Identity Politics Is The New Racism
In the early 1960s, a profound change took place in the western world: Our culture was forced to face its own history, to come to terms with the consequence of its oppressive power, and to confront the dark side of its most deeply held Ideals. The sanctimonious power of Whiteness could no longer go unchecked. This moment, one of the greatest moral acknowledgments in human history, represented our fall from grace: the concept of western supremacy was forever tarnished and the white world was duly stripped of its longstanding moral authority. This was the moral fall of the west. We fell from innocence — and a loss of innocence is a loss of power.
This made a ripple in our collective conscience, reverberating through our world from one edge to the other, giving voice to the oppressed margins of society through a concord of revolutionary movements and political ideas that changed the course of our history. Whether it be James Baldwin decrying the moral tragedy of a segregated society, or Simone De Beauvoir arguing the necessity for equal relations between men and women: the spark had been lit. Civil Rights won out the culture war. The shell of the modern world was cracked open, releasing its long hidden, deep buried energies that would go onto transform the consciousness of its unsuspecting inhabitants once and forever. Pandora’s box has been opened and it will never be closed again.
I believe this transformation was necessary and inevitable. We needed to break free from the chains of the past, to challenge the unquestioned assumptions of our forefathers, and to open the cultural borders of our society. Though, of course, we can never escape our history — as James Baldwin understood: “To accept one’s past — one’s history — is not the same thing as drowning in it, it is learning how to use it. An invented past can never be used; it cracks and crumbles under the pressures of life like clay in a season of drought.” The shift that occurred leading into 1960s gave birth to the postmodern era; a period where we more readily denounce the sins of the past than come up with any solutions for the future, making the present often feel like a dystopian nightmare.
The corrosion of values that took place in the mid 20th century made for a vacuum of meaning, a chasm between ourselves and the world, an unspeakable Void in our culture that has tormented our dreams as well as our wakings minds. “Who are we?” — a voice in the minds echoes, with no answer in return. Identity becomes paramount when living in the Void — for it’s the only thing that has been truly lost; a deeper reality forever awaits us. We have indeed lost our identity, and human beings cannot live without this feeling. What came out of this vacuum of meaning, this emptiness that has been felt all across the West? Identity Politics sprung from the Void like an exploding star, detonating an infectious cosmic dust throughout the galaxy that we have been inhaling ever since.
The line between the personal and the political has been forcefully erased. What began as a sincere quest for equal rights, gradually transformed into a series of group identity movements — grounded and unified in their “victim” status. By the 1970s, the Postmodern critique of Western Civilization dominated the social sciences and humanities, indoctrinating students into a worldview that places emphasis almost exclusively on power and privilege in the context of one’s race, gender, ethnicity, and sexuality. You are not an individual; You are part of a group. History is to be deconstructed, not understood. You are either the oppressor or the oppressed, a perpetrator or a victim — with little room for personal choice. Guilt and innocence are measured in terms of your group identity, by the genitalia between our legs or the melanin content of our skin or our preferences in the bedroom, rather than anything we have actually done or aspire to do. In other words, group identity far outweighs individual autonomy, in the proclaimed pursuit of social justice. This ideology has seeped into our culture and helped polarize the political landscape to an unimaginable extent.
Here’s Shelby Steele to help explain the nature of group identity: “It seems to me that when we identify with any collective we are basically identifying with images that tell us what it means to be a member of that collective. Identity is not the same thing as the fact membership in a collective; it is, rather, a form of self-definition, facilitated by images of what we wish our membership in the collective to mean. In this sense, the images we identify with may reflect the aspirations of the collective more than they reflect reality..” What creates these false images? In a word: Ideology. A dogmatic certainty in the subjective lens we use to interpret the world.
Intersectional Feminism, for example, is one of many postmodern academic disciplines that propagates the group identity narrative. Intersectionality is defined as follows: “An analytic framework that attempts to identify how interlocking systems of power impact those who are most marginalized in society.” My definition: Break people down into various groups, measure their level of oppression in accordance with their group identity, and then add up those intersecting degrees of oppression to define who and what a human being is.
A friend of mine once told me how the renowned feminist Roxane Gay, golden child of intersectional feminism, visited her school. She expressed with pride how the distinguished writer courageously took the elite institution to task for not having a handicap friendly passageway to the beach nearby. She had proclaimed, to the auditorium of wide eyed and impressionable young students clamoring for identity and purpose, that she considered herself more oppressed than a homeless white man. For, as the homeless man was merely oppressed in his poverty, the New York times bestselling author had 3 intersections of oppression in her race, gender, and obesity. I found the idea absurd and reprehensible (yet unsurprising), though my friend — glowing with joy — saw nothing wrong and found solidarity in her struggle.
Intersectionality feels to me like a kind of bizarre mathematical formula, intended to make total sense of reality and tie the universe in a neat little bow tie, with no concern for the human implication or the opportunity cost. Life is too messy to define people along these theoretical spectrums of hypothetical oppression; the deeper human reality is lost in translation. Here, the pictures in our mind fail to resemble a world that anyone has actually lived in. Jordan Peterson, Godfather of the Intellectual Dark Web, once noted in a lecture on Marxism and White Privilege that “the logical conclusion of intersectionality is individuality, because there are so many ways of categorizing people’s advantages and disadvantages then when you take that out to the end you realize the individual is the ultimate minority.” But alas, such a conclusion has yet to be made.
James Baldwin, often considered an exemplar of Postmodern Identity Politics, states plainly in his masterpiece, The Fire Next Time, that “Color is not a human or personal reality; it is a political reality.” Identity Politics, in essence, is the belief that the personal is indeed the political. This is the idea that your personal identity is a political device: How we feel deep inside is inseparable from policy, and the social order must also reflect those inner feelings. The trouble is, every identity contains the seed of its opposite. To emphasize one identity group is to inadvertently empower the other. The Women’s March helped create Men’s Rights Activism. Blue Lives Matter was a reaction to Black Lives Matter. The Proud Boys were a response to Antifa, and so on. Let’s bring in Shelby Steele once again: “When I make my difference into power, other groups must seize upon my difference to contain my power and maintain their position relative to me. Very quickly a kind of politics of difference emerges in which racial, ethnic, and gender groups are forced to assert their entitlement and vie for power based on the single quality that makes them different from one another.”
It seems to me, contrary to popular belief, that James Baldwin was not simply criticizing white supremacy in America; he was excoriating the nature of identity politics itself: “Most people guard and keep; they suppose that it is they themselves and what they identify with themselves that they are guarding and keeping, whereas what they are actually guarding and keeping is their system of reality and what they assume themselves to be.” Baldwin further drives this point home in his criticism of Malcolm X and The Nation Of Islam: “During a recent Muslim rally, George Lincoln Rockwell, the chief of the American Nazi party, made a point of contributing about 20 dollars to the cause, and he and Malcolm decided that, racially speaking, anyway, they were in complete agreement. The glorification of one race and the consequent debasement of another — or others — always has been and always will be a recipe for murder. If one is permitted to treat any group of people with special disfavor because of their race or the color of their skin, there is no limit to what one will force them to endure..”
Here we are once again — back where we began. The spirit of racial antagonism that plagued my country for so long has been carried on by many who claim to be fighting against it. Racism lives on through Identity Politics — no matter what side of the fence we find ourselves on. The political divide grows larger and more sinister by the day, aptly portrayed by a recent poll where 85% of people in the UK and 84% in the US believe their country is more divided politically — than economically, socially, racially, or otherwise. We can’t move backwards and desperately cling to the past — which is why I don’t necessarily align with the conservative movement. The only path I see forward is to embrace the freedom that the Postmodern era has offered us and attempt to change the narrative through our own moral efforts — for example, getting comfortable having conversations with people we disagree with, refusing to find solace in a group identity, recognizing our own propensity to abuse power, or finding it in our heart to forgive those that have done us harm. Freedom is brutal. It says: You and you alone are responsible. To practice a discipline of freedom by adopting personal responsibility is the only real power we have on our brief journey through life — the only fleeting glimpse of free will we can ever know.
The Content Of Our Character by Shelby Steele
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
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