White People Do Identity Politics Like Champs
Try not to be a dick about it
by AJAI RAJ
Last week I wrote about identity politics, focusing on what most people mean when they use the term — which is to say, the identity politics of the left, which tends to center the concerns of different minority groups.
Someone criticized that essay for excluding the identity politics of the right from the discussion. They had a point. Right-wing critics of identity politics tend to act as though it is a uniquely leftie phenomenon, when in fact the right has been trafficking in identity politics for decades at a minimum.
Whether campaigning on religion or making implicit — and some explicit — appeals to racial solidarity, the right is every bit as steeped in id pol as the left. The only difference is that, until fairly recently, it hasn’t been explicitly labeled as such.
White and Christian has historically been the American default. Demographic changes have changed that dramatically, to the point that white identitarians feel threatened by erasure. This movement is, of course, nothing new — Jared Taylor, the founder and editor of American Renaissance, published a popular book on the need for a white identity politics in 2011.
And white supremacy goes back centuries— but what is new is the emergence of this sort of thinking into the political and cultural mainstream, in the form of that nebulous and many-headed hydra, the alt-right.
To extend the same courtesy of empathy to white id pol proponents as I did to everyone else, I’m sure many white identitarians would argue that they’re as entitled to ethnic pride as anyone else. They’re tired of having to answer for the crimes of their ancestors and apologize for their so-called privilege.
Which, okay — strip away the racism, the pseudoscience, anything that reeks of Nazism, eugenics, or the KKK, and I kind of see the point. Kind of. I have to squint, but it’s there.
By all means, be proud of your heritage, but don’t be a dick about it. If you’re tired of hearing minorities blame white people for their problems, then don’t blame them for yours.
You don’t have to go to the extremes of performative self-flagellation like some on the left do, but acknowledging, say, the disparities in how many black and Native American people are killed by police relative to white people would be a start.
The best thing I can say about white identity politics is that it’s boring, in the same way that all people who lean too hard on their culture of origin in defining themselves are boring.
White id pol proponents tend to look less like Aryan supermen than the guy who just wanted his stapler back in Office Space. And as much as it seemed like overt white nationalism was on the rise after Brexit and the election of Trump, the election of Emmanuel Macron over Marine Le Pen in France seems to suggest otherwise. Only time will tell.
Boring or not, though, white identity politics isn’t going anywhere. The question is, is there any use in naming it as such? The only one I can think of is as a counterpoint when someone calls out the left for its supposed obsession with identity politics.
Which goes back to the point I made last week, that all politics is essentially identity politics. The term has effectively become useless, except both as a pejorative and a counterpoint to that very pejorative.
That being said, I don’t think the phrase will leave our lexicon anytime soon. But it’s worth remembering that it’s not much besides a smear at this point. In the currency of meaning, it’s lost almost all value.
At most, when a liberal is about to say something negative about identity politics, the probability is reasonably high that they’re about to make some un-self-aware proclamation about the importance of the white working class to the future of American politics.
If they have something positive to say, it’s about the importance of not dismissing minority concerns. If they’re conservative and have something negative to say, chances they don’t see their own deployment of the thing they’re criticizing. Or you could, of course, be talking to a white identitarian.
Maybe someone can make a game out of this. Id Pol Bingo. What could go wrong?
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