A brief comment on “identity politics”

In a thoughtful and thought-provoking post Chris Creegan discusses the issue of “identity politics” and whether it has “gone too far” as some on the centre-left are now arguing. In the constructive spirit of Chris’s piece here’s my brief comment I posted on his site:

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Whilst I understand, and sympathise, with your point of view it seems to me your argument elides two different things.

The first is recognizing the equal rights of people regardless of gender, orientation, colour, etc. this is a fight I have supported all my adult life.

The second is the practice of adopting group identities – “LGTB”, “Black”, “Latino” – as a dominant mode of self-expression. Whilst there may be an argument in favour of this – principally one of solidarity against oppression – it also needs to be recognised that THIS type of “identity politics” is a two edged sword. If the dominant dynamics of society is towards”group identity” don’t be surprised if groups that are much less  progressive start to emerge – national, racial, sexual – as a result.

As a white, male, heterosexual what “identity” can/should I have in a society of “identity” politics? Some resolve this by “identity by association” – white boys with dreadlocks and gansta talk for example. Or seeking out some tenuous link to an oppressed group – e.g. I had two Irish great grandmothers so I can become an Irish Republican? But others will be attracted to other, more dysfunctional, solutions. Look what happened in the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia as ethnic and national identities took hold?

So I am not surprised that in combining a campaign for legitimate RIGHTS with a rather less defensible promotion of IDENTITY politics the former gets eclipsed by the latter. A classical progressive position would be to put all the emphasis on the former, and be very, very cautious about the latter?

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