What Happened to Gender?

Carl Trueman has already raised questions about feminism but those thoughts returned while reading a variety of reactions to the George Zimmerman trial. You see a lot about race and class, but hear nothing about gender.

What does gender have to do with this? Well, both Martin and Zimmerman received their father’s surnames. That includes President Obama who gave a speech about the verdict on Friday (more below). What would the press and pundits have been saying about the case had Zimmerman been called George Mesa (his mother’s surname)? And what would those folks have said about race and ethnicity in the U.S. if Zimmerman were identified as a Hispanic-American with Afro-Peruvian blood (from his maternal grandfather)? And what about Zimmerman’s membership in the Democratic Party? The country has had a lot of debates for the last five years about illegal immigration or undocumented aliens (with Republicans trying to get out from under their white-only reputation), many of whom come to the U.S. from south of the border. Granted, Hispanic hardly does justice to Mexican-, Cuban-, or Peruvian-Americans, nor does Mexican do justice to the diversity of ethnic backgrounds in Mexico. But in the strange world of white/majority-non-white/minority relations in the U.S., George Zimmerman should qualify as a fellow as much on the minds of those who worry about race, class, and gender/transgender as they do about Sandra Fluke. In which case, the trial has an upside. A Hispanic-American, at a time when many Americans are skittish about immigrants from Central and South America, gained a welcome verdict in the nation’s white-dominated justice system. Obviously, that is no consolation to Trayvon Martin’s family. But since so much of the discussion of the trial and its aftermath has been about race, with the implication of how white Americans and their institutions mistreat non-whites, why doesn’t Zimmerman’s minority status provide some consolation to those sensitive to race and ethnicity?

Similar questions can be raised about President Obama. What if his name were Barack Dunham, and what if Americans perceived him as a white man instead of an African-American? (No one is really going to defend the idea that the slightest amount of African blood in a person makes them black, are they?) And what if the President himself thought more about being reared by a white mother and white grandparents before saying this:

You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.

Instead of the Trayvon Martin case showing how badly America treats blacks, the overwhelming reaction has been how much white America empathizes with blacks.

Does this mean that everything is fine in the U.S. and that we can all go back to work believing that this is a great land where the justice and economic systems work fairly? If you’ve seen The Wire (or read Wendell Berry), you never go to work thinking that. In fact, it is hard not to see a photo of Trayvon Martin and not think of Dukie Weems, or to have watched the series and not understand David Simon’s recent reaction:

In the state of Florida, the season on African-Americans now runs year round. Come one, come all. And bring a handgun. The legislators are fine with this blood on their hands. The governor, too. One man accosted another and when it became a fist fight, one man — and one man only — had a firearm. The rest is racial rationalization and dishonorable commentary.

At the same time, the inequities of the U.S. extend beyond white-black relations. Turning the George Zimmerman case into only a discussion of race and class will miss the larger canvass on which the tragic encounter between Martin and Zimmerman played out. I think I even learned about the complications of all social interactions from David Simon himself.

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17 thoughts on “What Happened to Gender?

  1. Gender? Whatever happened to creed? Catholics are gunning down Baptists in cold blood. Wake up, people!

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  2. My wife and I have thought the same thing regarding Zimmerman’s mixed (Latino) ethnicity. I suspect that if the case progresses to a civil rights violation lawsuit this issue is likely to emerge.

    But keep in mind one thing – from the very first grand jury to this year’s murder trial – this case was only dragged out of the “ordinary” (there are dozens of situations like taking place around the country every week) into the mainstream by those who have a vested interest in doing so. I won’t mention names, but at one time or another they were all there among the protesters (and still are) and, of course, all over the media, inflaming the situation.

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  3. Pratt (RTS) comments about ethnic continuity to more remote generations: “To be sure, Reformed unity theology raises questions that need to be explored further. For example, Reformed theologians still have not reached much consensus on the status of physical descendants of believers after multiple generations have passed with little or no evidence of saving faith. In this regard, non-Christian Jews today may have a status among God’s people similar to non-Christian Gentiles who have distant Christian ancestors.

    Pratt: One thing is clear to all in the Reformed tradition. Physical descent does not determine salvation. YET, Paul’s remarkably paradoxical statement in Romans 11:28 strongly suggests that a special status extends through multiple generations. Speaking of non-Christian Jews he says, “As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your [the Gentiles’] account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” This passage asserts that a special status of some sort continues for Jews who are distant physical descendants of the Old Testament believers. Perhaps a similar status applies to Gentiles with Christian ancestry as well, but this issue remains to be explored more fully in the Reformed tradition.

    mark: Of course the “baptism” of a “covenant child” does not become invalid even when “the church” comes to judge that neither parent is a Christian (nor ever was yet). But surely, if you go back some generations, you will find a Christian ancestor. But of which infant in the West could this not be said?

    They didn’t choose to be born black, so why should we exalt “free-will” when it comes to deciding which denomination you belong to? All credobaptists are Arminians. And also rebels against the facts of birth…

    The Wire was a great show which renewed my come-outer desire to flee the city and not attempt to reform it.

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  4. Neusner (Children of the Flesh, Children of the Promise) teaches us that being a Jew has to do not merely with “covenantal nomism” but also with genetic inheritance. But is a Jewish mother more important than a Jewish father?

    Matthew 10:35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.

    Matthew 10:37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

    Matthew 12:50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

    Matthew 19:29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.

    Luke 12:53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against
    mother-in-law.”

    Luke 14:26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

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  5. “Physical descent does not determine salvation. YET, Paul’s remarkably paradoxical statement in Romans 11:28 strongly suggests that a special status extends through multiple generations.”

    A child raised in a believing home has several advantages towards developing a life of faith.

    Growing up I heard 1000 times from pagans that I only believed because my parents believed.

    The argument it didn’t matter entered my life from Evangelical swish-water non-members.

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  6. Of course it doesn’t matter if you or one of your parents believe or even know the gospel. Who knows about stuff like that? Why be unwarrantly “certain” when the lack thereof (and covenant sanctions) will be that which God uses to get you to persevere? There’s still a covenant promise for you, if indeed some great-great-great grandfather did know and believe the gospel, God will be your God. The Abrahamic pattern is clear. No adjustments necessary.

    It cannot be about ethnicity because it’s about conditionality….

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  7. From the Keepin’ it Real Vault: blacks aren’t warm & fuzzy about Hispanics. Add in all the qualifiers and disclaimers in that statement but that’s one of the dynamics here.

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  8. MM, blacks ain’t warm and fuzzy about creepy ass crackers, which is arguably blackspeak for homosexuals, either. That also got left out of the knee jerk 2+3=23 equation.

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  9. What I’m seeing is primarily leftist ideology as it sees race issues. So a white colleague of mine – who didn’t look at the law or the evidence – was appalled at the verdict. That type is captured by a broad-strokes story that involves racial profiling, a gun and a dead 17 year old. Then add in the political impulse to distort a story if it is expedient to do so and, well, read the websites.

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  10. M&M, something like this?

    The civil-rights leadership rallied to Trayvon’s cause (and not to the cause of those hundreds of black kids slain in America’s inner cities this very year) to keep alive a certain cultural “truth” that is the sole source of the leadership’s dwindling power. Put bluntly, this leadership rather easily tolerates black kids killing other black kids. But it cannot abide a white person (and Mr. Zimmerman, with his Hispanic background, was pushed into a white identity by the media over his objections) getting away with killing a black person without undermining the leadership’s very reason for being.

    The purpose of today’s civil-rights establishment is not to seek justice, but to seek power for blacks in American life based on the presumption that they are still, in a thousand subtle ways, victimized by white racism. This idea of victimization is an example of what I call a “poetic truth.” Like poetic license, it bends the actual truth in order to put forward a larger and more essential truth—one that, of course, serves one’s cause. Poetic truths succeed by casting themselves as perfectly obvious: “America is a racist nation”; “the immigration debate is driven by racism”; “Zimmerman racially stereotyped Trayvon.” And we say, “Yes, of course,” lest we seem to be racist. Poetic truths work by moral intimidation, not reason.

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  11. Or this?
    Hey, to the best of my knowledge Pat Buchanan has never countenanced or considered even commenting at CTC, which speaks volumes in my missal.

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  12. “The purpose of today’s civil-rights establishment is not to seek justice, but to seek power for blacks in American life based on the presumption that they are still, in a thousand subtle ways, victimized by white racism.”

    And, of course, white racism hasn’t vanished, so there is some truth there. What especially concerns me, though, is that individual justice is not valued. Thus it would have been a good result to the Al Sharptons of the world if Zimmerman was convicted notwithstanding that the jury delivered a no-brainer not guilty verdict. It’s an assault on our “pretty good” system itself when jurors – who saw everything first hand – are denounced by those who did not. And the President weighing in on this individual case – just as he “called out” the Boston police officer a few years ago – is a lowering of his office and an example, ironically, of bullying by a powerful person.

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  13. M&M, when you say you worry that individual justice is not valued, do you mean in the court of public opinion? Because in a court of law it appears to have been esteemed. I am thinking of the Gosnell case, where cultural rightists complained about it not getting the kind of press something like Zimmerman’s did, which evidently was supposed to highlight just how unjust our society is (which itself revealed a disturbing assumption about what kind of real value media sensationalism has). Then when justice was actually carried out in a court of law for Gosnell, the same were silent.

    My point is that there seems to be a curious disconnect between the courts of public opinion and law, which is to say that for all the brouhaha culturalists of whatever stripe make about our political system being morally bankrupt, when the law is actually practiced it would appear things aren’t quite as hell-bound as many would suggest.

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  14. Zrim, this man – George Zimmerman – was on trial. Certain concrete things happened under particular state law. So individual justice would be a proper decision in this case. But, politically, there are plenty who had no concern for the particulars of this case and would have been quite happy for him to be found guilty simply to promote a political end.

    And, yes, this kind of thing happens from the Christian right as well. By that I mean judging cases and courts by whether the politically favorable outcome has been reached rather than looking to the law and facts of a particular case while also failing to value processes and who should be doing what in our government.

    The road to recovert is, in part, becoming de-politicized and having a greater sense that we all have a valuable system that is worth preserving.

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