Are gender-neutral pronouns a white people thing?

Anonymous asked:

“I love my friends who use they/them pronouns. However I have noticed that they are all white. Sometimes I think claiming these pronouns is a white privilege. Or just only a thing in white culture. Are there any resources out there that talk about race and nb [non-binary] pronouns? I want to understand better how different cultures deal with non binary folks, and how they deal with pronouns. Thank you”

Hello Anonymous,

Thank you very much for this question, which gels with something I’ve also wondered. However, I know many people of colour who use singular they – including singular they superhero Elisha Lim – and a quick informal survey of my community (admittedly on Facebook) yielded similar observations: that no, singular they is not just a white people thing but in wide circulation among people of colour.

That being said, however, it’s true that singular they is an overwhelmingly Anglo-friendly if not Anglocentric way to recognize non-binary or genderqueer folks in everyday language, as this verb structure simply does not exist in many other languages. White/Anglo are so frequently tied together that this could be relevant to any conversation about the potential whiteness of singular they.

Another thought is that, as in all things, people stating and asking for their needs to be met will likely experience more success if they have privilege: if others perceive their needs as important, at all, to varying degrees. I’m a middle-class white person with a PhD who teaches in a university (on precarious contracts which means I have less job security than people without my education level, but still) so I have a high degree of privilege that I fall back on when asking for my preferred gender pronoun to be used. Other people automatically presume I’m an authority on my needs and know best about what works for me. This, to me, is primarily an effect of my whiteness and certainly affects how I experience others’ perception and use of my pronoun.

I’m still wondering whether there is something specific about whiteness/white privilege and gender-neutral pronouns, or if this is just another ‘fairly straightforward’ instance of white privilege. Food for thought!

In my informal survey I didn’t come up with any specific resources on gender-neutral or non-binary pronouns for people of colour, however, so please pass them along if you find some!

Warmly,

Lee

3 comments

  1. A possible resource…I’ve been reading the tumblr WritingWithColor a lot lately and they do touch on the intersection of nonbinary pronouns/race from time to time, either specifically or as part of a broader Q&A. I can’t think of a specific post to link to (and I have so many tabs open right now that if I go looking I’ll never find THIS tab again!) but it’s a good place to start.

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  2. In some languages (including some non-European ones!), pronouns are not gendered in the first place.

    In fact, having a gender preference at all, instead of wanting to be called she/her and he/him randomly by someone who has known you and your gender for years, can get you labeled anti-immigrant. I have been labeled anti-immigrant for being a cisfemale girl and not wanting to be called he/him by someone who’s known I’m female and known ESL for years.

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