Friday, 27 May 2016

Identity Crisis: The Divisive Nature of Identity Politics

We have just passed the one year anniversary in which the Republic of Ireland passed a law enabling gay people to be able to enter marriage in the same way that heterosexual people can. This was truly a momentous and pivotal moment in Irish history which indicated that the majority of Irish people no longer adhere to the Catholic Church's intolerant and authoritarian teachings on human sexuality.

One of the positive aspects of the marriage inequality campaign was that it didn't focus on divisive identity politics. Instead, it brought people together whether they be gay or straight, black, brown or white, working or middle class and encouraged them to campaign for the extension of equal marriage rights to all our citizens. It didn't try and pit one group of people against each other based on the notion of privilege, but instead focused on unity and ending discrimination. Never once when I was talking to any of my gay friends was I told that as a straight white male that my opinions on marriage equality were any less valid because I was somehow privileged by my skin colour or sexual orientation.

Unfortunately, we now live in a world where discussions on genuine problems like sexism, racism, and inequality and how we overcome them are stymied by the rise of identity politics and it's emphasis on privilege. This is because identity politics is divisive and anathema to positive social change. It reduces individual identity to one of victimhood or of being complicit in the oppression of others merely by accidents of birth. This is not to downplay the fact that some communities and groups face greater barriers and discrimination in life than others. However, the way to overcome these problems in society is to bring individuals together and to focus on the problems themselves as opposed to focusing on people's gender, sexual orientation, race, religious or non-religious beliefs.

One of the main problems with identity politics is that its emphasis on the privilege of others has led to a demand for ideological purity where any dissent from the views of a self proclaimed group of victims leads to smears and calls for censorship against those who dissent. This demand for purity of thought has led to veteran feminists like Germaine Greer being denounced as a misogynist. It has led to gay rights activist Peter Tatchell condemned as a transphobe for  merely being willing to debate with people who are actually transphobic. In the United States black critics of the Black Lives Matter movement who don't fully subscribe  to  the  methods or political  narrative of BLM are condemned as being bigoted against black people.
 In Britain this year the National Union of Students called for white gay men to be dropped from LGBT+ Societies at Universities because white gay men don't face oppression within the LGBT+ community and in fact according to the NUS, " Misogyny, transphobia, racism and biphobia are often present in LGBT+ societies. This is unfortunately more likely to occur when the society is dominated by white cis gay men.”  Christian Butler at Spiked Magazine best sums it up when he says:

"In an era when political authority, on campus and beyond, is given to those with the most perceived victim points, gay men have become fair game. Identity politics has become so beholden to its hierarchy of grievance that some of the very people Safe Space policies were originally set up to ‘protect’ are now seen as part of the problem. The millennial obsession with victimhood has produced an LGBT community that believes it isn’t even ‘safe’ from itself."

Even though I am an Atheist, I think that the Christian preacher, Dr. Martin Luther King was one of the most important and influential figures in human history in the fight against racism and discrimination. In his 'I have a dream speech',  Dr. King emphasised his wish for human beings from different racial groups living in harmony and unity and he commended the white Americans involved in his movement instead of deriding them for privileges they had by being accidentally born with white skin. In that famous speech, Dr. King looked forward to the day when the children of  former slaves and the children of former slave owners could sit down at the table of brotherhood together. I still get a lump in my throat every time I listen to the values and the vision he espoused in that speech.

However, If he was making that speech today he would have people shouting at him that his emphasis on 'brotherhood' reflected the unjust dynamics of privilege that still exist in a misogynistic patriarchal capitalist society. They would demand to sit at another table because they don't feel safe around him but only as long as there were no white gay men at the table because everyone knows that they are the worst misogynists and racists of them all. There would also be demands that the invations to the table to Richard  Dawkins,  Maryam Namazie and Michael Nugent be withdrawn at the last minute.

Martin Luther King offered us a dream. The adherents of identity politics only offer us a divisive nightmare that makes organising a dinner party impossible.

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