Identity Politics: Is an Inverse in the Offing?

You’ve probably heard the pejorative term identity politics used to demean people who typically are in some minority demographic and are calling for changes, such as protecting civil rights (heaven forbid). Ironically, there is another kind of identity politics: white supremacism. Taken together, the potential for a terrible conflict is frightening.

Still, some of the left-leaning identity questions are cringe-worthy to me. For example, an NPR headline for a talk show that reads, “Democrats Consider: Is A White, Straight Man The Safe Bet Against Trump?” After all, all the women candidates are labelled as such and there is also a candidate who is gay, which you must be more aware of then his veteran status. What about the policy differences and career backgrounds among the women? Are they just women candidates? Thankfully, many news reports are focusing on policy specifics rather than the demographic profiles of the candidates.

When questions like the quoted headline above are prevalent and the apparent constant need to categorize people demographically appears relentless, I too roll my eyes at such identity politics. To be fair, the rise of identity politics is easily recognizable as response to feeling your point of view is not well represented among elected officials, who remain mostly older white males. On the flip side are people who appear to take furious exception to anyone pointing out that the preponderance of elected officials on the federal and state levels are white men, which is not entirely representative of the populace at large and could lead to policy determinations that are based on a limited understanding or bias. A better informed democracy gets information from multiple points of view before determining the optimal policy.

But what is identity? Let’s take a step or two back. You might be in a Growing Up in [Your Hometown] group on Facebook, which is a lot of fun with people sharing old memories about schools, community activities, etc. with great photos and newspaper clippings. My hometown happens to be fairly diverse (black and white people, mostly) and it’s a lot of fun to recall everything from the “Soul Stompers” dance troupe to lacrosse clinics in town parks and from favorite pizza joints to favorite high school teachers. A really great thread started with the question, where was your first job, with people recalling minimum wage jobs at establishments that are long-gone. It’s an affluent town, but it not exclusionary. Hence, I am proud it’s part of my identity.

Head & shoulders of middle aged man in cowboy hat and needing a shave, sitting in hot tub holding a glass of wine in one hand, a bottle of wine in the other, and the cork in his mouth showing one tooth missing; Narrow depth of field with green leaves in the background.
Who is this guy? Did you make judgments or political assumptions about him based on his hat, his age, his race? This is a stock image. I have no idea if this is a person acting as himself or an actor in a pose. But, I like red wine, so maybe we could be friends. How did I come up with this image? I searched Adobe Stock for the term “hillbilly.” If hanging out in a hot tub with wine is such, then I want to be a hillbilly now.

We all have facets of identity. These components may include family heritage, the location(s) of your upbringing, your education, your religion, your hobbies, your political beliefs, etc. There is nothing wrong with being proud of this mosaic that makes you unique and simultaneously part of larger things, including community. When it gets limiting, or worse, dangerous, is when people use an identifier as a club to knock aside others.

And, the tendency to deride others by geography is a constant. A candidate for the Federal Reserve Board who is a native of Chicago once referred to Cleveland and Cincinnati as the “armpits of America.” People from the East Coast look down on Texas as backward, the latest example being outrage that an African-American principal at Houston high school set forth a dress code for parents. While she is being accused of being classist, some locals applaud her for having a point. This, at a time when a white supremacist ringleader of a black man’s lynching is being executed for the crime that made poor Jasper, Texas, notorious. Incidentally, it was the faith community there, black and white, that came together to heal the town, which you can read about here in a local paper.

When I moved to Houston, a lot of people I knew professionally and personally in Washington, D.C., and New York thought I was crazy to move to Texas. Frankly, it’s been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done with my life.

When you bemoan the existence of all Texans or all Southerners because of perceptions that all of the above are in the Klan or some such, how are you any different than a conspiracy theorist who believes, say, George Soros covered up Roswell to help alien Hillary Clinton get elected or whatever. Start looking at someone’s actual policy positions. I can understand why LGBTQ people take exception to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who has taken positions against gay marriage. That is a specific policy position. Let’s focus on those and less on what color someone or where they are from or what party they are in. Let’s also recognize that you can vociferously disagree on one issue and agree on another. For instance, Cruz maintains he is a free trader and anti-tariff. Still waiting for him to make some inroads on that with the current White House occupant.

Ideally, people with different component identities can share a lot in common. For example, Americans are all Americans. There is the idea that our diversity is our strength because someone with different life experiences than your own may see the resolution to a problem before you do or you can figure it out together with two heads being better than a homogenous one. Maybe if you can succeed together on one issue, you can at least get the other person to see where you are coming from on some other diametrically opposed issue.

It’s also a lot of fun to share a viewpoint or experience with someone with whom you might not have much else in common. That’s called humanity.

p.s. Can the social media platforms please identify the Russian trolls with icon badges?

The Sage Leopard,