On Sunday, a day after white nationalists wreaked havoc in Charlottesville, Virginia, The Wall Street Journal published an editorial blaming “The Poison of Identity Politics” for the social turmoil of the past… well, when has the United States not experienced social turmoil in one form or another?
Anyway, as The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial board writes:
The problem is that the identity obsessives want to boil down everything in American life to these categories. In practice this means allocating political power, contracts, jobs and now even salaries in the private economy based on the politics of skin color or gender rather than merit or performance. Down this road lies crude political tribalism, and James Damore’s recent Google dissent is best understood as a cri de coeur that we should aspire to something better. Yet he lost his job merely for raising the issue.
A politics fixated on indelible differences will inevitably lead to resentments that extremists can exploit in ugly ways on the right and left. The extremists were on the right in Charlottesville, but there have been examples on the left in Berkeley, Oakland and numerous college campuses. When Democratic politicians can’t even say ‘all lives matter’ without being denounced as bigots, American politics has a problem.
I of course take issue with the Journal‘s pointing to Google’s firing of a misogynist and the liberal censure against any use of the term “all lives matter” as the negative effects of identity politics. But the paper does have a point. Identity politics, political extremism, partisanship, splintering, or whatever you want to call it, is a serious issue we as a country must address if we’re to move beyond the nation’s current political, economic and social impasse.
(Just to clarify, Danmore was fired for sending out an internal memo which suggested women are biologically weaker leaders and generally exhibit “higher anxiety [and] lower stress tolerance” — a thesis which the millions of children of working-class single mothers would find laughable; yet a lot of the condemnation against his memo undoubtedly came from people who feel morally obligated to defend women and other oppressed groups against any form of criticism, whether unfounded or not. And the provocation caused by “all lives matter” is due to the yet to be admitted claim that “black lives matter,” though that nuance is surely lost on a lot of, if not most self-styled allies of the black community.)
To understand racism, sexism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia, capitalism and every other form of hatred which divides human beings into groups and pits them against each on the basis of hierarchy, you first have to be able to put yourselves in the shoes of the other, you have to be able to see everyone as simply human beings, and then decide the morality of our current social relations — between whites and people of color, between men and women, between citizens and immigrants, between capitalists and workers.
As the national correspondent for The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates, explained Tuesday morning on Democracy Now!:
What one has to do to really understand the horror of the situation, you have to try to imagine black people in, say, Ferguson, showing up, some of them with guns, some of them dressed in militia outfits, some of them with shields, some of them with clubs …. and then having them brawl in the streets with counter-protesters. And you then have to try to imagine the police doing nothing. And I think that just fails the test. I just don’t think that there’s enough imagination to perceive that as a possibility.
A black nationalist group could never do what white nationalists did in Charlottesville last weekend, showing up in military gear, toting military-style assault rifles, carrying (tiki) torches and the rest. Imagine a group of black-shirted dark men surrounding a statue of Louis Farrakhan on a Friday night, menacing the white Christians holding service in a church across the street. Imagine what would happen if some young black nationalist, maybe even one of Farrakhan’s fawners (the opposite of a white Christian Klansman), were to drive his car into a group of peaceful demonstrators calling for nationwide solidarity against hatred. You can’t imagine it, and that’s the point. That’s what racism is.
Solidarity and loyalty are not the same thing. One is ugly, the other beautiful. Being a defender of oppressed peoples is not to be an apologist for all that they say, do and are. The oppressed are people too, with plenty of strengths and flaws, and as much ignorant and intelligent as any other group of people. That’s what makes things like racism and sexism so heartbreaking and dangerous — not because racists and sexists are a special kind of ignorant but, on the contrary, because their ignorance is usually par of the course.
I personally know a number of self-avowed liberals in the black and Latino communities who hate white people. They hate white people because they’re white, and they hate everything white people say and do simply because it’s what white people say and do. These hatemongers of color don’t see themselves as such and would come near to punching me in the face were I to suggest they’re being racist, a label which they reserve exclusively for white people. They believe racism to be the sole creation and continuation of white people, failing to understand that things like racism and sexism are maintained and perpetuated by oppressor and oppressed alike. (There are nearly as many Latinas upholding the values of machismo, for instance, as there are Muslim women defending Islamic gender roles.) I even know white Latinos who hate white people, not knowing they themselves are white, something they would again knock me out for suggesting. (At a May Day march here in Vegas, I saw a white, ginger-haired, freckled-face Mexican lady screaming a white cop, “We indigenous were here first! You are the immigrant! Go back to Europe!”) This species of self-blindness has grown into an epidemic in recent decades.
It should go without say that there are also Latinos who hate black people, and upper-class blacks who want nothing to do with their brothers and sisters in the struggling class. Anyone requiring an example of what I mean needn’t look any further than Alex Michael Ramos, the Puerto Rican man who appears to have participated in the savage beating of a 20-year-old hip-hop artist and assistant special-education teacher during last Saturday’s race battle in Charlottesville. In Facebook Live video posted by Atlanta Antifascists, Ramos claims he can’t possibly be racist because he’s “Spanish” and “Puerto Rican.” Oh, Alex, if only that were true.
Many liberal and progressive readers probably wonder why I’m spend so much time and energy warning of the threat of identity politics among women, people of color and other oppressed groups when white nationalism and fascism pose a much more immediate threat. For the same reason Orwell never thought it important to outright condemn Hitler, Nazism and fascism: We already know the other side pretty well and know what they want. I’m not unnerved by hatred and ignorance that is so blatant, exposed and widely condemned. Plenty of articles and essays have been written dissecting and damning white supremacy and institutional racism, and because those things aren’t going away anytime soon, plenty more will be written against them. As a writer, I have no desire to add my pebble to that mountain. I already know what white supremacists think and how they think, and I’m sure you already know, too. I want to talk about what our side thinks and, more important, how we think.
We all know power corrupts the powerful, or at least have heard that it does, but power also corrupts the powerless, who believe the guilt of the powerful implies their own innocence. I suspect many of my black and Latino liberal allies have never heard of the master-slave relationship, which describes how the master’s urge to dominate is equaled by the slave’s urge to be dominated, how each person carries the instinct for both from the moment he or she is born. If most black and Latino liberals have heard of this dialectic, then they seem to have rejected it, seeing any overlap between the oppressor and the oppressed as perplexing, inconvenient and, therefore, uncomfortable. But we cannot let our fierce passions give way to lazy thinking, because it is lazy thinking which gives room too racist thinking in the first place.
When I say I am against fascism, I mean I am against it in its entirety: I am against what it thinks, I am against the way it thinks, I am against the way it talks and I am against the way it acts. I want nothing in common between myself and fascism, which is why I firmly support any fascist’s right to think or say whatever he or she wants, knowing full well that fascism seeks to deny me my right to do the same. If fascism is one thing, then I declare myself the exact opposite. This is the true meaning of the word opposition. Without a true and clear opposition to fascism and all it entails — nationalism, capitalism, authoritarianism, blind faith and devotion, and direct action over dialogue — then all we have are two sides fighting for more or less the same things, only for different groups of people, each believing theirs is the side of right.
Featured image: CNA DF/Flickr