Monday, September 08, 2003

Even More Identity Politics

TAPPED says:

We note that Atrios -- by pointing out that plenty of white people (such as "the Texas Republicans who are currently panicking over the impending Hispanic takeover of their state") embrace "identity politics" -- implicitly equates those paranoid Texans who fear a Hispanic takeover of the southwest U.S. with the fringe activists who would welcome such an eventuality. Arguably, both phenomena are illiberal. So we would put the question back to Atrios: If he dislikes "identity politics" when practiced by white people, does he also dislike it when practiced by nonwhite people?

In their example, Tapped hits at the central issue. Paranoid Texan politicians, from the House Majority Leader on down to the governor and the Texas Legislature are indeed engaged in "identity politics," while a bunch of fringe activists are with no political power are... a bunch of fringe activists with no political power. When the dominant group, and in this case the dominant political group, abuses its power to marginalize the political power and discourse of other racial/ethnic groups, it's puzzling that all of the attention is then put on the attempts of the powerless to organize against it. They've already been identified by the dominant group. The socio-political-economic structure has already grouped them together, and told them to go to the back of the bus. When you're marked and labeled by your race or ethnicity, it's very odd to expect those individuals not to organize around it. In fact, arguably they have little choice.

It's irrelevant whether I "like" or "don't like" identity politics. It has always been with us and it always will. People group together based on similar characteristics and political desires, and in states like Texas and California where Fear of the Brown Horde is a steady theme of right wing politicians, it's odd to criticize the Brown Horde itself for uniting and standing up for itself. "Identity politics" is largely meaningless phrase which is only ever applied to minority interests, even when it is being practiced to a greater effect and degree by the majority or otherwise politically powerful. For this reason, one rarely hears of Cuban-American "identity politics" in Miami, because they're they dominant political group. Therefore, they get to graduate from "identity politics" to "interest group," or simply "in charge." No one refers to the Christian Coaliation as practitioners of "identity politics" either, even though they choose to practice it while externally identifiable minorities are almost forced to engage in it.

My beef with Tapped over this issue more generally is a tendency to make snide comments about "identity politics" every time a Real Live Minority stands up for other Real Live Minorities. Now, Tapped and The American Prospect in general are of course on the right side of the civil rights issue policy-wise, but the tendency to try and marginalize minority discourse is occasionally upsetting. The lack of minority voices on both minority and other issues in the media should be of some concern for the liberal media. Of course, minorities in journalism know that if they speak too much about minority issues they'll be quickly marginalized by those who dominate the discourse. Unless, of course, they're Bold and Brave and Contrarian enough to stand up to all the evil racial demagoguery emanating from those horrible civil rights leaders.

Sure, demagoguery exists on all sides and inappropriate racial demagoguery is particularly poisonous in a country with our history. But when it comes from people with little or no political power and few chances to participate in the national political discourse, it's an entirely different issue. Some things happening under the banner of "identity politics" I won't like, as with everything, but to marginalize united minority voices trying to scream above the crowd while ignoring what is forcing that issue - the identity politics of white men - is a sad trend in both in the so -called and actual liberal media.

Salon is the only media outlet I've seen which has dared to address the racial politics of the Texas redistrcting shenanigans head on, while MEChA is now a household word. There's something wrong here.