Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Far From the Tree

I took a little time out to juggle a few other books and I'm plowing my way through Andrew Solomon's Far From the Tree.  There is a lot of great stuff, even just in the introduction, but also a lot of..well...problematic stuff or leaps of logic and confusion of categories which speak to how very blind even the most insightful of us can be.  I'm going slowly because I insist on typing out whole passages and then appending my thoughts, so here's something from the introduction just to keep things moving over here:

Now we get to the meat of the matter:

Because of the transmission of identity from one generation to the next, most children share at least some traits with their parents. These are vertical identities. Attributes and values are passed down from parent to child across the generations not only through strands of DNA but also through shared cultural norms. Ethnicity, for example, is a vertical identity. Children of color are in general born to parents of color; [now stop right there and grasp that the reverse is actually true: children of no color are born to parents of no color but children of color are routinely born to people of no color when the parents are from different races. The transmission of whiteness has been really fought over for centuries and definitionally a lot of children of color come from one white parent.] the genetic fact of skin pigmentation is transmitted across generations along with a self-image as a person of color, even though that self-image may be subject to generational flux. Language is usually vertical, since most people who speak Greek raise their children to speak Greek, too, even if they inflect it differently or speak another language much of the time. Religion is moderately vertical: Catholic parents will tend to bring up Catholic children, though the children may turn irreligious or convert to another faith. Nationality is vertical, except for immigrants. Blondness and myopia are often transmitted from parent to child , but in most cases do not form a significant basis for identity—blondness because it is fairly insignificant, and myopia because it is easily corrected.” [Now who is being naïve, Kay? Blondness is not at all insignificant and is, in fact, a major marker of whiteness and good ethnic identity in a plural society.]

Often however, someone has an inherent or acquired trait that is foreign to his or her parents and must therefore acquire identity from a peer group. This is a horizontal identity. Such horizontal identities may reflect recessive genes, random mutations, prenatal influences, or values and preferences that a child does not share with his progenitors. Being gay is a horizontal identity; most gay kids are born to straight parents, and while their sexuality is not determined by their peers, they learn gay identity by observing and participating in a subculture outside the family. Physical disability tends to be horizontal, as does genius. Psychopathy, too, is often horizontal; most criminals are not raised by mobsters and must invent their own treachery. So are conditions such as autism and intellectual disability. A child conceived in rape is born into emotional challenges that his own mother cannot know, even though they spring from her trauma.” (2)

(4)”As my parents had misapprehended who I was, so other parents must be constantly misapprehending their own children. Many parents experienced their child's horizontal identity as an affront. A Child's marked difference from the rest of the family demands knowledge, competence, and actions that a typical mother and father are unqualified to supply, at least initially. The child is expressly different from most of his or her peers as well, and therefore broadly less understood or accepted. Abusive fathers visit less abuse on children who resemble them physically; if you are born to a bully, pray that you bear his features. Whereas families tend to reinforce vertical identities from earliest childhood, many will oppose horizontal ones. Vertical identities are usually respected as identities; horizontal ones are often treated as flaws.” [Is there no difference, in the authors mind, between challenges which prevent the child from achieving adult status and liberty in a parentless world and mere differences in identity? Between changes in social identity associated, for example, with the immigrant experience and the breakdown of the patriarchal/clan based system of control and other forms of narcissistic control?]

OK, now we get to the kooky part where you think this guy has never been let out of his white male privilege:

One could argue that black people face many disadvantages in the United States today, but there is little research into how gene expression could be altered to make the next generation of children born to black parents come out with straight, flaxen hair and creamy complexions. In modern America , it is sometimes hard to be Asian or Jewish or female, yet no one suggests that Asians, Jews, or women would be foolish not to become white Christian men if they could. Many vertical identities make people uncomfortable, and yet we do not attempt to homogenize them. The disadvantages of being gay are arguably no greater than those of such vertical identities, but most parents have long sought to turn their gay children straight. Anomalous bodies are usually more frightening to people who witness them than to people who have them, yet parents rush to moralize physical exceptionable, often at great psychic cost to themselves and their children. Labeling a child's mind as diseased—whether with autism, intellectual disabilities, or transgenderism—may reflect the discomfort that mind gives parents more than any discomfort it causes their child. Much gets corrected that might better have been left alone.” (4)

This is rather obviously patently false.  People have struggled against their "vertical identities" since the get go changing their names, religions, practices, foods, life histories, etc... And this change has of course extended to the body: Asians have had their eyes rounded, Jews have had their noses lopped, African Americans have had their skin whitened and their hair straightened and have, of course, "passed" into the white community--for better or worse individuals and whole communities, like the Melungeon, have responded to oppressive categorizations by trying to opt out.

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