
savages; black Americans as property; women as
utterly dependent. The case for Deaf ethnicity built
by the social sciences is powerful. Increasingly, lin-
guists take account of ASL, sociologists of the so-
cial structure of the Deaf-World, historians of its
history, educators of its culture, and so on. It re-
mains to reform those other professions that have an
outdated understanding or a representation that suits
their agenda but not that of Deaf people. The chal-
lenge to the professions that seek to be of service to
Deaf children and adults is to replace the normativ-
ness of medicine with the curiosity of ethnography.
1. Is the ethnic group model of Deaf-World pref-
erable to the disability model as Lane con-
tends? What grounds should be used in making
that calculation?
2. Why hasn’t the ethnic group approach that
Lane recommends so far taken hold in pubic
policy or popular opinion?
Abberley, P. (1987). The concept of oppression and the de-
velopment of a social theory of disability. Disability,
Handicap and Society, 2 , 5–19.
Allen, T. E., Rawlings, B. W., & Remington, F. (1994).
Demographic and audiologic profi les of deaf children in
Texas with cochlear implants. American Annals of the
Deaf, 138, 260–266.
American Genetic Association, Eugenics Section. (1912).
American sterilization laws. Preliminary report of the
Committee of the Eugenics Section of the American Breed-
ers Association to study and to report on she best practical
means for cutting off the defective germ plasm in the human
population. London: Eugenics Educational Society.
Bahan, B. (2004, April). The visual people. Paper presented
at the conference Deaf Studies Today, Utah Valley State
College, Orem.
Balkany, T. J., Hodges, A. V., Eshraghi, A. A., Butts, S.,
Bricker, K., Lingvai, J., et al. (2002). Cochlear implants in
children—a review. Acta Otolaryngologica (Stockholm),
122, 356–362.
Balkany, T., Hodges, A., & Goodman, K. (1999). Authors’
reply [to Lane and Bahan]. Otolaryngology—Head and
Neck Surgery, 121 , 673–675.
other Deaf people. These differences in values and
priorities far outweigh the areas, such as fi ghting
job discrimination, in which Deaf goals are poten-
tially advanced by joining ranks with disability
groups. . . .
This article has presented a case that the sign
language–using minority in the United States, the
Deaf-World, is best viewed as an ethnic group, and
it has cited reasons why it is inappropriate to view
the Deaf-World as a disability group: Deaf people
themselves do not believe they have a disability;
the  disability construction brings with it needless
medical and surgical risks for the Deaf child; it
also  endangers the future of the Deaf-World.
Finally, the disability construction brings bad
solutions to real problems because it is predicated
on a misunderstanding.
All of these objections to the disability construc-
tion of culturally Deaf people apply to the proposal
that Deaf people be understood as both an ethnic
group and a disability group at the same time. Tak-
ing up such a position would weaken the Deaf-World
claim on ethnicity (is there any other ethnic group
that is a disability group?) while inviting the risks
and wrong solutions described here. The ethically
troubling practices in which surgeons, scientists, and
educators are engaged—operating on healthy Deaf
children, seeking the means to diminish and ulti-
mately eradicate the Deaf-World, opposing the Deaf
child’s right to full and fl uent language—exist be-
cause this ethnic group is misunderstood as a dis-
ability group. They will not be avoided by affi rming,
contrary to the group’s own judgment, that it is a
disability group but also an ethnic group.
How we ultimately resolve these ethical issues
goes well beyond Deaf people; it will say a great
deal about what kind of society we are and the kind
of society in which we wish to live. Difference and
diversity not only have evolutionary signifi cance
but, I would argue, are a major part of what gives
life its richness and meaning; ethnic diversity is a
basic human good, and to choose to be with one’s
own kind is a fundamental right. There is reason for
hope: Society can adopt a different understanding
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Finkelstein, V. (1981). Disability and the helper-helped rela-
tionship. In A. Brechin, P. Liddiard, & J. Swain (Eds.),
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Beckenham, Hodder, & Stoughton.
Finkelstein, V. (1991) “We” are not disabled, “you” are. In
S.  Gregory & G. M. Hartley (Eds.), Constructing
Deafness, (pp. 265–271). London: Pinter.
Fishman, J. (1977). Language and ethnicity. In H. Giles
(Ed.), Language ethnicity, and intergroup relations
(pp. 15–57). New York: Academic Press.
Fishman, J. (1982). A critique of six papers on the socializa-
tion of the deaf child. In J. B. Christiansen (Ed.), Confer-
ence highlights: National research conference on the
social aspects of deafness (pp. 6–20). Washington, DC:
Gallaudet College.
Fishman, J. (1989). Language and ethnicity in minority
sociolinguistic perspective. Philadelphia: Multilingual
Foucault, M. (1980). Power/knowledge: Selected interviews
and other writings, 1972–1977 . Brighton, UK: Harvester
Fraser, G. R. (1976). The causes of profound deafness in
childhood . Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press.
Gastman, B. R., Hirsch, B. E., Sando, I., Fukui, M. B., &
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READING 20: Ethnicity, Ethics, and the Deaf-World 191
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194 SECTION II: Experiencing Difference
In the fi rst framework essay, we considered the social construction of difference
as master statuses were named, aggregated, dichotomized, and stigmatized. Now
we turn to experiencing these statuses. A story from a friend provides an illustra-
tion of what we mean by this. Many years ago, she and her husband had wanted
to see Men in Black when it opened in the theaters, but they had not been able
to fi nd a babysitter for their eight-year-old daughter. They had watched many
movies as a family and thought their daughter had a good understanding of the
difference between real and pretend, so they decided it would be all right to take
her with them to the show. They were wrong.
Our perception of the movie was that while there was plenty of action, it was defi nitely a com-
edy. The “alien monsters” were ridiculous to us, inspiring laughter or mild disgust like that of
a yucky bug you fi nd in your bathroom and fl ush down the toilet. Jenny, however, found the
movie to be scary and gross. It was beyond her ability to laugh away as something that was
“pretend.” She hid her eyes through 90 percent of the movie and did not agree with us that it
was funny. She talked for months about how scary it was and chastised us for letting her see it.
This story holds a small lesson about experiencing your social status. What we
notice in the world depends in large part on the statuses we occupy; in this way
we may be said to experience our social status. Jenny thought the movie was scary
both because of the unique person she is and because of her age, a master status.
Her parents did not see the movie that way for the same reasons. All experienced
the movie through their unique personalities and as people of certain ages.
Although we do not specifi cally address age in this book, it operates in ways
that are analogous to race, sex, class, sexuality, and disability. For example, being
young affects the way a person is treated in innumerable ways: at a minimum, it
restricts driving, employment, military enlistment, marriage, access to abortion,
admission to movies, and alcohol and cigarette consumption; being young yields
higher insurance rates and mandatory school attendance; youth also creates the
category of “status offenses” (acts that are illegal only for minors). In addition,
minors are excluded from voting and exercising other legal rights.
In these ways, those defi ned as “young” are treated differently from those who
are not so defi ned. Because of that treatment, those who are younger see the world
differently from those who are older and no longer operating within these con-
straints. The young notice things that older people need not notice, because they
are not subject to the same rules. Our experiences are tied to the statuses we occupy.
A different example of experiencing one’s status comes from the autobiography
of one of the fi rst black students in an exclusive white prep school. She recalls
what it was like to hear white students say, “It doesn’t matter to me if somebody’s
white or black or green or purple. I mean people are just people.” While she
appreciated the students’ intentions, she also heard her own real experience being
trivialized by comparison to the Muppets. Her status helps to explain what she
noticed in these conversations.

In all, you experience your social statuses; you live through them. They are
the fi lters through which you see and make sense of the world, and in large
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Framework Essay 195
measure they account for how you are treated and what you notice. In the sections
that follow, we will focus on the experiences of both privilege and stigma associ-
ated with master statuses.
Just as status helps to explain what we notice, it also explains what we don’t
notice. In the following classroom discussion between a black and a white student,
the white student argues that because she and the black student are both female,
they should be allies. The black woman responds,
“When you wake up in the morning and look in the mirror, what do you see?”
“I see a woman,” replied the white woman.
“That’s precisely the issue,” replied the black woman. “I see a black woman. For me,
race is visible every day, because it is how I am not privileged in this culture. Race is invis-
ible to you [because it is how you are privileged].”

Thus, we are likely to be unaware of the statuses that privilege us, that is,
provide us with advantage, and acutely aware of those that are the source of
trouble—those that yield negative judgments and unfair treatment. Indeed, the
mirror metaphor used by the black woman in this conversation emerges frequently
among those who are stigmatized: “I looked in the mirror and saw a gay man.”
These moments of suddenly realizing your social position with all of its life-
shaping ramifi cations are usually about recognizing how some statuses leave you
stigmatized and underprivileged, but they are rarely about how you might be
privileged or advantaged by other statuses.
Examples of Privilege
This use of the term privilege was fi rst developed by Peggy McIntosh from her
experience of teaching women’s studies courses. Over time, McIntosh noticed that
while many men were willing to grant that women were disadvantaged (or “under-
privileged”) because of sexism, it was far more diffi cult for them to acknowledge
that they were themselves advantaged (or “overprivileged”) because of it. Extend-
ing the analysis to race, McIntosh generated a list of the ways in which she, as
a white woman, was overprivileged by virtue of racism. Her list of over forty
white privileges included the following:
I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their daily protection.
I can arrange my activities so that I will never have to experience feelings of rejection owing
to my race.
I can be sure [that] if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.
I can take a job with an affi rmative action employer without having my co-workers on the
job suspect that I got it because of my race.
I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.
As she talked to people about her list, McIntosh learned about other white
privileges: “A black woman said she was glad to hear me ‘working on my own
people,’ because if she said these things about white privilege, she would be seen
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196 SECTION II: Experiencing Difference
as a militant.” Someone else noted that one privilege of being white was being
able to be oblivious of those privileges. “Those in privileged groups are educated
[to be oblivious] about what it is like for others, especially for others who have
to be in their presence.”

Privilege makes life easier: it is easier to get around, to get what one wants,
and to be treated in an acceptable manner. For example, perhaps the privilege
least noticed by nondisabled people is the simple ease of getting around— accessing
buildings, restaurants, and movie theaters; easily reading store names, bus stops,
and street signs; riding public transportation; being able to dependably fi nd bath-
rooms one can use; in short, having fairly uncomplicated access to the world. By
contrast, notice the rage and exhaustion that reporter John Hockenberry describes
as he tries to hail a cab or use the Brooklyn subway (Reading 34). Or ponder the
indignity detailed in Tennessee v. Lane , the 2004 Supreme Court case about
county court houses that lacked elevators, which meant that paraplegic people had
to crawl or be carried up the steps (Reading 37). Thus, one usually unnoticed
privilege of not being disabled is the ability to get around. Life is just easier,
because everything is designed for your use.
While privilege makes people’s lives easier, it also makes their lives safer. For
example, many black and Hispanic students describe being closely monitored by
security guards for shoplifting when they are in department stores. Indeed, in one
class discussion of this, an African American student mentioned that she had the
habit of walking through stores with her hands held out, palms open in front of
her, to prove that she was not stealing. Ironically, it is likely easier for white
people to shoplift, since attention is focused on black and Latino customers.
This point was illustrated in a 2009 episode of ABC’s Primetime: What Would
You Do? , which was set in a public park in a predominately white New Jersey
suburb. Called “Teen Vandals,” a hidden camera recorded the reaction of pass-
ersby to a group of white teenagers (who were actors) destroying a car. Almost
no one called the police or attempted to stop them. As one of the white actors
commented later, “I was actually shocked to see how many people would actu-
ally take a good look at what we were doing and just walk on by without even
interfering at all.” By contrast, people did call the police about the black
teenagers who were sleeping in a nearby car waiting for their turn to act as
vandals. Not surprisingly, when it was time for those actors to destroy the car,
there were numerous calls to the police and attempts to stop them. Thus, one
privilege of being white is the presumption that you are not really criminal,
violent, or dangerous to others.
Although whites do not generally assume that other whites are a threat to them,
they often assume that of blacks.
The percentage appears to be declining, but
surveys indicate that about half of whites think blacks are aggressive or violent.

This is especially important because if one assumes that a person or group is
dangerous, taking preemptive action against them to ward off violence is more
likely to be seen as legitimate.
Despite whites’ fear of violence at the hands of African Americans, crime is predominately intra racial.
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Framework Essay 197
The 2013 Florida shooting death of unarmed, seventeen-year-old Trayvon
Martin will unfortunately stand as the classic example of preemptive violence
motivated by beliefs about which categories of people are dangerous. Martin,
visiting his father in a gated community, was shot and killed by George Zimmerman,
a neighborhood watch volunteer. Zimmerman was acquitted in part because he
was protected by Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows the use of
deadly force in self-defense. Such laws—now in effect in about half of U.S.
states—can be expected to especially put African American men like Martin at
risk, since they belong to the group most construed as potentially dangerous. As
one editorialist commented afterward,
One of the burdens of being a black male is carrying the heavy weight of other people’s
suspicions. . . . What this means is that black adolescents cannot afford to be normal
American teenagers. They cannot experiment with pot. They cannot fi ght in any way ever,
even if it means protecting themselves from a stranger. They cannot take sophomoric pic-
tures with middle fi ngers, bare chests, or in silly gear. They cannot have improper conversa-
tions on social media. They can’t wear anything society views as menacing. [All of these
were raised as evidence against Martin at Zimmerman’s trial.] And growing up, they can
never make bad choices or mistakes—the types that teach life lessons, foster humility and
build character.

An example of the consequence of the belief that even black women are
dangerous is provided by law professor and author Patricia J. Williams:
My best friend from law school is a woman named C. For months now I have been sending
her drafts of this book, fi lled with many shared experiences, and she sends me back com-
ments and her own associations. Occasionally we speak by telephone. One day, after read-
ing the beginning of this chapter, she calls me up and tells me her abiding recollection of
law school. “Actually, it has nothing to do with law school,” she says.
“I’ll be the judge of that,” I respond.
“Well,” she continues, “It’s about the time I was held at gunpoint by a SWAT team.”
It turns out that during one Christmas vacation C. drove to Florida with two friends. Just
outside Miami they stopped at a roadside diner. C. ordered a hamburger and a glass of milk.
The milk was sour, and C. asked for another. The waitress ignored her. C. asked twice more
and was ignored each time. When the waitress fi nally brought the bill, C. had been charged
for the milk and refused to pay for it. The waitress started to shout at her, and a highway
patrolman walked over from where he had been sitting and asked what was going on.
C.  explained that the milk was sour and that she didn’t want to pay for it. The highway
patrolman ordered her to pay and get out. When C. said he was out of his jurisdiction, the
patrolman pulled out his gun and pointed it at her.
(“Don’t you think,” asks C. when I show her this much of my telling of her story, “that
it would help your readers to know that the restaurant was all white and that I’m black?”
“Oh, yeah,” I say. “And six feet tall.”)
Now C. is not easily intimidated and, just to prove it, she put her hand on her hip and
invited the police offi cer to go ahead and shoot her, but before he did so he should try to
drink the damn glass of milk, and so forth and so on for a few more descriptive rounds. What
cut her off was the realization that, suddenly and silently, she and her two friends had been
surrounded by eight SWAT team offi cers, in full guerrilla gear, automatic weapons drawn.
Into the pall of her ringed speechlessness, they sent a local black policeman, who offered her
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198 SECTION II: Experiencing Difference
twenty dollars and begged her to pay and be gone. C. describes how desperately he was
perspiring as he begged and, when she didn’t move, how angry he got—how he accused her
of being an outside agitator, that she could come from the North and go back to the North,
but that there were those of “us” who had to live here and would pay for her activism.
C. says she doesn’t remember how she got out of there alive or why they fi nally let her
go; but she supposes that the black man paid for her. But she does remember returning to
the car with her two companions and the three of them crying, sobbing, all the way to
Miami. “The damnedest thing about it,” C. said, “was that no one was interested in whether
or not I was telling the truth. The glass was sitting there in the middle of all this, with the
curdle hanging on the side, but nobody would taste it because a black woman’s lips had
touched it.”

The privilege of not being considered criminal was highlighted in a nationwide
review of the cases in which an undercover, plainclothes, or off-duty police offi –
cer had been fatally shot by fellow police offi cers.
For undercover and plain-
clothes offi cers, the review did not fi nd any racial pattern in the shootings because
training and prevention measures have long been in place,
. . . but the reality is strikingly different for off-duty offi cers. As far as we can determine,
1982 was the last year in which an off-duty, white police offi cer was killed in a mistaken-
identity, police-on-police shooting anywhere in the United States. Since then, nine off-duty
offi cers of color have been killed in such shootings. . . .

Thus, white off-duty offi cers who have to display their guns in a police action are
safer than their black or Hispanic colleagues because other offi cers are less likely
to assume they are criminal.
This assumption of white non- criminality is reinforced on a daily basis by
television news reporting. In comparison with actual arrest rates, local news shows
appear to underrepresent whites as perpetrators and overrepresent African
Because television is the primary news source for most Americans,
the underrepresentation of whites as criminals yields a distorted view of the
connection between race and crime.
Even when suspects were clearly white, studies demonstrated that when white [television]
viewers were asked to identify the suspect later, they consistently misidentifi ed the suspect
as African American, a disturbing fi nding that suggests that white viewers have been primed
through years of viewing African Americans almost exclusively as criminals to see all
criminals as African American.

As English and journalism professor Carol Stabile concluded from her review
of U.S. crime news since the 1830s, African Americans have been criminalized
with a persistence unlike that experienced by any other group. While the threats
presumably posed by Irish, Eastern European, and Chinese immigrants were
framed in the same terms as those for African Americans, for those groups the
stereotypes have faded over time. Not so for African Americans. Even metham-
phetamine users, who are predominately white, fare better in the media:
Where crack addicts were cast as people disposed to escape reality and responsibility . . .
white [methamphetamine] users were [cast as] rural, hardworking members of the working
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Framework Essay 199
class. Driven by circumstances to drug use, they found themselves hopeless captives to a
powerful substance. The message was clear: white drug users were victims of their circum-
stances and therefore deserving of sympathy and rehabilitation; black drug addicts were
social parasites, beyond redemption and worthy of nothing more than punishment.

Indeed, the privilege of not being assumed to be a “real” criminal has conse-
quences even in terms of the degree to which certain behaviors are criminalized.
For example,
In the late 1970s, crack fi rst came on the scene in the form of cocaine freebasing. Many of
its users were stockbrokers and investment bankers, rock stars, Hollywood types, and a few
pro athletes. Some of them began to get into trouble with this form of cocaine use, showing
up in hospital emergency rooms and police stations. Congress passed new laws to extend
health insurance coverage to include drug treatment. The treatment industry expanded the
number of beds available.
In the mid-1980s, crack use spread into America’s inner cities among impoverished
African Americans and Latinos. Some of them began to get into trouble with this form of
cocaine use, showing up in hospital emergency rooms and police stations. Congress passed
new laws to extend the length of criminal sentences for crack offenses. The prison industry
expanded the number of cells available.

This comparison of crack cocaine and cocaine powder users is not frivolous.
In the late 1980s, federal sentencing laws established a mandatory fi ve-year sen-
tence for fi rst-time possession of fi ve grams of crack cocaine. By contrast, it took
500 grams (1.1 pounds) of cocaine powder to trigger the fi ve-year sentence—an
intentional 100:1 differential that was established based on the hyperbole that
crack was somehow 100 times more powerful than cocaine. (Crack is cocaine
powder “cooked” with baking soda and water.) The same ratio was applied to the
ten-year mandatory sentence, which was trigged by 50 grams of crack cocaine
but 5 kilograms (11 pounds) of cocaine powder.
In 2010, the Fair Sentencing Act raised the trigger weights and reduced the
sentencing differential (the weight ratio is now 18:1 rather than 100:1). Nonethe-
less, the stage had been set for the differential imprisonment of black men.
In the early 1970s, blacks were about twice as likely as whites to be arrested for a drug
offense. The great growth in drug arrest rates through the 1980s had a large effect on African
Americans. At the height of the drug war in 1989, arrest rates for blacks had climbed to
1,460 per hundred thousand compared to 365 for whites. Throughout the 1990s, drug arrest
rates remained at these historically high levels.

These differential arrest rates are in contrast to what we know about drug usage.
National surveys have long shown that white high school students self-report more
drug use than black students
and that black and white adults self-report similar
levels of drug use.

The War on Drugs that began in the 1980s produced a cascade of consequences
that is still with us. The prison population has quadrupled since 1980,
2.2  million people now in prison or jail—a rate that exceeds the historic average
in the United States by a factor of nearly fi ve.
Although the incarceration rate
started to decline slightly in 2007 (it declined by 0.3 percent in 2010), the
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200 SECTION II: Experiencing Difference
United  States still has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Comparable
developed nations incarcerate about 100 people per 100,000; the U.S. rate is 500
per 100,000.

These rates vary signifi cantly by race and ethnicity: “Incarceration rates are
signifi cantly higher for Blacks and Latinos than for Whites. In 2010, Black
men were incarcerated at a rate of 3,074 per 100,000 residents; Latinos were
incarcerated at 1,258 per 100,000; and White men were incarcerated at 459 per
When added to the long prison terms mandated by drug sentencing,
these differential incarceration rates have had a devastating effect on black
communities. One in four African Americans has had a parent in prison; pris-
oners experience a signifi cant reduction (by 40 percent) in annual earnings after
they are released.

Thus, as a category, whites experience the privileges of not being presumed
criminal, not being depicted as criminal, not being at risk of preemptive violence,
and able to pursue their “vices” with less chance of punishment. If they do not
appear to be Middle Eastern, both whites and blacks are at little risk of being
considered terrorists; if they do not look like immigrants, especially Hispanic
immigrants, they are at little risk of being detained and deported. These privileges
are the outcome of racial profi ling .
Singling out members of a race or ethnic group for heightened police sur-
veillance, that is racial profi ling , is a way to act on the assumption that whole
categories of people are dangerous. It became the subject of public debate
following a 1996 Supreme Court decision that allowed the police to use routine
traffi c stops to investigate drug possession and other crimes. African Americans
and Latinos argued that they were disproportionately pulled over—guilty of
nothing more than “driving while black,” or “driving while brown.” Research
by several social scientists confi rmed the allegations, and national attention was
focused by a 1998 shooting in which two New Jersey state troopers fi red eleven
shots into a van carrying black and Latino men from the Bronx to a basketball
camp, wounding three of the passengers. At their sentencing, the troopers “said
their supervisors had trained them to focus on black- and brown-skinned driv-
ers because, they were told, they were more likely to be drug traffi ckers.”

Thus, a national consensus against racial profi ling—supported by public opin-
ion, state legislation, and new federal policies barring racial profi ling at the
borders—began to emerge.
That consensus fractured with the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Pub-
lic opinion swung dramatically in favor of profi ling Middle Eastern Americans
as well as immigrants and visitors from the Middle East. Indeed, public debate
about racial profi ling only reemerged in 2013 with the shooting death of Trayvon
After the 9/11 attacks special national security measures were implemented—
most notably the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS).
When NSEERS was in place from 2002 until 2011, temporary visitors to the
United States (that is, non-immigrant visa holders) who were male and from a
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Framework Essay 201
Middle Eastern or North African country were required to enter and exit the
country at a designated port, present themselves for an in-person immigration
offi ce visit, and provide notice about any change of address, employment, or

Middle Eastern Americans, unlike most other American minorities and white
women, have not experienced an increase in the protection of their civil rights
over time. Limitations on Arab immigration and access to permanent resident
status, increased FBI surveillance, and restrictions on student visas followed not
only the 9/11 attacks, but also the Gulf War of 1990–1991, the 1979 Iranian
hostage crisis, and the terrorist attacks on the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.

Indeed, only in 2014 did the New York City Police Department close the surveil-
lance program it had run for eleven years monitoring Muslim neighborhoods by
eavesdropping on conversations, infi ltrating college-student groups, collecting
information on the cars parked at mosques, and maintaining records of where
people ate, prayed, and shopped. “After years of collecting information, however,
the police acknowledged that it never generated a lead.”

As federal immigration laws have changed, not being subject to racial profi ling
has provided those who appear to be native-born, non-immigrants with the privi-
lege of not being detained or deported. By contrast, two laws passed in 1996 (the
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the Illegal Immigration Reform
and Immigrant Responsibility Act) made lawful permanent residents deportable
for virtually any crime, from major offenses to shoplifting or drunk driving,
depending on the wording of local statutes. (A lawful permanent resident is a visa
status that allows the person to live and work in the United States, travel outside
the country, and apply for U.S. citizenship after fi ve years.)
The laws are retroactive, in that permanent residents can be deported for crimes
that did not warrant deportation at the time they were committed or that they com-
mitted as minors. The laws are applied even to those who entered the country as
children and have never actually resided in the country to which they are remanded.

If the home country refuses to accept the detainee once the U.S. prison time has
been served, the detainee probably faces lifetime imprisonment in the United
States. Nor can the outcome be changed by an immigration judge: “The legislation
Congress passed in 1996 precluded immigration judges from considering whether
deportation would be excessively harsh in light of the immigrants’ family relation-
ships, community ties, U.S. military service records, or the possibility of persecu-
tion if returned to their country of origin.”

While it is illegal to deport a U.S. citizen, there are increasing reports of that
as citizens are also sometimes swept up in immigration raids and
imprisoned until they are able to convince authorities of their legal status. A 2010
survey of Latinos reported that 5 percent of both native-born and foreign-born
Hispanic adults report being stopped by police or other authorities asking about
their immigration status (down from about 9 percent in 2008).
Because detain-
ees may be sent to any one of 300 detention centers and are likely to be poor,
claims of citizenship are not easily resolved.
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202 SECTION II: Experiencing Difference
Whether the population profi led is Latino, African American, Middle Eastern,
or immigrant, and whether the enforcing agency involves federal immigration, local
police, or airport security, the effi cacy of such profi ling has long been questioned,
specifi cally because race-based evaluations are much less useful than behavior-
based ones. For example, in terms of using traffi c stops to uncover drugs, guns, or
criminals, “when stops and searches are not racialized, they are more productive.”

“Profi ling is a crude substitute for behavior-based enforcement and . . . invites
screeners to take a less vigilant approach to individuals who don’t fi t the profi le,
even if they engage in conduct that should cause concern.”
In all, those of us
who do not look Middle Eastern, black, Hispanic, or foreign-born have the privi-
lege of not being treated like criminals, illegal immigrants, or terrorists.
A quite different kind of privilege, likely to be invisible to those in single-race
families, is the privilege of being recognized as a family. The following account
by a mother illustrates how the failure to perceive a family is linked to the expec-
tation of black criminality.
When my son was home visiting from college, we met in town one day for lunch. . . . On
the way to the car, one of us thought of a game we’d often played when he was younger.
“Race you to the car!”
I passed my large handbag to him, thinking to more equalize the race since he was a
twenty-year-old athlete. We raced the few blocks, my heart singing with delight to be talking
and playing with my beloved son. As we neared the car, two young white men yelled some-
thing at us. I couldn’t make it out and paid it no mind. When we arrived at the car, both of
us laughing, they walked by and mumbled “Sorry” as they quickly passed, heads down.
I suddenly understood. They hadn’t seen a family. They had seen a young Black man with
a pocketbook, fl eeing a pursuing middle-aged white woman. My heart trembled as I thought
of what could have happened if we’d been running by someone with a gun.
Later I mentioned the incident in a three-day diversity seminar I was conducting at a
Boston corporation. A participant related it that evening to his son, a police offi cer, and asked
the son what he would have done if he’d observed the scene.
The answer: “Shot out his kneecaps.”

Turning now from privileges of race to privileges of sexuality, the most obvious
privilege enjoyed by heterosexuals is that they are allowed to be open about their
relationships—which is, after all, what heteronormativity is all about. From idle
conversation and public displays of affection, to the legal and religious approval
embodied in marriage, heterosexuals are able to declare that they love and are
loved. That privilege has not been just denied to people in same-sex relationships;
at least until very recently, they have been actively punished for such expressions
by ostracism, physical assault, unemployment, and even loss of child custody and
visitation—not so surprising given the still uncertain legal recognition of gay
Even the ability to display a picture of one’s partner on a desk at work stands
as an invisible privilege of heterosexuality.
Consider, for example, an employee who keeps a photograph on her desk in which she and
her husband smile for the camera and embrace affectionately. . . . [T]he photo implicitly
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Framework Essay 203
conveys information about her private sexual behavior. [But] most onlookers (if they even
notice the photo) do not think of her partner primarily in sexual terms. . . .
[But] if the photograph instead shows the woman in the same pose with a same-sex
partner, everyone is likely to notice. As with the fi rst example, the photograph conveys the
information that she is in a relationship. But the fact that the partner is a woman overwhelms
all other information about her. The sexual component of the relationship is not mundane
and implicit as with the heterosexual spouse.

Because heterosexual public affection is so commonplace, it rarely conjures up
images of sexual activity. But that is exactly what we may think of when we see a
same-sex couple embrace or even hold hands. This is why gay and lesbian people
are often accused of “fl aunting” their sexuality: any display of affection between
them is understood by many heterosexuals as virtually a display of the sex act.
Still, these attitudes appear to be changing dramatically. As we discuss in
Reading 37, in 2013 the Supreme Court held (in U.S. v. Windsor ) that the 1996
Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which limited “marriage” and “spouse” to
a union of one man and one woman, was unconstitutional because it denied
federal rights to couples in states where same-sex marriage is allowed. (Over a
thousand federal laws, benefi ts, and programs apply to marital unions.) Though
narrowly framed and by only a fi ve to four vote, the Court’s decision was con-
sistent with signifi cant change in American attitudes: in public opinion polls,
support for the moral acceptability of gay and lesbian relations crossed the
symbolic 50 percent threshold in 2010.
That change is almost entirely attribut-
able to the increasing acceptance of same-sex relationships among men, espe-
cially those younger than fi fty; indeed, the 2010 poll was the fi rst in which men
were more accepting of these relationships than women. Still, appreciating
abstractly supportive poll data is not the same as feeling safe enough to express
affection in public settings. For people in same-sex relationships, it is likely that
will remain diffi cult for some  time.
In the realm of class privilege , several readings in this book address the con-
siderable differences in health, life span, educational access, and quality of life
that accompany American class differences. But these are perhaps the more vis-
ible privileges of being middle and upper class. Less apparent is the privilege of
being treated as a deserving and competent member of the community. Higher
education institutions provide a number of examples of this. One of the boons of
the legacy admission system, described by John Larew in Reading 32, is its invis-
ibility. The students admitted to universities this way—who are predominately
middle- and upper-class whites—don’t have their qualifi cations questioned by
faculty or other students, nor are they likely to agonize about whether they
deserved to be admitted.
Like many children of University of Virginia graduates, Mary Stuart Young of Atlanta, Georgia,
wore Cavalier orange and blue long before she took an SAT or mailed an application.
“Coming here just felt right,” said Young, 21, who expects to graduate with a religious
studies degree. . . . “This was where I should be.”
After all, with two generations of faithful alumni backing her, Young doubled her chances
of getting into Thomas Jefferson’s university.

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204 SECTION II: Experiencing Difference
One of the privileges of being a legacy admission rather than an affi rmative
action admission is that you are treated as a deserving and competent member
of the community.
The assumption that university students are middle or upper class is pervasive
within higher education, so working-class students often fi nd schools oblivious
or even antagonistic to their needs. Students are presumed to understand how
college works, because it is assumed that their parents are college graduates and
can advise them: “In an article on working class students in higher education,
one student was paraphrased as saying that college is a very unforgiving place.
It is unforgiving not of those who don’t know the rules, but rather of those who
did not know the rules before arriving on campus.”
Thus, one of the privileges
of being a college student from the middle or upper classes is that you come
to the university with a good deal of information about how it works.
Also, “[w]orking class students often have diffi culty in their studies partially
because colleges and universities—elite and nonelite—refuse to recognize that
many students must work.”
For example, schools that require unpaid internships,
off-campus experiences, or study abroad trips may forget not only the costs asso-
ciated with these requirements but also the fact that working-class students may
have to quit their jobs to fulfi ll the requirement. The same is true of faculty offi ce
hours—set as if students could easily arrange their schedules to fi t the professor’s.
If working-class students were seen as deserving and competent members of the
community, their needs would be factored in automatically, not as a “special
In all, one of the privileges of being middle or upper class is that higher
education—which is absolutely critical to upward mobility—is in sync with
one’s  experience. In college, middle-and upper-class students can expect to have
their life experiences and perspectives treated as the norm. The institution will be
organized around those experiences in ways large and small, from assuming that
everyone should live on campus (and bear the expense of room and board) to assum-
ing they will be able to cover the cost of texts or forgo employment. In these ways,
students from the middle or upper classes have the privilege of feeling like they
Overall, two privileges shape the experience of those in nonstigmatized sta-
tuses: entitlement and the privilege of being unmarked . Entitlement is the belief
that one has the right to be respected, acknowledged, protected, and rewarded.
This is so much taken for granted by those in nonstigmatized statuses that they
are often shocked and angered when it is denied them.
[After the lecture, whites in the audience] shot their hands up to express how excluded they
felt because [the] lecture, while broad in scope, clearly was addressed fi rst and foremost to
the women of color in the room. . . . What a remarkable sense of entitlement must drive
their willingness to assert their experience of exclusion! If I wanted to raise my hand every
time I felt excluded, I would have to glue my wrist to the top of my head.

Like entitlement, the privilege of occupying an unmarked status is shared by
most of those in nonstigmatized categories. For example, doctor is an unmarked
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Framework Essay 205
status; woman doctor is marked. Unmarked categories convey the usual and
expected distribution of individuals in social statuses—the distribution that does
not require any special comment. Thus, the unmarked category tells us what a
society takes for granted.
Theoretically, the unmarked category might include anyone, but in truth it
refers to white males. How do we know that? Because other occupants of that
status are usually marked: woman doctor, black doctor, and so on. While the
marking of a status signals infrequency—there are few female astronauts or male
nurses—it may also imply inferiority. A “woman doctor” or a “black doctor” may
be considered less qualifi ed.
Thus, a fi nal privilege of those who are not stigmatized is that their master
statuses are not used to discount their accomplishments or imply that they serve
only special interests. Someone described as “a politician” is presumed to operate
from a universality that someone described as “a white male politician” is not.
Because white male politicians are rarely described as such, their anchoring in
the reality of their own master statuses is hidden. In this way, those in marked
statuses appear to be operating from an “agenda,” or “special interest” while those
in unmarked statuses can appear to be agenda-free. Being white and male thus
becomes invisible, because it is not regularly identifi ed as important. For this
reason, some recommend identifying everyone’s race and sex as a way to recog-
nize that we are all grounded in our master statuses.
In all, privilege is usually invisible to those who possess it; they may assume
that everyone is treated as they are. When they learn about instances of dis-
crimination, they may think that the incident was exceptional rather than routine,
that the victim was overreacting or misinterpreting, or that the victim must have
provoked the encounter. Such responses do not necessarily deny that the incident
took place; rather, they deny that the event carries any negative or special
Through such dismissals, those operating from positions of privilege can deny
the experience of those without privilege. For example, college-age students often
describe university administrators as unresponsive until they have their parents
call to complain. If the parents later said, “I don’t know why you had such a
problem with those people; they were very nice to me. Did you do something to
antagonize them?” that would indicate that parents were oblivious to their privi-
leged status in the university setting as well as unaware of their student’s under-
privileged status in it.
Dismissals like these treat the stigmatized person like a child inadequate to
judge the world. Often such dismissals are framed in terms of the very stigma
about which people are complaining. In this way, what stigmatized people say
about their status is discounted precisely because they are stigmatized. The impli-
cation is that those who occupy a stigmatized status are somehow the ones least
able to assess its consequence. The effect is to dismiss precisely those who have
had the most experience with the problem.
This process, called looping or rereading, is described by many who have
studied the lives of patients in psychiatric hospitals.
If a patient says, “The staff
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206 SECTION II: Experiencing Difference
here are being unfair to me,” and the staff respond, “Of course he would think
that—he’s crazy,” they have reread, or looped, his words through his status. His
words have been heard in view of his stigma and dismissed for exactly that reason.
These dismissals serve a function. Dismissing another’s experience of status-
based mistreatment masks the possibility that one has escaped such treatment
precisely because of one’s privilege. If we do not acknowledge that their status
affects their treatment, we need not acknowledge that our status affects our treat-
ment. Thus, we avoid the larger truth that those who are treated well, those who
are treated poorly, and all the rest in between are always evaluated both as indi-
viduals and as occupants of particular esteemed and disesteemed categories.
We have so far considered the privileges conferred by some master statuses; now
we examine the stigma conferred by other master statuses.
In his classic analysis of stigma, sociologist Erving Goffman (1963) distin-
guished between the discredited, whose stigma is immediately apparent to an
observer (for example, race, sex, some disabilities), and the discreditable, whose
stigma can be hidden (for example, sexuality, cognitive disabilities, social class,
and sometimes race and ethnicity). Because stigma plays out differently in the
lives of the discredited and the discreditable, each will be examined separately.
The Discreditable: “Passing”
The discreditable are those who are passing, that is, not publicly acknowledging
the stigmatized statuses they occupy. (Were they to acknowledge that status, they
would become discredited.) The term passing comes from “passing as white,”
which emerged as a phenomenon after 1875 when southern states reestablished
racial segregation through hundreds of “Jim Crow”
laws. At that point, some
African Americans passed as white as a way to get better-paying jobs.
[S]ome who passed as white on the job lived as black at home. Some lived in the North as
white part of the year and as black in the South the rest of the time. More men passed than
women . . . the vast majority who could have passed permanently did not do so, owing to
the pain of family separation, condemnation by most blacks, their fear of whites, and the
loss of the security of the black community. . . . Passing as white probably reached an all-
time peak between 1880 and 1925.

“Passing as white” is now quite rare and strongly condemned by African Americans.
We will use the term passing here to refer to those who have not made their stig-
matized status evident. For example, in Reading 24, John Tehranian describes the
ways Muslim Americans may sometimes mask their identity. “ Passing” is similar to
“Jim Crow” was “a blackface, singing-dancing-comedy characterization portraying black males as
childlike, irresponsible, ineffi cient, lazy, ridiculous in speech, pleasure-seeking, and happy, [and was]
a widespread stereotype of blacks during the last decades before emancipation. . . .”
Whites created
segregation in the South after the Civil War by imposing what were called “Jim Crow” laws.
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Framework Essay 207
the phrase “being in the closet,” which is usually applied to gays. “Passing” probably
plays less of a role in the lives of gay and lesbian people now than it has in the past,
but still it remains a signifi cant concern and topic of discussion for both gays and
One may engage in passing by chance as well as by choice. For example, the
presumption that everyone is heterosexual can have the effect of putting gay
people in the closet even when they had not intended to be. During a series of
lectures on the family, one of our faculty colleagues realized that he had been
making assignments, lecturing, and encouraging discussion under the assumption
that all of the students in the class had, or wanted to have, heterosexual relation-
ships. His actions forced gay and lesbian students to choose between announcing
or remaining silent about their status. Had he assumed that students would be
involved only with others of the same race, he would have created a similar situ-
ation for those in interracial relationships. Thus, assumptions about others’ private
lives—for example, by asking whether someone is married—may have the effect
of making them choose between a lie or an announcement of something they may
consider private.
Since most heterosexuals assume that everyone is heterosexual, many social
encounters either put gay people in the closet or require that they announce their
status. For example, in the fi rst class session of one course, a student opened his
remarks by saying, “Well, you all know I am a gay man, and as a gay man
I  think.  . . .” The buzz of conversation stopped, other students stared at him, and
one asked, “How would we know you were gay?” The student pointed to a pink
triangle he had pinned to his book bag and explained that he thought they knew
that someone wearing it would be gay. (Pink triangles were assigned to gay men
during the Nazi era. Still, his logic was questionable: Anyone supportive of gay
rights might wear the triangle.) This announcement—which moved the student
from a discreditable to a discredited status—may have been intended to keep his
classmates from making overtly antigay comments in his presence. His strategy
was designed to counter the negative consequences of passing.
Every encounter with a new classful of students, to say nothing of a new boss, social worker,
loan offi cer, landlord, doctor, erects new closets [that] . . . exact from at least gay people
new surveys, new calculations, new draughts and requisitions of secrecy or disclosure. Even
an out gay person deals daily with interlocutors about whom she doesn’t know whether they
know or not [or whether they would care]. . . . The gay closet is not a feature only of the
lives of gay people. But for many gay people it is still the fundamental feature of social
life; there can be few gay people . . . in whose lives the closet is not a shaping presence.

Inadvertent passing is also experienced by those whose racial status is not
immediately apparent. An African American acquaintance of ours who looks white
is often in settings in which others do not know that she is African American—or
in which she does not know if they know. Thus, she must regularly decide how
and when to convey that information. This is important to her as a way to discour-
age racist remarks, since whites sometimes assume it is acceptable to make racist
remarks to one another (as men may assume it is acceptable to make sexist
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208 SECTION II: Experiencing Difference
remarks to other men, or as straights presume it acceptable to make antigay
remarks to those they think are also straight). It is also important to her that oth-
ers know she is black so that they understand the meaning of her words—so that
they will hear her words through her status as an African American woman. Those
whose stigma is not apparent must go to some lengths to avoid being in the closet
by virtue of others’ assumptions.
Those with relatively invisible disabilities also face the tension of inadvertent
passing. Beth Omansky, in Reading 36, describes the experiences of those who are
legally, rather than totally, blind. Observers who assume the person is totally blind
can react with disbelief or even anger when they learn otherwise; some may insist
that the person behave as if they were totally blind, to avoid confusing observers.
Either way, the person suffers the consequence of inadvertent passing.
Still, passing may be an intentional choice. For example, one of our students,
who was in the process of deciding that he was gay, had worked for many years
at a local library, where he became friends with several of his co-workers. Much
of the banter at work, however, involved disparaging gay, or presumably gay,
library patrons. As he grappled with a decision about his own sexual identity, his
social environment reminded him that being gay is still a stigmatized status in
American society. This student did not so much face prejudice personally (since
he was not “out” to his work friends) as he faced an “unwilling acceptance of
himself by individuals who are prejudiced against persons of the kind he can be
revealed to be.”
Thus, he was not the person his friends took him to be. While
survey data indicate that those who personally know a gay man hold more posi-
tive feelings about gays in general,
the decision to publicly reveal a stigma that
others have gone on record as opposing is not made lightly.
Revealing stigma changes one’s interactions, even with those who are not
particularly prejudiced. Such revelations are likely to alter important relation-
ships. Parents sometimes disown gay children, just as they do children involved
in interracial relationships. For the discreditable, “information management” is
at the core of one’s life. “To tell or not to tell; to let on or not to let on; to lie
or not to lie; and in each case, to whom, how, when, and where.”
Such choices
are faced daily by those who are discreditable—not just by those who are gay
and lesbian, but also by those who are poor, have been imprisoned, attempted
suicide, terminated a pregnancy through abortion, are HIV-positive, are drug or
alcohol dependent, or who have been the victims of incest or rape. By contrast,
those who do not occupy stigmatized statuses don’t have to invest emotional
energy in monitoring information about themselves; they can choose to talk
openly about their personal history.
Passing has both positive and negative aspects. On the positive side, passing lets
the stigmatized person exert some power over the situation; the person controls the
information, the fl ow of events, and their privacy. By withholding his or her true
identity until choosing to reveal it, the person may create a situation in which oth-
ers’ prejudices are challenged. Passing also limits one’s exposure to verbal and
physical abuse, allows for the development of otherwise forbidden relationships, and
improves employment security by minimizing one’s exposure to discrimination.
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Framework Essay 209
On the negative side, passing consumes a good deal of time, energy, and emo-
tion. It introduces deception and secrecy even into close relationships. Passing
also denies others the opportunity to prove themselves unprejudiced, and it makes
one vulnerable to blackmail by those who do know about one’s stigma.
The Discredited: The Problems of Visibility
While the discreditable face problems of invisibility, visibility is the problem for
those who are discredited. Those who are discredited suffer from undue attention
and are subject to being stereotyped.
Being discredited means that one’s stigma is immediately apparent to others.
As essayist bell hooks describes, those who are discredited often have little
patience for those who at least have the option of passing.
Many of us have been in discussions where a non-white person—a black person—struggles
to explain to white folks that while we can acknowledge that gay people of all colors are
harassed and suffer exploitation and domination, we also recognize that there is a signifi cant
difference that arises because of the visibility of dark skin. . . . While it in no way lessens
the severity of such suffering for gay people, or the fear that it causes, it does mean that in
a given situation the apparatus of protection and survival may be simply not identifying as
gay. In contrast, most people of color have no choice. No one can hide, change, or mask
dark skin color. White people, gay and straight, could show greater understanding of the
impact of racial oppression on people of color by not attempting to make these oppressions
synonymous, but rather by showing the ways they are linked and yet differ.

For the discredited, stigma is likely to always shape interaction even though
its effect may not play out in ways one can easily determine. Florynce Kennedy,
a black activist in the civil rights and women’s movements, once commented that
the problem with being black in America was that you never knew whether what
happened to you, good or bad, was because of your talents or because you were
This situation was described in 1903 by sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois as
the double consciousness of being black in America. The concept was key to Du
Bois’s classic, The Souls of Black Folk, for which he was rightfully judged “the
father of serious black thought as we know it today.”
Du Bois described double
consciousness this way:
[T]he Negro . . . [is] gifted with a second-sight in this American world—a world which
yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revela-
tion of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double consciousness, this sense
of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul
by  the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his
twoness. . . .

This is the sense of seeing oneself through the eyes of a harshly critical other,
and it relates to our discussion of objectifi cation in the fi rst Framework Essay.
When those who are stigmatized view themselves from the perspective of the
nonstigmatized, they have reduced themselves to objects. This theme of double or
“fractured” consciousness can also be found in contemporary analyses of women’s
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210 SECTION II: Experiencing Difference
The greatest effect of being visibly stigmatized is on one’s life chances—
literally, one’s chances for living. Thus, the readings in this book detail differences
in income, employment, health, life span, education, targeting for violence, and
the likelihood of arrest and imprisonment. But the other end of the spectrum—
affecting your life but not necessarily your chance of living—is also important.
In 2013, Rosalind Wiseman wrote about the lives of preteen and adolescent
boys. (Wiseman’s earlier volume on girls was the basis of the 2004 movie, Mean
Girls .) Her description of the prevalence of race and ethnic taunts in boys’ lives,
even among friends, is memorable:
Here’s what I hear most often in schools throughout the country:
Muslims and Sikhs (whose religions are completely different) are constantly referred to as
Jews are confronted with boys throwing money at them and making jokes about ashes and
Asians are said to have small penises, to not need calculators, and to have parents who drive
them 24/7 and beat them if they don’t become music or math prodigies.
Hispanics are the butt of jokes about being deported, uneducated, and lazy. White kids in
private schools commonly joke about their Hispanic friends having gotten into their school
or getting a scholarship only because the school needed to increase its diversity.
Black guys are greeted with forced, wannabe black slang or the use of the N-word. 49
Taunts like these certainly affect the quality of young boys’ lives. Similarly,
it is worth considering the more mundane diffi culties created by stigmatization,
especially the sense of being “on stage.” The discredited often have the feeling
of being watched or on display when they are in settings dominated by nonstig-
matized people. For example, when women walk through male-dominated set-
tings, they often feel they are on display in terms of their physical appearance.
Recently, the term microaggression 50 has been used to describe the verbal slights
experienced by those in visibly stigmatized statuses. College students have been
documenting these experiences in blogs, plays, and on Facebook pages. Exam-
ples of microaggressions—such as “Where are you from? Your English is per-
fect,” to an Asian American student or “It’s almost like you’re not black” to an
African American—reveal how much people who are visibly stigmatized are “on
stage” in terms of their master status.
In such cases, the discredited are likely
to feel that others are judging them in terms of their stigma.
As sociologist Rosabeth Moss Kanter
has shown, this impression is probably
true. When Kanter studied corporate settings in which one person was visibly
different from the others, that person was likely to get a disproportionate share
of attention. In fact, people in the setting were likely to closely monitor what the
minority person did, which meant his or her mistakes were more likely to be
noticed—and the mistakes of those in the rest of the group were more likely to
be overlooked because everyone was busy watching the minority person. Even in
after-work socializing, the minority person was still subject to disproportionate
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Framework Essay 211
Kanter also found that the minority person’s behavior was likely to be inter-
preted in terms of the prevailing stereotypes about the members of that category.
For example, when there were only a few men in a setting dominated by women,
the men were subject to intense observation, and their behavior was fi ltered
through the stereotypes about men. Perceptions were distorted to fi t the preexist-
ing beliefs.
Without the presence of a visibly different person, members of a setting are likely
to see themselves as different from one another in various ways. Through contrast
with the visibly different person, however, they notice their own similarities. In this
way, majority group members may construct dichotomies—“us” and “them”—out
of settings in which there are a few who are different. It is not surprising that those
who are visibly different sometimes isolate themselves in response.
Still, none of this is inevitable. Kanter argued that once minority membership
in a setting reaches 15 percent, these processes abate. Until that point, however,
those who are in the minority (or visibly stigmatized) are the subject of a good
deal of attention. As a consequence, they are often accused of fl aunting their
difference, of being “so” black, Latino, gay, and so on—of making a show of
their status.
This is a charge that the nonstigmatized often level at those who are stigma-
tized. Although there are certainly occasions in which the discredited may delib-
erately make a show of their status, Kanter’s work indicates that when their
numbers are few, the discredited are likely to be charged with being too visible
no matter what they do. When they are subjected to a disproportionate amount of
attention and viewed through the lenses of stereotypes, almost anything the
discredited do is likely to be noticed and attributed to the category to which they
Those who are visibly stigmatized react to this excess of attention in various
ways. Some are careful to behave in ways contrary to expectations. At other times,
however, people may deliberately make reference to their stigmatized status. For
example, in adolescence, light-skinned black men are often derided by their black
and white peers as not “really” black, and so they may go to great lengths to
counter that charge.
Overt displays of one’s stigmatized status may also have an entertaining side.
For example, many bilingual Latino students talk about how much they enjoy a
loud display of Spanish when Anglos are present; some Asian American students
have described their pleasure in pursuing extended no-English-used card games
in public spaces on campus. Black and gay adolescents sometimes entertain them-
selves by loudly affecting stereotypical behavior and then watching the disapprov-
ing looks from observers. Those who do not occupy stigmatized statuses may
better appreciate these displays by remembering their experience of deliberately
acting like “obnoxious teenagers” in public settings. Thus, for some, fl aunting
their difference may also be fun.
In all, those who are visibly stigmatized—who cannot or will not hide their
identity—generate a variety of mechanisms to try to neutralize that stigma and
the undue attention that follows.
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212 SECTION II: Experiencing Difference
The Expectations of Those Who Share One’s Stigma
The shame associated with stigma may keep people from affi liating with one
another, or it might be the grounds for coming together in collective pride. For
those stigmatized by color, sex, or social class, family members often provide the
lessons about what to expect from those in and outside the category, as well as
the “lessons” about how “people like us” are supposed to behave.
For those who
are gay and lesbian, the lessons are usually provided later in life by members of
the gay community.
Particularly for those with visible stigma, there are also frequent reminders
that one will be seen as representative of all members of the category. Thus,
many in stigmatized categories must factor in virtually everyone’s opinion: What
will others in my category think? What will those who are not stigmatized think?
Indeed, they may even be criticized for failing to deal with themselves as
stigmatized—“After all, who do you think you are?” In a sense, members of
stigmatized categories may monitor one another much as they are policed by
those outside the category, with the difference that those within their category
can at least claim to be defending them.
This point is illustrated in a story by the late tennis champion Arthur Ashe.
(Ashe was the fi rst African American male to win tennis’s Grand Slam singles
title.) Ashe
described watching his daughter play with a gift she had just
received—a white doll—as they sat in the audience of a televised match in his
honor. When the cameras panned his section of seats, he realized that he needed
to get the doll away from his daughter or risk the anger of some black viewers
who would argue that by letting his child play with a white doll, he appeared to
be a bad role model for the black community.
A different example is provided by a Mexican American acquaintance who
worked in an offi ce with only a few other Hispanics, most of whom felt that the
routes to upward mobility were closed to them. Together they drafted a letter to the
fi rm’s president detailing their concerns and seeking some corrective action. Although
he had qualms about signing the letter, our acquaintance felt there was no alterna-
tive. Because he worked for management, he was then called in to explain his
behavior, which his supervisor saw as disloyal. Thus, he was put in the position of
having to explain that, as a Chicano, he could not have refused to sign the letter.
Codes of conduct for those in stigmatized categories often require loyalty to the
group. Indeed, the operating rule for many in stigmatized categories is to avoid
public disagreement with one another or public airing of the group’s “dirty laun-
dry.” Such codes are not trivial, because when the codes are violated, members of
stigmatized categories risk ostracism from a critical support network. The reality
of discrimination makes it foolhardy to reject those who share one’s stigma. What
would it have meant to Arthur Ashe to lose the support of other African Americans?
To whom would our acquaintance have turned in that organization had he refused
People Like Us (2001) is a well-known PBS documentary about social class in America. One mes-
sage it describes is “don’t get above your raising.”
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Framework Essay 213
to sign the letter? When they are unaware of these pressures, those in privileged
categories may make impossible demands of those who are stigmatized; if they
are aware of these pressures, however, such requests are clear tests of loyalty.
Complexities in the Experience of Privilege and Stigma
Separating out the discussion of privileged and stigmatized statuses, as we have
done here, has the benefi t of allowing us to focus on these processes, but it carries
multiple risks, especially that of making people’s experience appear less compli-
cated than it is. There are several of these complexities to consider.
First, stigma doesn’t always produce disadvantage; it can sometimes yield a
benefi t, but not as frequently as the benefi ts that follow from privilege. For exam-
ple, discrimination is sometimes measured through what are called “audit studies.”
In this case, researchers select, match, and train people (called testers) to play the
part of an applicant for a job or apartment. “By presenting equally qualifi ed indi-
viduals who differ only by race or ethnicity, researchers can assess the degree to
which racial considerations affect access to opportunities.”
While audit studies
have found evidence of racial discrimination in a variety of arenas (for example,
in housing rental and purchase and in call-backs on job résumés),
minority testers
will still sometimes advance further than their white counterparts in a process.
Thus, minority testers will sometimes experience preferential treatment, but they
will not experience as much preferential treatment as their white counterparts.
Thus, concerns about “reverse discrimination” can often miss the mark. While
blacks, Latinos, Asian Americans, or white women are sometimes favored—for
example, in employment—they are not favored as frequently as white males. In her
study of black and white graduates of a Baltimore technical school, Diedre Royster
offers an example of how this complexity can be ignored. One of her white infor-
mants described being turned down for a job with the state police. He was standing
with a group of other white applicants, when an offi cer approached them to say, “I’m
sorry, fellas. Unfortunately, if you were black you would have had the job.”
For the whites involved in these sorts of interchanges, this is a win/win situation. The white
applicant wins; he (or sometimes she) is reinforced in his (or her) belief that on merits he
or she would have succeeded. . . . The white trooper (or other employing agency offi cial
dispensing bad advice) wins because he has found a way to deliver the news such that he
and his agency will not encounter any hostility, despite the fact that they are rejecting
applicants. [The trooper didn’t say], “I’m sorry, fellas. We only had twenty-fi ve places; two
of them went to the sons of troopers, three went to cousins and neighbors, one went to a
political connection, four were reserved for minority or female applicants (and frankly,
those applicants had really strong records), and we had tons of great applicants for the
remaining fi fteen positions. In fact, we had three hundred applicants with scores higher
than any of you.”

Thus, advantages may follow from stigma as well as privilege, though in
different proportions and with different levels of visibility. This point is made by
the dissenting justices in the Supreme Court’s 2009 decision in Ricci v. DeStefano
(Reading 37).
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214 SECTION II: Experiencing Difference
Second, analyzing stigma and privilege separately risks ignoring that those
with privilege are nonetheless affected by stigma, even though they are not them-
selves stigmatized. For example, homophobia and sexism shape interaction
between straight men and racism affects how white men and women interact, such
as in the expectation that white men need to be the protectors of white women.
Likewise, the stigma of disability affects the friends and relatives of those who
are disabled and people’s response to their own bodies. In all, privilege exists in
interaction with stigma.
Third, as we mentioned in the fi rst Framework Essay, although it may appear that
people can be easily separated into two categories—stigmatized and privileged—
every individual occupies several master statuses. The privilege or stigma that
might be associated with one status emerges in the context of all of one’s other
statuses. For example, a middle-class, heterosexual, Mexican American male may
be privileged in terms of class, sex, and sexual orientation, but stigmatized by
virtue of being Hispanic. Given the invisibility of privilege, he is more likely to
notice the ways in which his ethnic status stigmatizes him than to notice all the
privileges that follow from his other statuses. Nevertheless, he is simultaneously
all of his statuses; the privileges and disadvantages of each emerge in the context
of all the others. Whereas an Anglo male and a Latino male may both be said to
experience the privilege of sex, they do not experience the same privilege.
This gets us to the idea of intersectionality —also called the “matrix of domina-
tion” or “complex inequality”—which was articulated in the early 1990s by law
professor Kimberlé Crenshaw as she sought to convey how the experience of
black women in America was about the interaction of race and sex. 57 Crenshaw
pointed to the inadequacy of thinking about black women’s experiences as about
either race or sex, or even about both race and sex additively. Rather—using the
analogy of standing at the intersection of the streets of racism and sexism—she
argued that the intersection was itself a unique place and process, not one in which
forms of discrimination were just added together or even multiplied, but in which
they interacted with one another.
In some ways, intersectionality can be compared to the idea of “interaction
effect” in statistics. In statistics, a “main effect” is the effect of an independent
variable on a dependent variable, for example, the effect of race on income, or
the effect of sex on income. An “interaction effect,” however, occurs when the
effect of one variable depends on the level or presence of other variables, for
example, when the effect of race on income depends on sex. In the analysis of
multiple variables, theoretically one could fi nd only direct (i.e., main) effects, only
interaction effects, some mix of those, or no effects at all. In a statistical analysis,
these outcomes would also be affected by which variable was loaded into the
calculation fi rst, that is, which status was given priority. A similar concern emerges
in intersectional analyses in terms of whether some forms of inequality should be
treated as taking priority over others.
Crenshaw was not the fi rst to notice how the intersection of the “streets” of
race and sex had been ignored. A well-known anthology released in the 1980s
had been entitled All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, but Some of
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Framework Essay 215
Us Are Brave, 58 to convey that black women were both invisible as women in the
women’s movement and invisible as blacks in the civil rights movement. By vir-
tue of standing at the intersection, black women were marginalized within both
movements, even though they were doubly discriminated.
Since then, the study of intersectionality has stood as a unique contribution
of feminist social science methodology. For example, Patricia Hill Collins—one
of the preeminent sociological theorists of intersectionality—uses the concept
to understand how gender, race, class, and nation are mutually constituted within
and through the domain of “family.” Similarly, in Reading 29, “Gendered Sex-
uality in Young Adulthood,” Laura Hamilton and Elizabeth Armstrong examine
the interaction of social class and gender on sexuality in college. Though schol-
ars taking an intersectional approach have usually focused on the confl uence of
racism and sexism, the intersection of other dichotomies can also have important
ramifi cations for people’s lives, for example, being gay and a practicing Catho-
lic would involve living at an “intersection” that encompasses a unique set of
confl icts.
Responding to the experience of those at the intersection requires thinking dif-
ferently about public policy, law, resource allocation, and political organization.
For example, “Despite the commonsense notion that the more ‘different’ a worker
is, the more likely she will encounter bias, empirical evidence shows that multiple
claims—which may account for more than 50 percent of federal court discrimina-
tion actions—have even less chance of success than single claims. . . . [T]he more
complex the claimant’s identity, the wider must be cast the evidentiary net to fi nd
relevant comparative, statistical, and anecdotal evidence.”

Similarly, intersectional thinking would ask if women of different races would
need different kinds of support in higher education or following domestic vio-
lence, or how black women voters would respond to a political contest between
a white woman and a black man, as for example, in the 2007 primary contest
between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Were black women assumed to sup-
port Obama because they were black or to support Clinton because they were
women? Would one status be treated as primary (the main effect), would black
women’s location be understood to be complicated and unique, or would both
campaigns simply ignore them?
More prosaically, in its thirty-eight-year history Saturday Night Live has hired
only four black female cast members, the latest in 2013 after a six-year hiatus.
If they defended themselves by saying, “We have white women and black men
on the show (not to mention black men who have played black women), so
what’s the problem?” that would be the equivalent of saying “Black women are
‘sort of’ black and ‘sort of’ women, and so we haven’t worried about them very
much over thirty-eight years!”
Still, intersectionality is a diffi cult concept and method. Understanding the com-
plexity of lives at the intersection moves us away from the usual, and relatively
easier, social science goal of fi nding generalizable knowledge, that is, knowledge
that holds true for broad categories of people, for example “all” women or men.
At the same time, intersectionality offers a thoroughgoing critique of essentialism,
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216 SECTION II: Experiencing Difference
because it questions how much is really shared by those in a master status. After
all, how much of our knowledge holds true for both black and white women? How
much holds true for both black women and black men? Capturing that complexity
requires a narrower research focus and more limited claims about knowledge—
with the risk that the categories for analysis will endlessly proliferate—but the
payoff is a better understanding of the real complexities of people’s lives.
Fourth, while individuals may experience both privilege and stigma, some stig-
mas are so strong that they can cancel out the privileges other statuses might
provide . This is often the case for people who are disabled. For example, the
student quoted below describes how using a wheelchair “canceled out” expecta-
tions that she was intelligent.
I fi nd that people automatically assume your intelligence level is lower. They sort of talk
maybe slower to you or in a patronizing way. . . . They don’t speak right at you or act like
you know anything. And they’re always surprised to fi nd out that I’m a college student. . . .
They think “How could you go to U of M?” Sometimes they’ll even say that.

There is much evidence that the stigma of being black in America cancels
privileges that might be expected to follow from being middle class. For example,
A large body of published research reveals that racial and ethnic minorities experience a
lower quality of health services and are less likely to receive even routine medical procedures
than are white Americans. Relative to whites, African Americans—and in some cases,
Hispanics—are less likely to receive hemodialysis and kidney transplantation, and are likely
to receive a lower quality of basic clinical services such as intensive care, even when vari-
ations in such factors as insurance status, income, age, co-morbid conditions, and symptom
expression are taken into account. . . . The majority of studies . . . fi nd that racial and
ethnic disparities remain even after adjustment for socioeconomic differences and other
healthcare access-related factors.

Fifth, separating out discussions of privilege and stigma can mistakenly con-
note that they are equivalent. For example, when Latino students in one class
talked about their pleasure in speaking Spanish, their Anglo friend immediately
described how excluded she felt on those occasions. While they understood her
reaction, the Latino students made it clear that they were not willing to forgo the
opportunity to speak Spanish: their friend would just have to understand it wasn’t
anything personal. The question that emerged for the students listening to this
exchange was about equivalent “rights.” Isn’t the Latino exclusion of Anglos the
same as the Anglo exclusion of Latinos?
As a way to approach this, consider the following two statements about gays
and straights. In what ways are the statements similar, and in what ways different?
A heterosexual says, “I can’t stand gays. I don’t want to be anywhere around them.”
A gay says, “I can’t stand straights. I don’t want to be anywhere around them.”
Although the statements are almost identical, the speakers come from very
different positions of power. A heterosexual could probably structure his or her
life so as to rarely interact with anyone gay, or at least anyone self-identifi ed as
gay. Most important, however, at least until very recently the heterosexual’s
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Framework Essay 217
attitude has been consistent with major social, political, legal, and religious
practices. Thus, the heterosexual in this example speaks from a position of some
power, if only that derived from alignment with dominant cultural practices.
This is not the case for the gay person in this example, who is unlikely to be
able to avoid contact with straights—and who would probably pay a considerable
economic cost for self-segregation if that were attempted. There are no powerful
institutional supports for hatred of heterosexuals. Similarly, whatever pleasure
there might be in exclusiveness, it would exist against a backdrop of relative
powerlessness, discrimination, and stigmatization. The same might be said of
men’s disparagement of women compared with women’s disparagement of men.
As a student once wrote,
As a male I have at times been on the receiving end of comments like, “Oh, you’re just like
all men,” or “Why can’t men show more emotion?” but these comments or the sentiments
behind them do not carry any power to affect my status. Even in the instance of a black who
sees me as a representative of all whites, his vision of me does n