James W. Hicks, M.D.

Race and Sexuality

In Myths on July 18, 2010 at 8:59 am

There are many parallels between how we think about race and how we think about sexuality.

People are supposed to identify as black or white, for example, as if the two categories were distinct and scientifically meaningful. In fact, the genetic differences between racial groups are almost completely meaningless, and populations have mixed over the centuries to such an extent that, for example, one-third of African-Americans’ genetic heritage is European, and one-third of whites’ genetic heritage is of relatively recent African origin. Yet it is still an almost universal practice to squeeze people (including our president) into one category or another. If you don’t appear completely white, you must be black or something else.

Something similar occurs with gay and straight. If you let it be known that you have any same-sex affection, desire, attraction, or behavior, you are likely to be perceived as gay and encouraged to identify yourself as gay. The reality that roughly one-third of straight individuals have mixed interests or experiences is suppressed and ignored, and our human potential is collectively curtailed.

Racial and sexual identities have served some purpose in the evolution of civil rights, but perhaps the time has come to move beyond simplistic labels.

  1. I agree totally with the statement that it is time to move beyond the labels we have imposed on people in the past–in regards to “race” and sexuality. I am glad you all are working on changing the sexual aspect of labeling that only serves to “put people in a nice neat little box!” in so many ways.

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