Identity Politics:can we ignore it?

Identity politics makes liberal democrats nervous; understandably, because as liberals we believe that every one is equal and it is the principle, the processes, the policies that count rather than the colour of our skin, our gender or our sexuality. Liberalism is about universalism. As Stanley Fish makes an argument in his NYT regular ‘Think Again Column’

“The history of liberalism is a history of extending the franchise to those who were once excluded from it by their race, gender or national origin. Although these marks of identification were retained (by the census and other forms of governmental classification) and could still be celebrated in private associations like the church and the social club, they were not supposed to be the basis of decisions one might make “as a citizen,” decisions about who might best lead the country or what laws should be enacted or voted down. Deciding as a citizen means deciding not as a man or a woman or a Jew or an African American or a Caucasian or a heterosexual, but as a human being”.

But Fish goes on to argue that you can define identity politics in two ways. First is very simple tribal identity politics, the he or she looks like me, looks like they’d go to my church /golf club type of tribal politics; the form of identity politics that owes nothing to rationalism and is abhorred by all liberals. But there is a second, rational form of identity politics that is based on common interests, Fish goes on to explain:

“Because she is a woman as I am” is of course a reason, but it is not a reason of the relevant kind, a reason that cites goals and programs, and argues for them. But suppose what was said was something like this: “As a woman I find government sponsored research skewed in the direction of diseases that afflict men and inattentive to the medical problems faced by women, and it is my belief that a woman president will devote resources to the solution of those problems.” That’s an identity politics argument which is thick, not thin; the she’s-like-me point is not invoked as sufficient unto itself, but as it relates to a matter of policy. The calculation may or may not pan out (successful candidates both disappoint and surprise), but it is a calculation of the right kind.”

This is similar argument that I made a few weeks ago , my belief in the necessity of diversity is based not on the shallow basis of colour or sex but on the fact of different experiences which give people a very different view of which problems that need to be solve dare the most important and how it is best to solve them.

I’ve pointed out in previous posts the massive increase in engagement by previously disengaged groups in the US primaries is clearly due in some good part to the diversity of the candidates, in the democratic if not in the republican race and that voting for someone on the basis of identification with them, that is, whether they’re black or female is an entirely rational thing to do; and I only observe in passing that it looks like white men have been doing exactly that for years!

OK, so this is all going on in the states and they’re different to us, aren’t they? Well, if you think that you’re being more than a little na├»ve.

I believe that we ignore diversity at our peril and if we continue to play just lip service to it then, for all our fine Liberal Democrat policies, we will find ourselves identified as an irrelevance by voters. For me, diversity has benefits in it’s own right however, what I think about that pales into insignificance when looking that the role that identity politics is going to play in elections in the future, whether we think it should or not. And if you think that Labour and the Tories haven’t noticed what is going on over in the States with regards to identity politics then, really, think again. Some of us, although not me, may well have to hold our noses but sooneror later, if we want to stay in the game we’re going to have to learn how to play it.


Anonymous said...
19 Feb 2008, 21:36:00

Let me start by saying that those that founded and built our country did this on the basis of deceit. This land was taken and done so by thievery. So, what would make one think that the laws that are applied today don’t fall under the same umbrella. The only way to continue to control the masses is by separatism. The best way to achieve this is to put people in a category. Race fits this bill.

It’s now 2008 and no one is realizing that no one is pure or 100% any race, at least not those born in the USA. How can anyone feel comfortable checking “a box”.

The best example of this would be our Presidential hopeful Borak Obama. Since the election started the biggest conversations have started behind the color of his skin. But, to the contrary, he is NOT a black man. He is a portion of this. His mother, not a black woman, raised him alone, without his father present. So, why is no one addressing this?

Why are American’s quick to categorize this man for his skin color, and definitely not his nationality. Why in 2008 are we still categorizing people and not judging them by their characters?

Think about it……

The Dark American

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