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Opinion: Problems with the Binary

A male and female symbol above the Republican elephant and Democratic donkey symbols, on a split background of black and white
Graphic created by Elinor Shelp-Peck

We live in a world where, in many cases, decisions or positions are considered to be right or wrong. Oftentimes, institutions and even individuals fail to recognize the spectrum that we live in, instead choosing to reinforce binaries. Binary systems have had a hold on American thought for centuries. It’s evident in the way we view everything from politics to personal decisions. A great example of a binary is the Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill (UNC) rivalry. When someone is asked which North Carolina team they affiliate with, the answer is frequently either Duke or UNC rather than NC State, ECU or any of the other larger athletic programs in the state. This binary is less damaging than others such as the gender, political or race binaries, but all foster an environment of exclusion.

The gender binary is the concept that there are only two genders: female and male. However, according to a recent survey by Ipsos, 4% of Gen Z identify outside of the gender binary, compared to 2% of Millennials, 1% of Gen X and less than 1% of Boomers. These numbers may appear insignificant, but many higher education institutions are beginning to offer gender identity alternatives outside of the standard male and female options. Leaving strictly gender binary or biological sex-based pronoun options for students excludes members of the LGBTQ+ community and limits students’ opportunity for self-exploration. The University of Vermont was the first school to offer gender alternatives 10 years ago; since then, 264 other colleges and universities have joined them. Of the 33 historically-all-women’s institutions that are operational in the United States, 19 “have formal policies that admit at least some trans students.” Meredith College is not one of these institutions, nor does it have an explicit admissions policy for gender nonconforming or transgender students, which ostracizes these students and creates an unwelcoming environment. More information about Meredith’s gender policies can be found in a previously published article by The Meredith Herald.

Another example of binary thought in America is the two-party system. The Democratic and Republican parties consistently dominate the political landscape in our country. These parties are responsible for making decisions on important legislation and ultimately have the final say on several issues in the U.S. Though each party claims to respect the diversity of thought in their party, their actions rarely express that. Newer political figures like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are excluded by party leadership for not adhering to traditions, and for regular people who aren’t affiliated with either party, the exclusion is worse. Both parties do their best to distance themselves from “fringe ideology,” which has become a term used to push away anyone who criticizes their systems. A previous article by The Herald mentions how the political binary relies on the buy-in of Americans. Parties often use rhetoric and fear tactics to maintain their power and convince Americans that the current system is feasible.

Additionally, the racial binary has had a significant impact on how people view culture and marginalization. Whiteness and white culture have pushed for lumping all non-white groups together, and henceforth terms like “people of color” have been created to try and label non-white groups. This fails to recognize that not all racial groups experience the same issues, nor do all racial categories speak to their cultural experiences. They’ve become a catch-all term to describe a generalized experience. The term “BIPOC” (Black, Indigenous and people of color) was created to try and account for the wide array of experiences by centering on the injustices that Black and Indigenous people have faced in the U.S. However, the reality is that these terms only further subject marginalized groups to the classification of the oppressor when the diversity of racial backgrounds are not acknowledged. Even with varying experiences, the impact of racism is evident. Issues like this occur constantly at Meredith, with many stories of white students stereotyping BIPOC students being shared on @DearMereCo.

Binaries reinforce that there are only two options available to validate someone’s opinion. In a perfect world, diversity of thought and opinion beyond the popular scope would be honored. But the reality is that these binaries exist due to the systems that uphold them.

By Elinor Shelp-Peck, Co-Editor in Chief, and Aminah Jenkins, News Editor



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