The Revolution and the Social Construct
We inhabit the socially constructed identities of our social environment just as assuredly as we are also victims to the -isms that marginalize and exploit those identities.
Socially constructed identities like race, gender, class, creed and nationality are imaginary borders imposed on the geography of our social landscape. Imaginary as they are, they have very real consequences upon our lives and experiences in the same manner that the imaginary lines of national borders have very real consequences on the lives of every individual on this planet.
As we inhabit these social spaces called identities, we are infused with the correlating values and normative expectations. To be a man comes with a certain expectation of how one is to act and shouldn’t act. These expectations are constantly enforced socially and reenforced psychologically To be a man also comes with a certain social value. Men are viewed as smarter, stronger, more logical and etc. So it affects not only our self image and internal expectations but it also affects the way that everyone else treats us and their expectations of how we will act and interact with others.
These are the internalized biases that we are socialized with. These cognitive biases are often implicit, which means that we are largely unaware that they even exist. In fact, our minds work in such a way, that even when we are called out on them, our brains will work overtime to justify these biases as being logical and soundly rooted in fact. This entire process is subconscious so you aren’t even aware of it happening. All you know is that you aren’t really sexist or racist and you have a very non sexist or non racist reason to feel the way you do. The reality is that you don’t have to wear those silly sheets on your head to be racist or choke your wife out to be sexist. In fact, all you need to do is inhabit and believe in those socially constructed identities. If you consider yourself a man or white, you are conforming to those values and expectations. You may begin to deconstruct those internalized biases, values and self images, but you’ve already been taught how to be a man or white.
So the question is not whether I, as a man, am sexist or whether you, as a white person, are racist. It is an unavoidable characteristic of our psyche as inhabitants within this contemporary cultural environment in which sexism, ableism and racism are socialized and normalized from the very beginning of our lives.
No, the question is whether or not we acknowledge these biases and how we are working to counteract them. The fact that we have been involuntarily socialized as racist, sexist and ableist individuals is not a judgement over our character. However, what is an important indicator of our character is how we confront these implicit biases once we become aware of them. Often we brush off our microaggressions as inconsequential to the larger issue of social justice and qualitative change. The type of transformative social change we seek is qualitative in nature since we wish to fundamentally change the very nature of social relationships. But it must be acknowledged that qualitative change has never happened without the smaller quantitative changes. These smaller quantitative changes are the changes that we can make in our everyday interactions with one another. The way we speak, the assumptions we make and the prejudices we hold. We must be cognizant of the fact that individual action is guided by these assumptions and these prejudices. If we won’t challenge these internal biases then we will continue to reinforce and perpetuate the cultural superstructure which lies at the heart of the systemic oppression we claim to be fighting.
We have a tendency to focus on those big activities, like direct action, unionizing and community organizing, protesting and militancy, that have the feel of urgency and magnitude. As important as these actions are, it is just as important to emphasize the small day to day acts of resistance.Deconstructing those identities that you inhabit, the internalized biases and habits of thought, is critical to moving forward toward revolutionary change. The process of deconstruction must be interpersonal as well as intrapersonal. We must be proactively challenging our peers. It sends the message that the borders of these socially constructed identities are changing. Social constructs only exist because we believe in them and because we keep playing the game. This does not mean that we can ignore the consequences of these social constructions. We can deconstruct them while simultaneously remedying their effects.
We can change the social relationship to the means of production all we want, but if we fail to also change the individuals relation to the dominant social construct, then we will fail to create a sustainable revolutionary society, again.