On Identity Politics and Its Victims: a Letter to Those Who Believe Their Race Is Their Destiny
by Alexander Zubatov
You are a victim, but not of white racism or American history.
Rather, you are the unwitting victim of dangerous intellectual currents on the radical left that began in the halls of academe in the 1980s by attacking the Civil Rights Movement’s noble ideal of color-blindness and its beautiful dream of a post-racial society and replacing it with an angry, hateful and ultimately regressive notion of race and other identities as all-determining. The melting pot — the idea of a nation within which all of us, no matter our starting points, assume a dynamic, ever-evolving American identity—was attacked and replaced by a balkanized salad bowl, in which people were taught to assume rigid, fixed identities and stress their differences from others. The idea of a canon of texts in which we are all educated based on the single selection criterion of merit was replaced by an idea that texts, no matter their merit, must be superficially representative of our racial, gender, religious and sexual identities, so that each identity group now had its own canonical texts. College majors and disciplines in various aspects of identity politics — African-American Studies, Chicano Studies, Asian-American Studies, Women’s Studies, Queer Studies, etc. — began to proliferate in the 1990s, and unlike traditional academic fields, these departments had a highly ideological agenda of validating the identities they studied. Graduates of these departments multiplied and grew into power, becoming prominent journalists, professors, scholars, researchers and activists. Before long, the long-time consensus in favor of the idea that we should be moving towards a society where everyone is judged based on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin started unraveling.
As I’ve described here, while at the time of Obama’s election in 2008, most whites were still voting Democratic and race polarization was at all-time low, in the intervening years, the politics of radical race-consciousness reached a tipping point. We were having a 24/7 conversation about race and racism. People were getting called out for racism left and right. Political correctness went into hyperdrive. White people who had countervailing (or simply race-blind) perspectives on race were being routinely told by anti-white racists that they were products of “white privilege.” Egged on by the ratings-driven, race-baiting, sensation-peddling media that sold the public on the repeatedly discredited myth of an epidemic of police killings of blacks by flooding all killings of blacks by police with massive media coverage while simply ignoring all killings of whites by police under similar circumstances, #Blacklivesmatter became a major political force, inserting itself into every national issue and shaking down weak-kneed politicians. The rise of Trump and the revival of white nationalism were the result of this mass cultural attack on poor and working-class white Americans, who were economically struggling, yet being routinely sent the message that they were privileged oppressors. Through their aggressive race-baiting and renewed race-consciousness, these radical black nationalists had ironically given rise to the very thing they claimed to oppose: a new, burgeoning politics of “white identity.” They had, in a word, made white people more conscious of the fact that they were white, rather than simply American.
You, like many being swirled around faster and faster in this racialized cauldron, are a victim, but you do not have to be a victim. You have a choice. As someone who wants to be active in the cultural and political issues that affect this nation, you can help heal the wounds opened up by this newfound focus on superficial identities that is reifying those identities and creating a nation of warring tribes. You can stand up to the identity-mongers and tell them that the humanity you share with Americans of all races and ethnicities lies deeper than the pigment of your skin. Or you can pour salt on the wound. You can embrace race. You can help bring about the violence that you yourself know will come if we continue along this dispiriting and polarizing path. For now, the choice is yours. But as we get swept up in a current that is fast becoming unstoppable, the choice will not be yours for long.
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Alexander Zubatov is a practicing attorney specializing in general commercial litigation. He is also a practicing writer specializing in general non-commercial poetry, fiction, drama, essays and polemics. In the words of one of his intellectual heroes, José Ortega y Gasset, biography is “a system in which the contradictions of a human life are unified.”
Some of his articles have appeared in Acculturated, PopMatters, The Hedgehog Review, The Montreal Review, The Fortnightly Review, New English Review, Culture Wars and nthposition.