Identity Politics and Me

Some years ago I decided why I don’t like identity politics.  It’s not because a group of my fellow citizens happens to agree on a particular range of issues and publicly identify themselves as so agreeing.  Hell’s bells; that’s why political parties form, among other reasons.  Why I don’t like identity politics is that by your choosing to draw a line in the sand, between you and me, in front of whatever “identity” you choose (let’s be clear here: the “identity” you choose as your political identity is entirely a volitional act), by the very act of defining me as not of that identity, you force me into an oppositional stance.  This in spite of any thought or feeling I might harbor for you — or others “like” you — otherwise.

If you define your political objectives as whatever is Good for Group X Over Not-Group X is what you support, and you’ve defined me out of Group X, then you force me to adopt as my political identity Not-Group X.  Well, perhaps not force, because I always have the option, I suppose, of just sitting back and taking whatever you choose to pour upon my head because I’m not part of Group X.  You’re going to have to excuse me if I decline to accept that as a legitimate “choice.” 

What if, however, I do not want to have my political “identity” chosen for me, least of all by you?  What if I’d like to have the freedom to support or oppose whatever measure is under consideration not based upon whether it’s Good For Group X, or Beneficial to Group Y, but whether it so improves Things Overall that I can afford to disregard whether it incidentally helps or harms, advances or leaves by the roadside, any subset (however defined) of citizens? 

It’s true, of course, that most measures, most of the time, will have an effect on groups, to the extent they can be said to have specific effects on identifiable groups at all, that defined themselves based on self-selected attributes.  For instance, the environmentalists.  One chooses to be an environmentalist or not.  One may join, leave, and re-join that group at will; one is not born to it.  So that everyone’s electricity rates going through the roof because the environmentalists want to feel good about themselves for shutting down coal-generated electricity is something I can engage on its merits, irrespective of whatever group identifier is chosen by its proponents.  But there are attributes which I cannot change; I was born a Caucasian male.  For all intents and purposes, I’m stuck where I live; I cannot just up and move a law practice to an entirely different part of the country.  So when you choose to back a particular proposal because it will advance Group X over whites, or males, or my part of the country, then I do not have the luxury of disregarding any of those attributes of mine in pondering my response to you.

I resent the hell out of that.  Who do you think you are, to put me in a box?

This Wall Street Journal article alludes to that dynamic.  When you divide the American electorate into all manner of “ethnic” groupings, each of which shares as its principal attribute “not-white,” then what you’ve done is to re-create the white identity politics of the pre-1970s.  You have, whether you admit it or not, re-issued Bull Connor (a member of the Democratic National Committee, don’t let’s forget) his invitation to the dance.  I’ll share a li’l nugget of history with you:  Bull Connor didn’t play well with others.

I wish you joy of him.

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