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Author Topic: sexual orientation vs racial/cultural diversity  (Read 59409 times)
jwahlig
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« on: December 29, 2011, 9:27:28 PM »

Hey all,

I'm a PhD student who identifies as a lesbian. I'm working on an autoethnographic study with a couple of classmates that explores our experiences of being minorities within our doctoral program. My classmates come from diverse cultural backgrounds- both are immigrants to the United States, whose first language is not English, and whose external features clearly identify them as members of a minority group. I, on the other hand, am white, have grown up in this country, and would probably not be identified as a lesbian unless you saw me with my partner.

In participating in a practice of systematic self-observation, I've noticed that I'm very sensitive to my relative invisibility as a member of the minority population... and am perhaps even more sensitive to my privileged status as a white "American" woman. It seems unfair to me that I should have the ability to "pass" as a member of the majority group when my beautiful and wonderful classmates must fight so hard to even be recognized as the American Citizens that they are. My experience, I imagine, would be significantly different in my education, my career, and my day-to-day life if I had some visible cue that let everyone know I was a lesbian.

Anyway, I'm curious about my own experience of this and any other minority and non-minorities thoughts on privilege and oppression, visibility and invisibility, and differences between racial/cultural and sexual orientation diversity as they show up in the workplace or educational settings.
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tuxedo_cat
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« Reply #1 on: December 29, 2011, 9:40:08 PM »

Hi OP -- it would be helpful to know what discipline you're in.  I would guess soc, but there are certainly a few other possibilities.

The question you've asked is very open-ended in relation to the kinds of conversations we tend to carry on here, although I imagine some people will respond with some helpful reflections.  If you look around at some of the other discussions in this particular forum on diversity, you will notice that quite a lot of them turn into trainwrecks or verbal fist-fights of some sort.  Just be prepared for some of that.  Also, if anything in your moniker relates to your name IRL, you should probably pick something more anonymous.

Is this a collaborative project you are preparing for a conference presentation?  Preliminary groundwork for a dissertation?  
« Last Edit: December 29, 2011, 9:40:50 PM by tuxedo_cat » Logged

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msparticularity
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« Reply #2 on: December 30, 2011, 12:23:15 AM »

Hi, and such an interesting project! I identify with what you're talking about to some degree because of my own personal and family history. First, I should say that my ostensible family history is what Molly Ivins used to call "mighty white." At the same time, I grew up in the middle of the Civil Rights movement, in a neighborhood and a school that were deeply committed to justice and change, and that was truly formative in my life. Also, as it turned out, there was more going on in my family than I recognized at the time around issues like skin and hair color and texture--and mine were my grandmother's despair.

So, once my grandmother died we began to put the pieces together, and figured out that she was of mixed race--and grew up in the segregated South where it was all-important to hide that. In some very odd and interesting ways, my hair became, for me, the symbol of what was hidden, and all that was lost. I do, truly, feel a deep sense of loss when I think of how shame separated my grandmother and her family from their own culture. Similarly, my daughter's paternal grandfather is half-Cherokee, but his father died before he was born and the family hid his true ancestry because it was considered shameful back then. In both cases, though, my daughter and I "pass" as white, with none of the assumptions or oppression that might accrue to us if we actually looked like our ancestors. And I think we both feel the ambivalence you are talking about.

I guess my point is that there is so much craziness around this in our society, isn't there? And with such loss! My brother, BTW, is gay, and he and his husband are among California's 18,000 legally married gay couples who are in limbo these days. They have chosen to be quite public about their lives, too, in part for much the same reason I think you're talking about: (in)visibility and questions of privilege.
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systeme_d_
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« Reply #3 on: December 30, 2011, 12:43:18 AM »

I suggest you google "femme invisibility" to begin with, and maybe read around on some blogs.  Then, look at Joan Nestle's The Persistent Desire, which contains some early (theoretical and otherwise) explorations of femme invisibility, and then, get a copy of Lisa Walker's Looking Like What You Are: sexual style, race, and lesbian identity, NYU Press, 2001.
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parispundit
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« Reply #4 on: December 30, 2011, 7:08:08 AM »



In participating in a practice of systematic self-observation, I've noticed that I'm very sensitive to my relative invisibility as a member of the minority population... and am perhaps even more sensitive to my privileged status as a white "American" woman. It seems unfair to me that I should have the ability to "pass" as a member of the majority group when my beautiful and wonderful classmates must fight so hard to even be recognized as the American Citizens that they are. My experience, I imagine, would be significantly different in my education, my career, and my day-to-day life if I had some visible cue that let everyone know I was a lesbian.
 

Doubtless I shall be fried for noting this, but this statement could be taken as the very essence of the term "bleeding-heart liberal". And one who wishes to wear her heart on her sleeve, no less.
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ovedun
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« Reply #5 on: December 30, 2011, 8:19:55 AM »

I'll jump in and "get fried", too.

The OP had said, "I've noticed that I'm very sensitive to my relative invisibility as a member of the minority population..."

So? Quit being so invisible if you feel so bad about it. Join gay groups, go butch, wear lesbian-themed apparel, mention your partner as often as straight people mention their wives or husbands...

Or you could move to Japan if you really want to be discriminated against. If you're not Japanese, there is no way to blend in and because you are female, you could have the joy of encountering racism and sexual harassment on pretty much a daily basis.

Also, why would someone "know" that you're a lesbian when they see you with your partner? Is she stereotypically "butch"? When I'm with my partner, people don't automatically assume that we're a lesbian couple and neither of us is particularly "girly". I really don't get what your "problem" is.

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chaosbydesign
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« Reply #6 on: December 30, 2011, 1:55:25 PM »

So? Quit being so invisible if you feel so bad about it. Join gay groups, go butch, wear lesbian-themed apparel

Why should she if that is not who she is? People should not choose to conform to stereotypes which go against their own character. I also identify as lesbian and have no desire to 'go butch', wear lesbian apparel or, to a certain extent, join gay groups. While I have nothing against any of these things at all, they are not things in which I have an interest, and I am not about to do them just because society thinks I should. And not for nothing, but I do not get the impression that OP is complaining about her invisibility; instead, she is contemplating how different her experience of life as an 'invisible' minorty is in comparison with minority groups who are unable to 'hide' the fact that they are minorities. OP is not saying "I want to be discriminated against", she is observing that as an 'invisible' minority she does not encounter as many difficulties as 'non-invisible' minorities in terms of societal acceptance, and acknowledging that she probably does not encounter  discrimination to the extent that she might if she were not 'invisible'.
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tinyzombie
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« Reply #7 on: December 30, 2011, 2:38:33 PM »

wear lesbian-themed apparel


I don't think the OP wearing a t-shirt with lesbians on it is the answer for which she's looking.

I hope someone else comes along to give this one a serious rebuttal:

Quote
Or you could move to Japan if you really want to be discriminated against. If you're not Japanese, there is no way to blend in and because you are female, you could have the joy of encountering racism and sexual harassment on pretty much a daily basis.
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Quote from: usukprof
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msparticularity
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« Reply #8 on: December 30, 2011, 3:15:43 PM »

So? Quit being so invisible if you feel so bad about it. Join gay groups, go butch, wear lesbian-themed apparel

Why should she if that is not who she is? People should not choose to conform to stereotypes which go against their own character. I also identify as lesbian and have no desire to 'go butch', wear lesbian apparel or, to a certain extent, join gay groups. While I have nothing against any of these things at all, they are not things in which I have an interest, and I am not about to do them just because society thinks I should. And not for nothing, but I do not get the impression that OP is complaining about her invisibility; instead, she is contemplating how different her experience of life as an 'invisible' minorty is in comparison with minority groups who are unable to 'hide' the fact that they are minorities. OP is not saying "I want to be discriminated against", she is observing that as an 'invisible' minority she does not encounter as many difficulties as 'non-invisible' minorities in terms of societal acceptance, and acknowledging that she probably does not encounter  discrimination to the extent that she might if she were not 'invisible'.

I agree--I took the discussion to be about issues of privilege and passing--and their consequences. Which raises an interesting question, actually: do some here think there a claim to be made that something is lost if (in this case) a lesbian woman does not conform to stereotypes that would make her visually identifiable? IOW, is visibility an essential part of some "true" experience of being a member of a minority--and if so, what does that true experience consist of, and what kind of visibility is demanded?

I had this conversation recently with one of my students who is a member of a visible racial/ethnic minority; he told me that his parents very carefully gave him a neutral and mainstream name to ensure that on things like job and loan applications he would not immediately be stereotyped. He is also very conscious of the ways in which he code-switches in language, physicality, and so on, depending upon his surroundings. FWIW, the conversation occurred in the context of how the system of public education interacts with these issues: the "stories" our educational system tells about culture and privilege.
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"Once admit that the sole verifiable or fruitful object of knowledge is the particular set of changes that generate the object of study...and no intelligible question can be asked about what, by assumption, lies outside." John Dewey

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systeme_d_
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« Reply #9 on: December 30, 2011, 3:40:59 PM »

Those who are responding to the OP with snarky "observations" are clearly ignorant of the long history of both personal and academic explorations of issues of invisibility and passing.

As MsP recognizes, issues of privilege and power are also implicated here.

Again, I recommend Nestle and Walker as beginning sources.
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tinyzombie
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« Reply #10 on: December 30, 2011, 4:01:31 PM »

Those who are responding to the OP with snarky "observations" are clearly ignorant of the long history of both personal and academic explorations of issues of invisibility and passing.

As MsP recognizes, issues of privilege and power are also implicated here.

Again, I recommend Nestle and Walker as beginning sources.

I should have specified in my post that I think the OP's question is a really important one; my snark was directed at a rather rude response to her.
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Quote from: usukprof
I think we have three of them, but the smallest one seems to be the leader.
Quote from: dolljepopp
Who needs real life when Sandra Bullock is around?
Quote from: systeme_d_
You are all my people, and I love you.
systeme_d_
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No T, no shade. Usually.


« Reply #11 on: December 30, 2011, 4:15:16 PM »

Those who are responding to the OP with snarky "observations" are clearly ignorant of the long history of both personal and academic explorations of issues of invisibility and passing.

As MsP recognizes, issues of privilege and power are also implicated here.

Again, I recommend Nestle and Walker as beginning sources.

I should have specified in my post that I think the OP's question is a really important one; my snark was directed at a rather rude response to her.

Oh, I know, TZ!  The responses to which I was referring came from others.
« Last Edit: December 30, 2011, 4:17:08 PM by systeme_d_ » Logged

prytania3
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« Reply #12 on: January 04, 2012, 2:50:29 PM »

White women got some power under the Nixon administration and crawled their way up from there. Before that, it sucked for them, too, and there still is a lot of discrimination against women of all colors.

I am a very white half Mexican with a dash of American Indian. I'm definitely an invisible minority, but you know what? If you've got a brain, you use what gives you an advantage.

Prytania,

who is not a bleeding heart liberal
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femmawatts
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« Reply #13 on: January 04, 2012, 7:46:56 PM »

Hi OP,

You do sound like a bit a bleeding heart liberal in your post, but you also raise so interesting issues about passing and invisibility.  Instead of simply comparing yourself with your other group members you might want to think about how your identities interact with one another.  What are the historical and current tension between minority groups around passing.  How might the experiences you express here be related to this?  Trying to understand this geography more largely may help you understand your own body as it is situated with other bodies. Also don't just think about the oppression you experience when it comes to passing, or not passing, also consider how your own whiteness might be a component of your passing?  Ask yourself about when your lesbianism becomes salient or visible; during such an occurrence do other components of your privilege come into play?

Finally, think about where your question is coming from.  In some ways you sound a little bit like you think something is unfair, why is that?  Do you feel that way because you are nervous about your own white privilege, and want claim a stake in oppression too, but realize that you can't because your experiences are broadly different, and solidity is not immediately apparent?  Or have you suddenly come to a more concrete understanding of a particular kind of invisibility only when you compare yourself against other minorities?  What is the best way to understand such a comparison?  How might these question intersect with, and traverse one another?

Best of luck with the project.  I hope you find this opening of yourself productive.
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lurkingfear
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« Reply #14 on: January 07, 2012, 8:15:06 PM »

I didn't know what authoethnography was until a thread in 'Research Questions' regarding a sketchy academic paper in this field popped up. Maybe I don't understand the point, but to me it's not a 'study' if N=1 and N=You. Maybe you can write an interesting autobiography about your experiences, but it will have no relevance to the broader question of what it means to be an invisible minority unless you include a broader sample.
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