Hello everyone, today is Monday, November 23rd 2020. In trying to find out what special day it is today we used Google. First google told us it was Fibonacci day. You know everyone’s favorite mathematician from the middle ages? You know the guy that said, I’d really like to define that conch shell as a mathematical equation.
Fibonacci was also known as Leonardo Bonacci and Leonardo of Pisa, or Leonardo Bigollo Pizano, or as his friends called him Johnny Numbers. He really took a liking to nature and really wanted to explain it with math. Gross. And if ever there was a completely obvious made-up day, it’s Fibonacci day.
But google also told us that it is National Cashew Day, National Eat a Cranberry Day, and National Espresso Day and National Adoption Day. Like that last one doesn’t really fit into the food and beverage theme like the others.
It is also Native American Heritage month. What started at the turn of the century as an effort to gain a day of recognition for the significant contributions the first Americans made to the establishment and growth of the U.S., has resulted in a whole month being designated for that purpose.
But the way we think about groups has shifted somewhat from 1916 to 2020. That is, what may have started out as recognizing the way the very large and diverse social category group called Native Americans contributed to the establishment and growth of the United States, now also includes working to understand how people who identify as Native American have survived often against the direct and indirect actions of the United States.
Now for some people that may sound like it is bashing on the United States, but that is not what’s happening. What is actually happening is called growing and maturing and learning that life is complicated and people are complicated and identities can be complicated and that’s okay. That’s what it means to be mature. You are able to handle complex things.
Surprise! That’s what we are going to talk about today. Complex things like identity and groups. So far, we have talked about groups we share a sense of belonging with. Those are things that we get to choose for ourselves. But what about groups we get placed into. What about those groups?
The two big social category groups we mentioned at the start of the last podcast were race and gender. When it comes to these two groups, we need to recognize that people are mostly placed in these groups purely by how they look or present to others.
Most of the time this happens without the person having a choice or even a chance to say how they feel. Humans are not born choosing their parents, or their skin color, or their gender presentation. That is just the way we come out.
Well, here’s a thing to know. Not to jump back into our wonderful introduction to Fibonacci Day but did you know that those social categories were as made up as the nickname Johnny Numbers? Shockingly true. We just made-up the nickname Johnny Numbers today. But guess what, those social categories of race and gender, they were also just made up. Especially race. Just made up.
This is true. Let’s take race for a minute. Did you know that, to the best of our knowledge right now, human features on planet earth began appearing about 300,000 years ago. And just to put that in perspective, the Earth is about 4.54 billion years old. That’s billion with a B. There’s a link to a video you might want to watch, available in the description down below.
Science Sidebar! Watch this video!
Here’s a short break down of that timeline. If you took the entire history of the Earth and laid it out on a football field the beginning would be in one end-zone and the present would be the other end-zone. Each inch of grass between the two end-zones would represent 1.3 million years.
3.8 billion years ago, or Just shy of the 16-yard line life begins. And that is simple, single celled organisms. Just past the 20-yard line photosynthesis starts. And 2.3 billion years ago, or just shy of the 50-yard line those little organisms start producing enough oxygen to change the atmosphere. But it would be 1.5 billion years more until the atmosphere could sustain human-ish life.
About 8 hundred million years ago or just around the 20-yard line nearest the present, cells are more complex. About 530 million years ago, now around the 11-yard line, animals take their first steps on land. 4 billion years since earth formed, we are now about the 5-yard line and we are starting to see dinosaurs and some mammals. T.Rex shows up about 4 and half feet from the in-zone. Holla!
About 65 million years ago or about the 1-yard line a meteor and related climate change kills 75% of all life which leads to the yard of mammals. Armadillos, giant whales, wolves, and great apes are all showing up. Then about 1/8 of an inch from the enn-zone or about 200,000 years ago we see humans who look like us.
Everything we people have done, that we know about has happened in even less time about 80,000 years ago or so, as we know now. Of course, that can change as we learn more. The concept of race as we may most closely understand it came into usage in the United States around 1790 to count people living in country. (that’s 240 years ago)
It was one of the ways used to categorize those who had protected rights, and those who didn’t. Another way was with gender. Both race and gender became labels that were connected to rights and responsibilities. Remember, we talked about those with citizenship. So assigning people to groups that were not male or white European, had big implications for those people.
Old habits die hard, particularly when you don’t spend a lot of time building self-awareness and social awareness around them. To assign someone to a social category with less power is to strip them of the same in-group protections that the powerful may have. In this way, using a social category can really impact an individual's understanding of identity.
So maybe we should consider rethinking how we assign people to categories. Consider gender for a moment. Assigning people to a category of either male or female, based on how they present in the world is an old habit. That’s how it’s been done for a long time. But what if the person who is assigned to a gender group, male or female, doesn’t share a sense of belonging with that assigned group?
That’s what the term transgender means. If someone expresses themselves as transgender, they are saying that they do not share a sense of belonging with the gender group they had been assigned to. Now for old systems change can be tricky because it requires acceptance of a new category. The old categories were male or female.
Here’s some information from the National Center for Transgender Equality. Most people – including most transgender people – are either male or female. But some people don't neatly fit into the categories of "man" or "woman," or “male” or “female.” For example, some people have a gender that blends elements of being a man or a woman, or a gender that is different than either male or female. Some people don't identify with any gender. Some people's gender changes over time.
People whose gender is not male or female use many different terms to describe themselves, with non-binary being one of the most common. Other terms include genderqueer, agender, bigender, and more. None of these terms mean exactly the same thing – but all speak to an experience of gender that is not simply male or female.
This is a lot of good thinking and we’ve still got another week which is super important because we haven’t been able to talk about representation. Representation is a huge thing when it comes to groups because it is often representation that people base their perspectives on. And that is really impactful for group and individual identities.
Representation is also hugely impacted by power. Who holds it and how do they wield it. This may be the most important part of what we are talking about. It also goes back to what we just heard about acceptance. This is key and we will talk about it next week. Until then, may your thoughts and feelings be with you.