The 2016 Presidential Election was the peak of Identity Politics. Facebook, news media, politicians, and your neighbors had you pegged. You were defined by one or two outstanding characteristics of your heritage and culture. Oh, and you don’t get any input. Your Facebook newsfeed was programmed to provide you with exactly what Facebook thought you should see based on one or two key identifiers. Some of your presidential candidates spoke to you as if only one part of your entire cultural identity mattered. Moreover, if that one piece of your identity didn’t cause you to believe the way they thought it ought, then you got to be lumped together with anyone that didn’t think ‘their way.’
So, if you are a Liberal Christian; then you might as well keep your mouth shut. Conservative schoolteacher, steelworker, homosexual, immigrant, Hispanic, queer, woman? Same. See, you aren’t supposed to have a unique and deeply personal opinion. That’s what identity politics is all about. It’s also why it never works.
Identity Politics attempts to force you to select one single aspect of your cultural, sexual, religious, or physical identity to represent your entire political belief system. You are pigeon-holed and exploited based on one point. It causes you to become a political pawn based on one piece of your identity. Let’s remember what happens when Identity Politics has been applied historically:
Gender and Sexuality--In the 1600’s, a Puritan woman found to be adulterous was criminally persecuted. Anne Linceford confessed to adultery in 1641. She was publicly whipped and was forced to wear the letters “AD” on her clothing. Mary Mendame was drug by a cart being drawn through town while being whipped. Women could also be executed. Their assigned identity: Female Adulterer. In Indonesia, public flogging is normal business for sex-related offenses. A CNN piece by Zainab Salbi reads, “Never before in Islamic history have women been so brutalized, whether it's stoning in Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran, kidnapping by Boko Haram in Nigeria, or assassinations in Libya. This crossing of the line -- physically attacking women in such savage ways -- has spread in the last two decades, but it's really taken off with the rise of ISIS.” Their identity: Woman. During the Truman presidency in 1950, the US Senate distributed a report to Congress titled, “Employment of Homosexuals and Other Sex Perverts in Government.” The report summarized years of covert federal investigation into employees’ sexual orientation and called homosexuality a mental illness. The Lavender Scare caused over 4,000 gay men and women to be discharged from the military and over 500 fired from government jobs. Their identity: Homosexual.
Religion—In 1692-93, Joseph Glanvill took it upon himself to alert the public on the identification of witches. The Salem witch trials turned ordinary people into panicked attackers who sought and persecuted people suspected of witchcraft. Twenty people were reported to be hung, but as the word spread there is no accurate accounting for the number of suspected witches hung or executed in total. Their assigned identity: Witch. Today in Egypt and across the Middle East, Christians are forced to live in daily fear for their lives or flee. Just this month, David Price reported that “a century ago, 15 percent of the Middle East were professing Christians. Today only 4 percent remain. Following bloody murder, violence and mass persecutions, millions have left the region. Most of the changes have taken place in recent years. Their identity: Christian. The Jews went first. Nearly a million were expelled from Arab and Muslim counties after WW2.” Maybe they felt that permission was granted with fascist ruler Adolf Hitler introduced the National Socialist Period in Germany. That was when over 6 million Jews were tortured, starved, and murdered during the Holocaust. Their identity: Jew.
Race—The very frustrating thing about Identity Politics is that it is blindly targeted at a supposed physically observable attribute. It results in forcing citizens to be clumped together with people who “look” the same, even if their cultural beliefs, heritage, and philosophical beliefs do not at all align. Sweeping generalizations that all dark skinned peoples are African-American; all light skinned people are European; etc. only add insult to injury. One would think that at this point in modern history our public schools would have ensured that students were credibly educated on the cultural and genealogical effects of migration, exploration, conquest, and colonization. Not so. While some folks may choose to identify with a certain race out of pride, racial generalization and stereotyping is a nuisance to most and should never be imposed by others. Furthermore, culture is not defined by race. Only ignorance prevails when assuming that categorizing a group of people with a racial label will lend understanding to individual heritage, genealogy, traditions, and values. Americans of Hispanic origin have a complex and varied role in the United States. A history rich in native cultures is meshed with European colonization, conquest, and continental migration. Combine that with political changes, such as the Gadsden Purchase. Most US citizens are ignorant of the complexities surrounding the history and evolution of what is now a large and dynamic Hispanic population in the United States. Immigration and the Mexican-American border is a consistently hot political button that fuels emotions and further divides perspective. As a result of ignorance and poor representation in public education, generalizations run rampant and assumptions are commonly chalked up as truths. Very few understand the evolution of Hispanic citizenship in the US. Their identity: Hispanic.
From slavery to segregation, blacks have withstood the test of blind bigotry. Their identity: Black. No matter if one was born free or captive; if in the wrong place at the wrong time, a violent fate was often sealed based only upon the color of skin. From slavery to the Civil Rights Movement to Black Lives Matter, identity politics has been used race to victimize Americans and rob citizens of individualism. Heroes such as Robert Smalls, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Benjamin Singleton, Booker T. Washington, and Martin Robison Delany paved the way for positive change and civil rights in the United States. They did so in the name of freedom, liberty, and a belief in their Constitutional rights. Victimization and hate politics divides a country that has blossomed as a melting pot of diversity. Hate only curdles the hope and possibility that lies within our borders. Swinging the pendulum in favor of hating a different color skin solves nothing. It gives no recognition that a sad history has taken place. It gives no confirmation that Americans have learned from the past. Blind bigotry is without hope, without vision, without unity.
That’s the funny thing about Identity Politics. Academics and “social justice warriors” are on a mission to teach America how to value their culture, yet they want to tell you which parts of your culture are most important to you. Justice means fair treatment. Fair treatment for one doesn’t mean removing fair treatment for others. Civil Rights is only effective when applied fairly across populations. Civility means respect, courtesy, and consideration. Tilting the weights in favor of one only denies civil rights for other. When you are told that only part of your identity defines everything about who you are as a person; you are robbed of the richness of who you truly are. Your intelligence, awareness, and diversity is insulted.
The beautiful thing about the United States is diversity. Once you toss the ingredients into a melting pot, you can take them back again individually. It’s a not just a mixture. It’s a melty batter of yum. You decide who you are. You’re more diverse than your singular attributes: gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, geographical location, occupation, etc. Nobody can define your culture but you.