Saturday, October 25, 2003

Identity Politics

Jim Henley says James Taranto and I are soulmates. Haha. Actually, Jim's right, that aside from the inevitable "it's all the liberals fault" sniping, Taranto is roughly right on Easterbrook. Easterbrook was engaging in a particularly insidious form of "philo-Semitism," which isn't "anti-Semitism" in the sense that Easterbrook hates Jews. But, nonetheless, it's still a form of anti-Semitism in the general sense which, combined with his bizarre appeal to the historical stereotype of money-worshipping Jews, got him in well-deserved hot water. And, since Easterbook's apology ignored the main issue, and included his statement that he stands by all of the thoughts, it's unclear why he should be out of hot water.

But, Jim is only getting one half of the identity politics issue. He writes:

I should note that eventheliberal Atrios rebuked Easterbrook for placing group duties on individuals. That means Taranto is too hard on liberals as a class, and that Atrios and Taranto are secret soul mates.

What Taranto and Henley are missing is that when it comes to group identity and duties, such pressures come from two sources. The first is internal pressure and the second is external pressure. The external pressure is at worst extreme bigotry and at best inappropriate paternalism. This is the road that Easterbrook was walking down.

I'll admit that the paternalistic part comes from liberal quarters at times, but it's far less destructive than the bigotry-motivated version which mostly emanates from the Right. However, for minority groups "practicing" identity politics, the internal pressure to make their ethnic or racial identity an organizing principle and a centerpiece of a political movement is a response to the external grouping from the dominant power group (the exception perhaps being some extreme ethnic nationalist movements. And, no, that doesn't include MEChA).

Look, if you're an African-American you can close your eyes and put your hands of your ears singing "la la la"and pretend to ignore the fact that every single person you meet (black, white, asian, latino, whatever) is going to saddle you with a group identity, no matter how you live your life or who you choose to associate with, or you can recognize it as a fact of life and act accordingly.

Critics of "identity politics" seem to want minorities to experience all of the negative aspects of their race/ethnicity without allowing them the use their race to further either individual or group causes. Those who engage in it realize that right now, you can't escape your group identity, so you may as well try and use it. Whether or not that's a practical strategy or not is subject to debate, but critics seem to always blame the victims of bigoted identity politics for its existence. The biggest practioners of identity politics are white people, though one rarely hears it lablelled as such - being the dominant power group, what whites do is simply "normal,"as opposed to "special interest politics"or "identity politics."

Irish-Americans ran Boston for years. It isn't as if this never received any notice or criticism, but by and large it was recognized as the inevitable outcome given the demographics of the place.

One day, perhaps, with a bit more pro-creative racial deconstruction, a bit more blurring of the clear lines between racial/and ethnic groups, and most importantly a bit more enlightenment and a bit less racial demagoguery by politicians wanting to exploit bigotry, "identity politics" as such may go away. Plenty of immigrant groups who were lumped together - Poles, Hungarians, Irish, Italians - have largely transcended their original status as downtrodden ethnic groups. But until it goes away we should stop pretending it emanates from minority groups. It doesn't.

(ditto, of course, for sexuality).