A few bloggers have responded to my post on identity politics. Check ‘em out.
First of all, John Cole of Balloon Juice (which is a blog I read and enjoy frequently, by the way) writes:
Pretty clearly there is a difference between using single issues or groups of people suffering similar types of discrimination as an organizing principle to address grievances and the incidents Jeff and I are discussing. […]
Those who choose to pretend that the broad-based coalition that helped to enact Civil Rights legislation (and other similar acts) is the same exact thing as a group of people who say that whites are forbidden to comment when a black man dresses up another black man in ‘sambo’ outfits are free to hold their opinions, but I don’t have to take them seriously.
Okay, now John’s distinguishing between different types of identity politics, and saying it’s only a certain specific type he’s against. That’s a position I don’t think John made sufficiently clear in his original post.
I’d also point out that the position John now says he objects to, was not a position found in the post John originally objected to. That post never said or implied “whites are forbidden to comment” – it didn’t even say that whites should be forbidden to comment. (I’d certainly disagree with any such view; I think everyone, whites included. should be free to comment on whatever they want to comment on. Kinda like how, although I think the US would be a better country if whites didn’t vote, I nonetheless think whites should have the right to vote.)
So what did the original post John responded to say? Well, a lot of dross and sarcasm aside, it said “the difference between Caucasians doing these things to African-Americans, and AfAms doing them to other AfAms” is essential. And I agree. Whites aren’t forbidden to comment about black-and-black racism; but the vast majority of the time, I think it’s a better use of time to worry about large-scale, institutional anti-black racism. Blacks being racist to blacks is something that blacks are capable of handling without white assistance; on the other hand, the large-scale problems will never be solved if whites don’t take an interest.
Another of my fave bloggers, David at The Debate Link, writes:
I think my condemnation of such acts as Steve Gilliard blackfacing Steele gives me credibility amongst moderates and conservatives when talking about race issues that I wouldn’t otherwise possess. After posting on Lt. Gov. Steele, I’ve inoculated myself against charges of bias and partisanship, such that it’s more likely that the people we need to reach will take me seriously. If some conservative reads one of my posts about structural racism and makes the stock attack, that I’m anti-white or just some wild-eyed multicultural radical, I can point to these posts and prove that I’m not. They might still ignore me, but it’s more likely that they’ll tune in and in any event any undecided observers will look on me more favorably. That’s a positive benefit and one that’s seriously lacking when we only attack white power and privileges. We can’t expect to make any gains on race when we’re alienating the majority of our audience. If whites hold the levers of racial power in our society, than it is whites who we need to persuade to affect racial change, and we must adapt our arguments accordingly.
I’m not saying we should go out of our way to find incidents of black racism for counter-balancing purposes. But when they’re thrust in front of our faces, we should be clear where we stand.
It’s possible I’m perhaps a little knee-jerk about whites complaining about black racism, because in my live I’ve frequently encountered whites who complain about anti-white and intra-black racism, yet make excuses for or overlook structural racism (I’d call it institutional racism, but perhaps David’s term is better) that hurts blacks. But to accuse David of such a thing would be obviously unfair.
Finally, Cathy Young – who I seem to be linking to every day lately – writes:
I think Barry rather oddly and sweepingly conflates social and political equality movements with “identity politics.” The leaders of the civil rights movement did not say, “We should be allowed access to public facilities, the voting booth, jobs, and housing because we’re black”; they said, “We should be allowed equal access to public facilities, the voting booth, jobs, and housing because we’re human beings and American citizens.” The feminists who won equal property and employment rights for women did not ask for special gender-based privileges; rather, they challenged gender-based restrictions on their rights. The same goes for gays who challenged anti-gay bigotry and discriminatory laws. A demand for simple equality is the opposite of identity politics.
I think that conservatives like Cathy are using some very strange definition of identity politics that wouldn’t be recognizable to any lefty who actually practices identity politics – in other words, what you describe is more identity politics as conservatives caricature it, then it is identity politics as anyone practices it. I think Wikipedia’s definition makes more sense:
Identity politics is the political activity of various social movements which represent and seek to advance the interests of particular groups in society, the members of which often share and unite around common experiences of actual or perceived social injustice. Such groups argue that they are in some way socially or politically disenfranchised, marginalized or disadvantaged relative to the wider society of which they form part. These movements seek to achieve better social and political outcomes for the members of such groups. In this way, the identity of the oppressed group gives rise to a political basis around which they then unite.
By this definition, I think I was quite correct in describing the civil rights and feminist movements as identity politics movements.
Cathy then provides a parade of horribles she attributes to identity-politics movements; the temptation to debate her parade in detail has been resisted. Regardless of particulars, her parade of horribles is irrelevant to my argument, because I never said “identity politics movements have never done anything wrong.” All political movements sometimes make mistakes or have excesses; why should identity politics be an exception? But very few political movements have done as much good as identity politics has.
My argument was that John’s claim – “this brand of politics will lead to nothing but rancor…” – was mistaken. None of Cathy’s counterexamples contradict my argument.