March 5, 2018

Word: Identity politics

From Political Tribes, Penguin Press

Amy Chua, Guardian   Fifty years ago, the rhetoric of pro–civil rights, Great Society liberals was, in its dominant voices, expressly group transcending, framed in the language of national unity and equal opportunity. After being the 'Tiger Mom',

... King’s ideals – the ideals of the American Left that captured the imagination and hearts of the public and led to real change – transcended group divides and called for an America in which skin color didn’t matter.

Leading liberal philosophical movements of that era were similarly group blind and universalist in character. John Rawls’s enormously influential A Theory of Justice, published in 1971, called on people to imagine themselves in an “original position”, behind a “veil of ignorance”, in which they could decide on their society’s basic principles without regard to “race, gender, religious affiliation, [or] wealth”.

... Thus, although the Left was always concerned with the oppression of minorities and the rights of disadvantaged groups, the dominant ideals in this period tended to be group blind, often cosmopolitan, with many calling for transcending not just ethnic, racial, and gender barriers but national boundaries as well.

... For today’s Left, blindness to group identity is the ultimate sin, because it masks the reality of group hierarchies and oppression in America.

For the Left, identity politics has long been a means to “confront rather than obscure the uglier aspects of American history and society”.

But in recent years, whether because of growing strength or growing frustration with the lack of progress, the Left has upped the ante. A shift in tone, rhetoric, and logic has moved identity politics away from inclusion – which had always been the Left’s watchword – toward exclusion and division. As a result, many on the left have turned against universalist rhetoric (for example, All Lives Matter), viewing it as an attempt to erase the specificity of the experience and oppression of historically marginalized minorities.

... For much of the Left today, anyone who speaks in favor of group blindness is on the other side, indifferent to or even guilty of oppression. For some, especially on college campuses, anyone who doesn’t swallow the anti-oppression orthodoxy hook, line, and sinker – anyone who doesn’t acknowledge “white supremacy” in America – is a racist.

Not everyone on the Left is happy with the direction that identity politics has taken. Many are dismayed by the focus on cultural appropriation. As a progressive Mexican American law student put it, “If we allowed ourselves to be hurt by a costume, how could we manage the trauma of an eviction notice?”

He added: “Liberals have cried wolf too many times. If everything is racist and sexist, nothing is. When Trump, the real wolf, came along, no one listened.”


Anonymous said...

Racial progress was a condition of national security, the US being a free society rather than one racially deserving of being A-bombed or carpet bombed and defoliated. As the colonial subjects migrated to the homeland the US submerged its national identity within the global empire. The latest xenophobic nationalism does not challenge the empire but rather gives it racialized castes, just what LBJ sought avoid while committing genocide against SE Asians, in preservation of the old French colonial slave system.

Anonymous said...

The Left does not have access to concepts like we the people or the 60's Maoist Peoples Park or Sly Stone's national anthem Everyday People. The people as a concept breaks into cultural zones that check and balance themselves, the ideology that informed the Democrats until Hubert Humphrey's attempt at humanism was defeated by LBJ's war.