For a while now, I’ve been trying to find the best way to describe the position of assumed universality in human culture. The experience from which all other subjectivities deviate, or have caveats applied to them. I’m talking about the quickest way to describe this guy:
In other words, the quickest way to say white, male, cisgendered, heterosexual, able-bodied and neurotypical. And middle class. It’s a mouthful, and critically, with every addition of another subject positioning, has the potential to become invisible again. Especially because it is the assumed position to which we all otherwise defer. The default version of humanity.
Then recently, I was listening to a BBC podcast about paleoanthropology (normal, cool stuff), and the presenter was talking about holotypes. Holotypes being, in biology, the specimen used to describe the species. The most typical, or default example of a species according to dominant scientific practice. It’s easy to argue, then, that this guy is the holotype of modern humanity, and this has often been represented, like, here:
It’s fascinating how, through the colonial lens of modern scientific knowledge production, the male human is pictorially described as becoming-white through evolution, and that these representations of evolution, perpetuating white supremacy, continue to appear in textbooks.
Sometimes women get involved, but they’re (obviously) becoming-white and cisgendered as well:
And if they are included, sometimes female bodies don’t appear until pretty recently:
Given this, I’m not sure why the term ‘holotype’ is not used more often in contemporary critical approaches to race and gender, in particular. It seems like an efficient way to describe how the imaginary of the becoming-white straight cis-man as an ideal version of humanity has dominated western culture, in order to critique it. And can also be used to describe the ideal version of femaleness (i.e. white, heterosexual, cisgendered) as a holotype as well. (But I’m more than willing to bet there’s some sinister reason I haven’t come across yet, so please let me know if you know.)
Otherwise, I’m going to give it a go. Don’t be so holotypical.