Greeting all Withteeth here,
Long time no write! Today I want to talk about a lil’ol thing called Identity Politics. I’m no expert on this topic, but I do have quite a few years steeped in it’s topics and outcomes, good and bad, so I want to share my thoughts. As is always advisable bring some salt to the table and feel free to raise your objections!
Identity Politics, by my understanding, is most fundamentally a collection of shorthands for various type of individuals and group that allow for quick and concise descriptions and cues for numerous kind of people. From issue like Gender or sexual orientations, ethnicity, psychological descriptions such as ADHD, and Depression, and some times expands to include other descriptors more commonly things like introvert and extrovert, and more rarely briggs-myrer test results, INJP or the like. This is by no means a full list, just some common examples.
Though categorization is only the identity side of of identity politics. And as those on either the far left and right will tell you, and what may surprize you is there is a great deal of derision from both sides. Those complaints that to main stances. Identity politcs is political correctness run amock! Or Idenity Politics is divisive and needlesly splitting people apart.
Now I think when people say political correctness is running amock, or “I’m just teeling it as it is.” I mostly hear “I wanna be a jerk to people, without Soical consequences.” Occasionally I’ll hear a meaningful point, but Normally when I encounter it it’s used as a distraction or excuse for holding a unplesant veiw about some other group the person doesn’t belong too.
The argument from divisiveness, however really has some soild truth to it. Where ever you attempt to catigorize, you make seemingly neat division in a messy and complex world. By it’s very nature the identity part of idpol is dividing people. I have seen folk rise to defend, and attack solely based on these division, and use them as a method to strip legitimasy from one group. perhaps the best example is that of Bi sexual erasure in the LGBTQA community where Gay and Lesbian people will attack and condem Bi sexual people of having heterosexual relationships and ostracizing them for this perceived betrayal.
This obviously not cool, but if people who should know better use identity politics to hurt people who only want similar recognition they themselves have won, why do I think identity politics are ultimately a positive force?
One: awareness building. Yes having aware of a group and for a time make them a target, but I think we have seen enough through history that staying hidden is a terrible stratagy for long term survival in a human population. Unless of course you have the power already to maintain your secrecy. The best way to make sure someone isn’t going to ostrisize and single out a group of people is to make sure they know about those people, and have a direct and meaningful relationship with at least one member of that group. That way you can easy attain empathy for another. The end goal of any awarenessraising move in my opinion has to be normalization, and acceptance, and I think for the fault of identity politics it has help raised awareness about dozens of minority group who face real threats from scoiety at large, and in part has been key in pushing LGBTQA issues, and have and effect on ‘race’ issues although I am regertiable less informed on the effect of identity politics on Person of colour.
Two: this real problem with divisiveness is a lack of intersectional understanding. Intesectionality is hard. Really hard. People who claim to be intersectional feminist can and often still preptuate harmful ideas and will sometimes ignore other people’s lived experiences if they haven’t directly experinced them first hand.
What makes intersectionality so hard is that it requires empathy for others, and a deep understanding of the experinced and conditions which affects a given group of people. You basically need to have the basics of economic theory, a good grounding is the relevant history, and know a lot about the social sciences to really start making a crack at competent intersectional thought. You can have a good grasp of the categories of indetity politics but have no idea of the kind of power structures which affect how people interact, live their day to day lives, and how they affect individual and group opportunities and access.
To really appreciate and utilize intentional though, and therefor use indentity politics for good you need to be curious , and have a real desire to learn about people, and critcally you need to be willing and actively want to push yourself to try to understand experinces that might be radically different from your own.
So to wrap this post up, my thought on Identity politics can be summed up as follows. Idtity politics on a practical level is little more then a list of labels and desripitions for indivials and groups to indetify themselves. Unless you are actively applying intersectional thought to these catigorization, there no reseason that people won’t use that lables as a tool to harm as much as help. Due to that I’m wary of agree with just anyone pushing idenitity politics, but I still think that it does more good then harm and the use of idenitity politicswill contiune to give power and reconition to unserved and unrepresented group in our societies. We as agroup just need to become better at applying intersectionality to issues of privledge and access.
Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
August 19th, 2017 at 1:25 pm
I have a question, do identity politics and intersectionality not contradict each other?
August 19th, 2017 at 7:39 pm
Short answer, no they are not inherently contradictory.
A more nuanced answer being, while identity politics can be largely harmless is has been used in various divide a conquer strategies, and to generate hate and mistrusts. It can used used with much twisting to justify any harm one group does while making mountain of out mole hills of other groups.
When used in the way of fascists have historically used identity politics, identity as supremacist, such politics stand clearly in the way of any intersectional agenda. Though though a pluralistic frame work I don’t see how identity politics can’t benefit from intersectionality.
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August 19th, 2017 at 11:30 pm
Additionally I think intersectionality can benefit from the awareness raising. Idenitity politics by reveleaing what kinds of people exist and which any given person may or may not belong too I think is helpful as you can built compassion empathy of smyapthy for other if you know little to nothing about them. But if you don’t attempt to really build up that knwoelde of other groups and how power intersects our connected lives. IT runs a terrible risk of feeding into tribalistic tendencies, but bot knowing also can feed into tribalism so I don’t think there is a clean happy answer.
I have been working on a follow up to this post, and I’ve been given plenty to contemplate the last few weeks. You know when I haven’t been dealing with all the Crypto-fascists crawling out post Charlottetown…
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August 5th, 2017 at 1:31 am
So nice to see a post from you! I think you make some excellent points. Most of the people I’ve heard disparage identity politics also disparage intersectionality – and they are the same folks who fuss mightily about “political correctness.” Which is to say they don’t have much credibility with me.
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August 5th, 2017 at 10:39 am
That has largely been my experience though I have encountered a great many who can not really manage intersectionality, and will use there own identity politics to validate themselves and there in group(s) but they use it to cut out others. Rather then trying to use it to understand and form kinship with others just use it as an excuse to fall into tribalism. Can’t really blame them, it’s a very easy thing to do, but it is a very real problem that a supported of identity politics will need to deal with.
August 5th, 2017 at 11:26 am
I found the rhetoric around the Dyke March controversy this past year very difficult. It’s hard for me to reconcile intersectionality and exclusion. Earlier the same issue came up re : BLM and Jews. I am personally committed to inclusion with the assumption that of course we are going to disagree on some issues. But I also get it that I’m probably missing some points that are important to others. It ain’t easy, that’s for sure.
August 5th, 2017 at 12:51 pm
Well I think what can help with that is first understand that intersectionality means first and for most respecting Other groups and if they want to have some degree of separation we need to be willing o at least examine that, but given the corporate watering down of pride parades, and inclusion of law enforcement that often still target LGBTQA folks disproportionately Pride marches have been moved from a radical movement based in resisting police brutality into a much weaker march celebrating LGBTQA identity and gay marriage, which itself if attracting Gay men and women particularly to part take in the heteronormative power structure in order to gain some of the social and legal benefits, while Not really addressing problem that still exist. It’s seen by many as a betrayal, although most who embrace the politics of marriage equality simply don’t know much about the stonewall riots, and don’t see marriage as a institution of control.
Now I might be getting the refrence wrong, not sure which dyke march you where talking about, but Trans women of colour in particular not only lead the original riots, but now still take the brunt of violence of all forms while others in prides will sometime try to push them out if they are deemed to “radical.”
Perhaps one of the biggest problem in identity politics is the loss of class consciousness and the fact that the powers that be will use our sometime classing identities to get us to fight one another while the wealthiest rob us all. Even notions such as the middle class vs the poor, deny the fact we are all beholden to someone else for our livelihood.
August 5th, 2017 at 2:13 pm
The march I’m referring to is the Dyke March in Chicago, where Jewish women were told they couldn’t carry a rainbow flag with a Star of David on it, that that was “too much like” an Israeli flag. Their identity was queer and Jewish, but their Jewish identity was conflated with Israeli politics. That bothered me a lot.
Trans women of color were the leaders of both the Stonewall riot and the Black Cat riot that happened earlier but did not get national attention. Anything that leaves them put is a big problem for me. Years ago, (1994?) Liz Hendrickson, who was the head of NCLR, said to a group of donors that anything that benefitted poor women of color was better for us all. Anything that missed that mark wasn’t good enough. That dictum has guided my decision making ever since.
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August 5th, 2017 at 3:00 pm
Oh yes that incident had not thought of that one. That one seem wrong headed from the start, and what defence of it I saw came across as ad hoc.
I’m with you on what Liz Hendrickson said.
August 3rd, 2017 at 9:13 am
Oddly, within a few minutes of your post, I posted a blog entry called “Identity Politics Explained.” I have a different point of view. I consider myself a 1960s liberal — equally skeptical of identity politics liberals and all conservatives — so identity politics does not fare well in my entry … but I enjoyed your piece and the fact that you come at it with an open mind.
August 3rd, 2017 at 11:46 am
I took some time and read through your article. It had some issue I was surprised I forgot to mention, though I intend to do a follow up post after there some further discussion on the post.
I think the primary issue we agree on is the politics of divisiveness are a problem, that I think is all about class war and about keeping workers unbalanced. I think there is real value to wanting a politic of shared humaness, though I think to really do that we need a politics of class struggle, of solidarity with your fellow humans and one build on real action, not lip service.
That whys I do disagree with your point on “colour blindness” and simplicity of 60’s hippy movement. while I’m sure there someone who really doesn’t see race or ethnicity I find in practise it tend to be a good bit of lip service mean to make you appear like a lot good social justice advocate, while also allowing you to maintain the status quo and remain inactive on real issue of racial inequality because well your a good guy you don’t treat anyone differently.
It allows someone to feel good while ignoring ongoing struggles, and effects of centuries of bigotry since now we treating you equally, you can just forget that other stuff, right?
There other topic I’ll likely get in on my follow up, but thanks for dropping in, it was good to read another view point on the subject.