College Bound and Bound by Biology
Having been born and raised in a multicultural household in Okinawa, Japan, I haven’t had to ponder too deeply (until recently) my own identity as a young female of Jewish-Korean extraction baptised into the Christian faith. What a rich mix-up my life has, so far, been. In Korean, I think of the bi bim bap my mother makes and serves me. This delicious dish, as a metaphor for my own cultural mixture, makes sense to me. Bi bim bap makes up my cultural DNA.
Applying to university has now forced me to reflect on who I perceive myself to be in a society whose cultural face is ever-evolving even while the gatekeepers of dominant traditions want to keep wearing a mask of immutability. Immigration policies in Japan are still bound by arguments for strict adherence to certain ethnicities. Always seen as an outsider, I now must think about who I am as I get ready to leave the nest for college. This question of who I am has vexed me since I can remember.
Should I go off to Korea? My Korean mom has pointed out that Koreans can be prejudicial — especially against “mixed bloods” like me. In South Korea, I am known as a “mutt.” I had never thought of this label until my Korean-American friends in Okinawa suggested that I am not “pure,” that I would be viewed in Korea as a mixed breed whereas they saw themselves as pure bred (with two parents of Korean ancestry). It didn’t matter to them that my Korean language skills are better than theirs.
Nor did their description of me hurt as much as it surprised me in reminding me of facts I had long been blind to. I think it is strange and ironic that Koreans would see me as a mutt while modern-day Koreans are themselves descendants of a mixture of North-Asian and East-Asian ethnic groups. Studies of changes in the Y-chromosome have shown, in fact, that Koreans belong to a larger group of populations closest to the Japanese, Ryukyuans (Okinawans), Ainus, Tibetans, and Bhutanese.
Should I stay in Japan? My Japanese friends have shown me that mixtures are okay. They comment on my brown wavy hair, light brown eyes, bright white skin and even think aloud about foreign men they might one day mix their genes with and birth a baby just like I once was. In recent years, I have begun to notice other so-called mixed people gradually growing in status and popularity in social media and on television shows. Their popularity seems to be growing especially among the younger generation. Maybe Okinawa is a special place where my outward appearance is not such a big deal in the formation of my identity.
Should I go to America? My American dad wonders gravely about the state of the nation, as he puts it. Though I have never been to the United States, some of my Japanese and Korean friends have suggested that I, at least, visit to make use of the passport bestowed upon me by my foreign birth. Curious to know what America is really about, I did some deep digging. My research on the so-called millennial generation now in college has produced some surprising results, which seem to throw into question some of my studies of human biology.
I have recently been learning about a new social movement appearing with increasing frequency in some of the social media sites I visit. It appears to have been birthed by members of the Tumblr community, so far as I can tell. The movement is known by the abbreviation SJW — standing for “social justice warriors.” This community, many of whom seem to be adolescents, appears to be part of a growing tribe in North America. Whether they are challenging the traditions of cultural appropriation or battling perceived injustices inflicted on them by personal pronouns, many of these young people appear to be well engaged in larger societal battles across the internet.
Various members of this community appear to fight strenuously for what they alone believe is right and demand unquestioning respect from other people, yet, in the same breath, disregard the perspectives of others. In fact, voicing an alternative perspective — even one grounded in pure reason — is, to them, grounds for a verbal attack.
Over the past few months, I have surveyed countless videos featuring genuinely perplexed individuals being viciously attacked for simply questioning the logic in the arguments made by tribal leaders of the SJW movement. The most noteworthy seems to feature a famous professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. In what appears to be the university commons, Dr. Jordan Peterson is castigated, interrupted, and browbeaten repeatedly by various Warriors wondering why so-called nazis appeared at one of his lectures. He attempted to respond, but was interrupted by someone holding the camera. He said to another bystander hurling insults that he wanted to address “her” question, which threw his inquisitor into a more passionate state of annoyance. “Don’t call me that, please,” she immediately responded. This exchange seemed to be a key moment in their interactions.
As an outsider looking in, I suspected that her personal rejection of gender is at the heart of this larger movement, which engendered my investigation of the root meaning of the word itself. It was confusing to me as to why she rejected “her.” Gender comes from Old French (14th century), meaning “beget, give birth to.” It refers also to “male or female sex.” In thinking about the University of Toronto chaos, I wondered how anyone living in the real world can reject the very categories of gender that brought her into existence. For further perspective, I consulted the sciences.
In flipping through the pages of my tenth grade biology text (still on my shelf), I am reminded of lessons of two years ago where discussions of the X and Y chromosome appear. One academic exercise from class remains fixed in my long-term memory: we had to match cards with XX and XY to their corresponding names for male and female reproductive biology. Hormonal urges in puberty probably made this activity more memorable during that year when I became suddenly aware of the really cute boy seated behind me. He was definitely displaying all the signs of XY.
In returning to the SNS battlefield, I found another skirmish unfold on Twitter. Professor Michael Rectenwald of New York University critiqued the SJW movement by suggesting that the far left has essentially fallen out of the spectrum of logic and reason.
From my own vantage point, larger questions remain hanging unanswered. If the battles fought within identity politics are really about destroying gendered pronouns — and the distinctions between male and female — how can today’s warriors ever hope to defeat the biological sciences that say there are only two solid genders? Men and women still mate and generate offspring. Doesn’t language, after all, reflect reality? No amount of complaining about gender as a social invention will change the reality that the biological X and Y exist. Breeding ourselves out of existence may be the only solution for the Warrior.