Comparing Race and Gender Identity

Today in class we discussed multiple historical perspectives on racial identity and the concept of “becoming white”. “Becoming white” is the concept that when people immigrate to America, they lose their old cultural identity and align themselves with the “white standard”. Historically, this was advantageous for immigrants so they could attempt to avoid discrimination from the white ruling class in America. However, it was easier for certain ethnicities to “become white” than others. For example, an Irish immigrant would have a much easier time than a freed slave when trying to blend in with the majority white, American population. This trend of becoming white has led many people to lose their old cultural and ethnic identity, although in modern times there is a resurgence of ancestral cultural identity. For example, many white Americans claim to “be Irish” because they have or believe they have Irish ancestry. A surge in the popularity of Irish culture has also become prevalent in modern America as many people claim Irish ancestry. This leads to a more extensive discussion of racial identity and the concept of race itself. Historically, racial identity has differed across the world. For example, in some parts of the world, you were considered black if you had any African blood even if you were majority white. In other parts of the world, even a small amount of European blood in a majority black person would make them European according to societal standards of the time. In modern times, there are those who believe racial identity is completely subjective and up to the individual, while others believe racial identity is more concrete. The concept of gender identity has some similar points. The common consensus today is that gender identity is not necessarily aligned with sex and is up to the individual person. It is interesting to compare the Western response to gender identity and transgenderism to the concept of “becoming white”. We discussed in class how some European immigrants to America were able to blend into the ruling white class because of their skin tone, even though their original ethnic identity was not “American”. The ability to “whitewash” or remove a cultural or ethnic identity in order to transition to a white American identity was seen as a way to avoid discrimination and gain power, as being a white nonimmigrant meant you would face less discrimination. What is interesting is how this differs from gender and sex changes. Many would argue that we still live in a patriarchal society, and historically society has been patriarchal. Men historically have had more rights and power than women. Despite this, transgender men have not inherited the power or benefits of the patriarchy. In fact, they have received more discrimination and harassment when becoming transgender. It seems that transitioning from identifying as one gender to the other does not come with the same benefits as changing one’s ethnic identity has historically had.