Friday, June 10, 2016

Identity politics for everyone

At times, I hear people decrying the horrors of identity politics. It's optional, they say. It distracts from real political issues, they say. Dividing people up is divisive, they say.

Okay then.

Let's reverse things. Let's remove all pretenses of division and focus on a unifying aspects that cuts across all intersectional barriers. Let's get back to basics.


A fundamental part of citizenship is that any given citizen has the same rights and obligations as any other citizen. It doesn't matter who you are, where you were born or what you do for a living. The laws are uniformly applied across the board, and there are no distinctions between citizen A and citizen B. Both are citizens, and both are equal before the law.

Simple, easy, undivisive. It cannot become less identitarian than that.


Complications arise when a particular group of citizens demand that they be treated like all other citizens. That their rights, beholden to them due to their status as citizens, are respected and enforced in practice, rather than just on paper. Is this an instance of identity politics, or just a simple assertion of citizenship?

The difference may appear subtle, but it has clear consequences for how such assertions are treated. If it is seen as identity politics, it is usually scoffed at and ignored, regarded as of little consequence. If it is seen as a proper assertion of citizenship, it is seen as the right thing to do and a correction of injustice.

The question is: how to tell the difference between the one and the other?

You wouldn't want to make a mistake and scoff at a group of citizens claiming their legitimate rights, now would you? That would divide the citizenry into two groups - those who have rights and those who do not - and that would be the opposite of an undivided whole. You would end up with identity politics, even as you try to keep it off the table while focusing on the real issues.

Identity politics is tricky like that.

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