Categorism through exclusion

The most obvious way to do categorism to other people is to define them into a category and then do overgeneralizations about them (prejudice), declare that they are lesser human beings (bigotry), decide that they should not have equal rights (discrimination), try to marginalize them in various ways, and so on.

However, one of the most efficient tools for discrimination and marginalization is to avoid categorizing your victims. Instead, create categorizations that exclude them. Make them invisible. Make it look as if they don’t exist or that they at least doesn’t count or matter.

There are at least two main ways of doing this.

The first way is to create a categorization that exclude people or make it look as if they are included when they are actually not. Two examples are how the governments of Sweden and Indonesia are handling sexual orientation and religion, respectively.

The second way is to avoid bringing up a categorization that is highly relevant. One example is pretending that factors such as class and marital status are not relevant to the hardships of getting a birth certificate in Indonesia.

Sexual Orientation in Sweden
The Swedish government has decided that everyone is heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual in the eyes of the law. These are the three state sexual orientations. It is thus declared that everyone is protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation, since the law protects these three specific groups. Asexuals, pansexuals and sexual minorities other than bi- and homosexuals does not get any protection, but are instead declared to not exist as far as the government is concerned.

This has been widely criticized, for example by the NGO named RFSL, which fight for a change so that the law will also include sexual minorities such as fetishists and people who enjoy BDSM. Sociology professor Arne Nilsson has also claimed that homosexual individuals are actually more oppressed in Sweden today than 70 years ago. Back then, the homosexual subculture was a refuge from the conformity of mainstream society, but today it is pushed to let itself be used as a tool for enforcing that same conformity.

Religion in Indonesia
The Indonesian government has decided that everyone is a Muslim, a Protestant Christian, a Catholic Christian, a Buddhist, a Hindu or a Confucianist. These are the six state religions. The categorization goes much further than the Swedish categorization mentioned above: In Indonesia, you must have one of these six religions on your identity card, and you are not allowed to marry someone who doesn’t have the same religion registered on the identity card. Religions other than the six mentioned are not recognized as religions, in spite of Indonesia having hundreds of indigenous religions. These are instead categorized as “non-religious expressions”. People who are not religious are not recognized at all, and are not allowed to have an identity card or get married unless they pretend to belong to a religion.

Birth certificate in Indonesia
Everybody has to have a birth certificate. Without it they get no school, no ID card and no passport. Fair enough, if everyone could get a birth certificate. However, these certificates are actually very hard to get if you lack money, lack information, your family isn’t socially accepted, or your family doesn’t want you to have the certificate. The system for handling birth certificates looks very fair and equal, but only as long as you don’t consider the inequalities that are already built into the system.

Yesterday I quoted a government official who defended keeping poor children out of school, defended it with the argument that it is important to make sure that the children’s names are spelled correctly.

My shortest summary of what categorism means is this: Categorism is what happens when categorization turns from a tool for understanding into a mental cage or a dirty weapon. In cases such as the three above, the mental cage is locking people out by making them and their life-situations invisible, rather than locking them in with stereotypes about them.


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