The Dangers of Identity Politics & SJWs - for the left and the right

Let’s just talk about why identity politics are a problem. They’re a problem because they focus on one part of someone’s identity and say this part (race, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc) is the only problem or contributing factor to a situation.

“I am, in reality, someone who actively speaks out against victimhood and identity politics, and praises our society for the opportunities it offers all people, regardless of race” : a quote from a RoamingMillenial's text titled "Sorry SJWs, You Don't Get to Choose My Race"

Let’s just talk about why identity politics are a problem. They’re a problem because they focus on one part of someone’s identity and say this part (race, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc) is the only problem or contributing factor to a situation.

The truth is, people experience inequality for a number of reasons, often simultaneously, not separately. The quote above implies that race is the only contributing factor to why people experience inequality. She appears to ignore other factors that place her in an advantaged group, such as technological ability, internet access, language ability, education, accent, and physical appearance that may contribute to her not feeling disadvantaged. By arguing that people of color discuss inequality only through the prism of race and nothing else, she too is playing identity politics, just in a different way.

No one is trying to define her ethnicity, but are pointing out that others do not feel or experience the same sense of equality she does. Intersectionalism is about recognizing that we can simultaneously be part of advantaged and disadvantaged groups, and it is the interaction of these that affects our experiences as people, not just people of color, or women, or LGBT.

“Attempting to paint race not just as our phenotypes, but as our cultural experiences, characters, and political opinions will only ever lead to more racism and more division.”

No one should invalidate anyone else's experience, including hers, but she can't invalidate other people's either by saying that in her experience she doesn't face obstacles, so therefore other peoples' experiences are invalid. It’s a false equivalency to say that her personal experience equates to aggregate experience & facts. To say that race does not factor into our experiences also ignores reality, because even for her, she cites race as something that impacts her experience.

Both the left and the right are guilty of selecting a specific part of peoples’ identities and focusing on this one element exclusively. Only by looking at all of the various factors that affect peoples’ experiences of inequality will we be able to move beyond victimhood, identity politics, and persecution narratives, but arguing that these contributing factors to inequality don’t exist do not help us do this.

Comments (5)
No. 1-5
BLEditorSara
BLEditorSara

Hi there Ben. Hi Michael, I'm glad you enjoyed the article.

Most certainly the point above is that there are many different factors that play into our experiences, and that it is in most cases impossible to completely separate the different parts of our personhood to identify specific causal links between one part (for example, race) and a given experience.

Philosophically, I would go as far as to argue that being a complete person, and not fractured pieces of our personhood is one of the foundations for human rights, because our entire personhood in its completeness is one of the things that makes us an entire human being. Identity politics, only looking at one specific part of who we are, could actually be argued to be degrading to ourselves and each other.

This is because focusing on one specific part of our personhood simply doesn’t reflect who we actually are as human beings, and suddenly, the different parts that make us into one person are competing with instead of complimenting each other.

From a policy and solution perspective, singular labels limit us. Our desire for singular causation also drives how we seek solutions. If we look at causes as singular, we are more likely to look at solutions in the same manner, making policies less effective, as they only address the singular cause identified. As Michael also correctly points out, it also leads to generalized assumptions that may or may not be factually accurate.

My other articles have focused on how liberals can have more effective conversations, and much of that starts in how we approach those that may not agree with us. I know sometimes it can feel overwhelming and draining, but that’s why we have to work smarter, not harder. Identity politics & singular labels don’t help us do this in approach or execution.

MichaelStrong
MichaelStrong

Ben, the problem with your argument is that it assumes that there is a simple relationship between "protecting a status quo that contributes to an increasing consolidation of resources and power in the hands of a predominantly white elite" and actually being white. How to improve the conditions and fairness of our society is a complex matter - simple racial accusations and labeling have very little to do with figuring out how to make real progress on real issues. To take but one example, most progressives support government schools whereas most African-Americans support school choice. Does this imply that the white people who support government schools are "protecting the status quo," or is it all people who support government schools, or are the majority of black Americans who support school choice supporting the status quo, or is it only the white people who support school choice? This is one of the most obvious issues, but there are many with somewhat similar dynamics. Given the complexity of actual policy, it is quite beyond me to see how one can make simple racial generalizations. "The American Federation for Children National School Choice survey (Jan. 2016) showed 76 percent of African-Americans support school choice.
BAEO poll (Aug. 2015) showed the majority of African-American voters surveyed support charter schools – Tennessee 67%, Louisiana 65%, New Jersey 65%, Alabama 54%.
Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina poll of African-Americans (June 2016) found 56% favor public charter schools and 59% favor school choice."
https://www.federationforchildren.org/african-american-support-charter-schools/

ben
ben

I think if one is in a position where they are protecting a status quo that contributes to an increasing consolidation of resources and power in the hands of a predominantly white elite class, then the criticism that someone "is white" holds some weight.

BeingLiberal
BeingLiberal

@MichaelStrong - @BLEditorSara is probably agreeing on many issues more with you than with me... and as we will be evolving as a publication on @theMaven it should become clear that my vision of "Being Liberal" leaves the space wide open for interpretation.

MichaelStrong
MichaelStrong

I'm delighted to see Being Liberal taking a clear, balanced, classically liberal stand on the issue of identity politics.

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