“The terms by which we are recognized as human are socially articulated and changeable. …These norms have far-reaching consequences for how we understand the model of the human entitled to rights…” —Judith Butler, Undoing Gender
Early Sunday, June 12. Here in Orlando, Fla. Fifty people killed at a popular gay club and more than 50 more injured. This just prior to the one-year anniversary of the terror attack on a black church in Charleston, S.C.
There are hundreds (hundreds!) of violent, mass attacks in our nation each year, many on people who are treated and considered unrecognizably human in this country. The LGBTQ community continues to fight to be recognized, and attacks like the one here in Orlando remind us why that fight is so important and still so necessary.
At the vigil downtown on June 13, an evangelical Hispanic preacher spoke. He said, “Not all evangelicals hate you. Some of us love you and we welcome you in our congregations!” And when he prayed, many prayed with him.
When others are thought of as less than — for their gender, sexuality, race, class, religion, nationality, able-bodied-ness, etc. — they are not recognized as human. What does it mean to treat others as less than? Physically harming someone and applauding harm are two ways. More insidious and more common is being dismissive of people and their experiences, especially when different from that of the (presumed) majority.
I am immersed in my Sociology orals exam prep, in which I am reading and re-reading important and relevant texts on these questions. Judith Butler’s work in social theory and philosophy is significant, seminal, and canonical. Late last week I was re-reading some of her work, including Undoing Gender.
Speaking to a broader audience in Undoing Gender, Butler posits that recognition is what gives us a place within society and confers status. She suggests that some people in society are considered more human than others — they are recognizably human. In her introduction, Butler writes:
"Certain humans are recognized as less than human, and that form of qualified recognition does not lead to a viable life. Certain humans are not recognized as human at all, and that leads to yet another order of unlivable life… If I am a certain gender, will I still be regarded as part of the human? If I desire in certain ways, will I be able to live? Will there be a place for my life, and will it be recognizable to the others upon whom I depend for social existence?"
When the evangelical Hispanic preacher prayed, many prayed with him. Loving, supporting and welcoming. Recognizing. I hope such recognition continues to grow in other such unexpected places.