Hello Mr. Haque,
I appreciate your detailed analysis.
At the risk of stating a position you seem to have already rejected, I would propose not that ‘identity politics’ KILLED the left, but that they are the main route for subordinated peoples to declare that they be treated with equity. This is particularly true with the ‘identity politics’ of the US, whose current power structure is intimately dependent on the invention of race and its consequences.
The invention of race, required by the British and other Europeans in order to complete conquest, genocide, etc AND still claim that they were morally superior, is the original identity politic. The assertion of identity politics as relevant is a reaction to the original establishment of race which derogated, on a codified/legal basis, people of color, and more specifically, black people.
As long as ‘identity politics’ are framed as some sort of invention that ‘lefties’ utilize as a weapon to gain what is implied are unearned benefits, the reality of OUR history as Americans is not revealed (this is worldwide history, due to colonization, but concentrated in the US due to the extensive history of slavery.) ‘Identity politics’ are contained at the core of the invention of whiteness as superior, so exposing this fact is a necessity of social growth.
‘Identity politics’ are frequently disparaged as a way to neutralize this reality: that it is a response to the original fascism of white supremacy, which placed all but white men in a subhuman category.
Most civil rights growth has come by revealing ‘identity politics,’ that is, the unique quality of ‘white’ v. ‘black’ that was invented a few centuries ago: this was true for Lincoln as it was for Kennedy: neither president made changes which improved the situations for people of color without both implicit and explicit pressure from subordinated peoples exposing the history of America which immediately illustrated the source of subordination. They avoided any sort of equitable leadership under pressure of the larger white population UNTIL this pressure was counteracted by people of color (and other white people willing to negotiate this reality honestly.) This revelation is called ‘identity politics’ to frame is as manipulative behavior on the part of the POC, but it is reactionary.
For obvious reasons, some in the US have something to lose when they admit the truth about their history. But that wouldn’t be true had it not already been taken by their ancestors years ago. This fact is obscured by the stance that ‘identity politics’ was invented by lefties and is being used as a weapon. White supremacy is the original ‘identity politic,’ and ‘lefties’ are revealing it: lifting the rock.
Another feature which I find somewhat difficult is this notion that the ‘left’ must carry some sort of ‘goodness’ which it is implied are values others don’t have. This is an unnecessary burden to place on the left; why stereotype ‘lefties’ as more ‘nice’ than any other group of people instead of allowing them the same range in which to operate politically? There is no reason to saddle one political group only with this label of ‘nice’ which is then used to hold ‘the left’ up to a different standard.
History indicates to us not only that the right will pull ‘harder right’ when challenged, as you state, but also that when the left ALSO pulls hard, eventually there is progress. Of course, in the interim there is friction, because one group has taken, as a group, more than their share, and eventually those who have been deprived will want their things back.
Take, for example, Lincoln and his ‘radical’ idea that black people be freed from slavery. That was ‘radical’ at its time, and because it threatened the wholesale power of the white power structure, it caused a big group of people to pull hard right; thus the Civil War. Let’s imagine that this didn’t happen: would slavery still exist? Would it have taken longer to eliminate? My point is that people in power are always going to want to hold onto that power, and thus those who don’t have it may have to pull hard left. Pulling hard left is the reaction to hundreds of years of oppression, not vice versa.
Another example on a one to one basis: William Godwin, a self-labelled ‘radical’ and ‘anarchist’ of the 18th century. He published a book by a woman, Mary Wollstonecraft, which provoked a significant backlash at the time: it was ‘radical’ to publish a woman’s ideas. Why? These ‘identity politics’ revealed that the original identity politic, ‘white male,’ was a form of wholesale oppression. He was ostracized to some extent his entire lifetime. But because he pulled ‘hard left,’ these changes happened, perhaps faster than they would have otherwise.
From my standpoint, your article is framed as a ‘warning’ to ‘the left’ as to how the right may act if we dare to assert our equality, as if it is our priority to ‘be like a nice liberal’ and ‘bring everyone together.’ Perhaps the hard right should consider ‘bringing everybody together’ and everybody should be shouldered with some human responsibility for being ‘nice.’ Is it really that radical to suggest that the institutionalization of white supremacy which pulled so much financial resources to white people now be counteracted by paying that population (of African Americans) back? Again, identity politics are a reaction to the original fascism.
I’ve noted that reparations were considered absurd when the late John Conyers brought them to the Congressional table. Reparations were considered radical at the time. In the last three years, candidates have fallen over each other making positive assertions about some sort of reparations. This is a reaction to the identity politics of white supremacy, not an invention of ‘identity politics.’ Conyers had to pull hard left in order to respond effectively in this context. Only 17% of white Americans agree with reparations NOW, decades after his suggestions. So, the need to pull hard left is still required. It should be no surprise that the right won’t like this, because they hold a lot of the resources which will require redistribution. For them, the rubber of the last few centuries is finally hitting the road. I think we can expect them to pull hard right, because historically the behavior doesn’t indicate any sort of moral consideration; why would the behavior be different now? They are defending the fascist system called white supremacy, one which underpins the other features of our democracy and damages it by deforming the concept of ‘equality’ but simultaneously privileges them. When they decide to maintain this context, they also decide that keeping a foot on the neck of POC is not only OK, it is desirable. As a reaction to this history, Conyers pulled hard left.
When I look at history, I see changes which benefit oppressed people when a population of those people pulls hard left. As you point out, the first priority for most people is to ensure their own survival; this is true for ‘lefties’ also. So, when I look at this scenario, I see a group of people who will kick and scream, pulling as hard right as they can to maintain their social power, but eventually, if we keep ‘pulling left,’ they will not have a choice. Suggesting that we continue to coddle the same group of people is absurd to me; it passes the responsibility to one group only. Moving backwards is not a choice because, as we know it, the universe is not moving backwards; we move forward. This is inevitable. The right kicks and screams to keep it backwards, thus forcing the left to pull harder. This is a reaction, and it isn’t novel. It has been happening for centuries, as a necessity of taking power from those who’ve granted themselves too much of it, for too long.
Are there any men who question that women can publish books anymore? Does anybody question that slavery shouldn’t exist?
The people who had power did at one point, because it threatened their identity politic: white male only. And the fact that a group of people — or even some individuals — were willing to pull left is the reason why progress eventually happened. To deplete this progress only allows our current situation to fester for a longer period of time rather than addressing the issue directly.
Treating the US as if it is just another country that grapples with race as an aside cannot be a comprehensive argument in this country. Identity politics is the core of America: white men dominate. America was explicitly established to elevate British peasants escaping Britain monarchy by elevating them above all other peoples in America.
At the very least, acknowledgement that this is what we’re talking about, when we talk about identity politics, would go a long way in acknowledging historical reality.