Every day in Malone Science Center, we experiment with control groups - the basic experimental groups to which all other variables are compared. This same principle lies at the root of so many toxic social phenomena in our country, and it threatens to uproot the semblance of social harmony we have. One group, one people, or one kind becomes the default basis to which everything else is juxtaposed. That is problematic.
Consider what Charles Blow discussed in his February 19 address to The Hill. He espoused the spectrum of skin color, on which light skin is favorable and dark skin frowned upon. He mentioned stories of skin-lightening cream in India flying off the shelves. This phenomenon comes from the deep-rooted perception that white skin is the blank canvas - the pure, untainted control group - that darkness taints and contaminates. Black, Hispanic, and Asian are inherently, as the white supremacist would argue, variations of the basic white template. But white is should not be normal, and black should not be odd. There should be no normal, no default, no control group.
This discovery, within the scope of Hopkins’ Conversations on Race, holds just as much worth and meaning when it comes to our sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, classist, and ableist tendencies. Our year-long dialogue is much more of a Conversation on “Other.” It is a discussion revolving around intersectionality, because no social issue stands alone. Students United for Racial Equality (SURE) has drawn our attention to the Martin Luther King quote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Injustice touches every social issue, and it touches every one of us.
Sexism has a control group - man - that exercises power over the target group - woman. This male control group does not come from a simple majority in our culture. Instead, look to the linguistics. Man is the root word to which “wo-” is attached, to create woman. In our language, woman is an appendage, a variation of the base.
This linguistic nuance breeds sexism in our community and elsewhere. With those two extra letters in “woman” come discrimination and “different” treatment. Fortune writes that women earn “77 cents on the man’s dollar,” for example, with “the man’s dollar” being the control group/frame of reference. Female athletes are asked other questions about their outfits and appearances, reports Upworthy. This should not happen. Two extra letters shouldn’t mean twice as much prejudice and half as much respect.
A control group also lies in the terminology we use when discussing sexual orientation. Think of the word “straight,” which is used synonymously with “heterosexual.” A straight line is geometry’s most basic shape; it is the default and unwavering building block of mathematics. When we equate being straight to being heterosexual, it becomes the expectation, the norm. Those who identify with the queer community then become discontinuities or anomalies in the line. It is a slippery slope. The more “variable” labels we assign to people, the more they deviate from the control group and the more we perpetuate prejudice. Just think of the incessant intolerance that imprisons a transsexual woman of color.
Homophobia still pervades and pollutes American society, and the control group mentality is the enabling factor. Take the recently passed “Bathroom Bill” in South Dakota, for an example. The legislation forced transgender students in public schools to use restrooms governed by “chromosomes and anatomy” regardless of their gender identity (TIME). Or consider how NBA player Jason Collins’ name is prefaced by “Gay sports icon” (The Desert Sun) or “Openly gay athlete” (InterAksyon). The distinguishing factors between people should not be their sexuality, gender, or race. Jason Collins and Thomas Lewis, 18, from South Dakota, are not “other” or anomalous variations of the straight control group.
In the end, the American control group is the white, straight male. This base happens to wield an incredible amount of power in our society. They are in control. On February 26, The New York Times (subjectively) reviewed the “503 most powerful people in American culture, government, education and business, and found that just 44 are (racial) minorities.” This figure is alarming and revealing, yes. But it mistakenly qualifies people of color, in this case, as “minorities”: perhaps the most dangerous word in our social issue vernacular. Just because African-Americans hold a lesser proportion of the population of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for example, that doesn’t make them a lesser people. Our American social construct should model the organization of the US Senate only in the sense that every state is valued equally, regardless of population size.
It is time we stop looking at people as “other.” There is no normal or archetypal American. There is no ordinary Hilltopper. None of us - white, black, bisexual, female, male - are variables in comparison to a default control group. We are all equal, individual, distinctive, and unwavering. We are constants.