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What is wrong with identity politics and what is the alternative?

(29 Posts)
Spending2muchtimeonMN Tue 24-Apr-18 20:46:00

I’m trying to make sense of what is going and what the alternative could be to the current state of affairs but I don’t have the background in the theory or the different approaches so am looking for other people’s views or any links to articles which would help make sense of it.

The obvious problem with identity politics is that you can identify as anything you want – in particular, white, middle class, heterosexual men without any kind of dysphoria can identify as trans, female and a lesbian. This is then combined with the entitlement of privileged men and the tendency of people to defer to/prioritise them as the men they still subconsciously see them as meaning they actually have far more impact than anyone who was genuinely a member of multiple oppressed groups would ever have. Although they haven’t been able to add transracial to their list of characteristics, the ubiquitous ‘white feminism’ accusation is also repeatedly used by white males to silence women.

I can see a potential backlash against identity politics but the alternative is presented as being to stop discussing and addressing the oppression experienced by particular groups. If this happens, these men will slope back to being white, straight men and it is the people who are genuinely members of minority groups who will again suffer.

What is the alternative? I’ve heard people on the left (including people who are gender critical) talking about a class-based analysis of oppression - and that this can include an analysis of women as a class (and therefore presumably other groups such as ethnic minorities as a class). Is the main difference between this and identity politics that it is based on material reality rather than just being able to pick an identity or are there other differences in the approach?

It’s also made me think about a couple of friends of mine, both black lesbians. Friend A has been involved for many years with a small group for black lesbians, which she finds valuable as a minority within a minority. Friend B (in a different part of the country) has been involved in an LGBT group/organisation which is very much ‘inclusive’, ‘centring’ about a dozen different varieties of trans in everything they do and very much into identity politics. Friend B has since left this group and said her reason was the identity politics – They had special groups and events for black and ethnic minority lesbians and she felt the way it operated was ‘dividing’ lesbians when she wanted to meet with all lesbians, be united, share our common experiences etc.

At first I thought that Friend A and Friend B just had different viewpoints and wanted different things but now I’m wondering if Friend B’s experience in her group was very different from Friend A’s ie Friend A’s group was established by black lesbians and precedes all the current identity politics stuff whereas Friend B’s group is very much in the thick of identity politics (and the people running the main group are white and I think the idea of having separate ‘women of colour’ events may have come from them).

I myself have been involved in LGBT groups for a very long time (but no longer) and thought (and still think) that it is valuable to be able to meet, support each other and campaign on issues affecting us as a group – but sometime over the years it just morphed into this toxic, identity politics shitshow. The obvious issue is the extension of the trans umbrella but I’m just trying to work out if there are other characteristics of the new identity politics which are unhelpful and what a positive approach to addressing the oppression of different minority groups is?

QuentinSummers Tue 24-Apr-18 21:38:33

You might like this

I am not a fan of identity politics. I prefer class analysis but that may be because I like grouping things up rather than splitting them apart.

SuperLoudPoppingAction Tue 24-Apr-18 21:44:01

I like a lot of what Audre Lorde has to say about listening across difference but acknowledging those differences.

Part of the problem is that women so rarely get a chance to speak and develop an understanding of how they've been affected by patriarchy.
So when we do find feminism we sometimes want to cling onto the status of most oppressed.
Usually it's women who don't experience the most extreme forms of oppression who do this but it gets projected onto women of colour, disabled women etc.

If you let go of the insecurity and need to establish yourself as in need of the most resources and energy, the listening to women who experience different forms of oppression in addition to being female can bring a deeper understanding of women's struggles.

But then what often happens is that men are centred instead somehow as this is more in line with how we've been socialized.

ALittleBitOfButter Tue 24-Apr-18 21:49:34

Oh how I long for identity politics to pass out of fashion.
My problem with it is that it privileges one's identity over their actual views/ideology. The shrillest defenders are usually neoliberal in their views.
Hence being told by a Muslim woman that we need to prioritise campaigns for halal lipstick and if we don't then we're racist and not listening to What Muslim Women Want.
Whereas there's plenty of Muslim women whose views I prefer, like the one who removed her hijab in an Iranian protest, but her views don't get aired, ever, in mainstream left publications.
I agree we should listen to the voices of those actually experiencing an oppression but I don't accept I have to agree.
I've found that women who enforce identity politics/intersection all feminism become self appointed leaders by "calling out" *(the modern day phrase for witch hunting) and manipulate everyone into obeying and being complicit. Alternative views are not allowed, and given alternative views usually come from the people directly suffering (not university educated urbanites) then they are very hard to find. If you do find and share them you are told how dare you comment on x...

UpstartCrow Tue 24-Apr-18 21:52:18

Class analysis is based on how we make sense of the world, in a biological sense. Its based on pattern recognition. It allows us to see the whole picture and where we fit in.

Identity politics the way it is being used today is based on the cult of personality. Its a distraction that makes us focus our attention on one group, and ignore the system/society as a whole.

ALittleBitOfButter Tue 24-Apr-18 21:52:38

Intersectional feminists say we should make black etc people "our leaders".
I'm used to political organising that doesn't have leaders, that is a collective.
So you end up with self appointed leaders who are very authoritarian.

ALittleBitOfButter Tue 24-Apr-18 21:56:20

Yes identity politics forbids class analysis because it is an ideological analysis, a way of viewing the world through oppressors and oppressed.
Identity politics proponents don't like it because the person's specific existence/appearance is more important.
We need to look to shared humanity and solidarity not this fragmentation and hierarchy forming.

Identity politics has killed solidarity movements.

ALittleBitOfButter Tue 24-Apr-18 21:58:14

Another thing that identity politics does is create fictions about past movements so they must be totally dismissed. Ie, lesbian separatism was white and middle class in the 1970s, so anyone identifying as a lesbian is exclusionary to black people.

0phelia Tue 24-Apr-18 22:17:45

Everything is wrong with identity politics and the alternative is that we should ignore it.

2rebecca Tue 24-Apr-18 22:19:57

I don't think I really identify with any of the above groups. I'm a feminist but only a women should be equal to men able to follow career paths/ have hobbies they want on the same terms as men and not patronised sort of feminist.
I don't really believe in "the patriarchy" although there are a lot of controlling men out there. There are also a lot of nice men and some horrible controlling women.
I hate the word privilege. I don't think you can really know if someone is privileged unless you know the person, and even then privilege is subjective. For instance many people regard the Royal family as privileged but I would hate the lifestyle restrictions Princess Kate has. I can't be bothered dressing formally and I like going for long cycle rides on my own.
I used to be a fan of class analysis but the classes are fairly heterogeneous and I have more sympathy for a minimal wage care worker than a drug addict who has never worked and been in and out of prison and who doesn't want to work. My parents were proud of having moved from working class to middle class through education and being prepared to move areas.
I probably feel people are people and there are people I like and get on well with and people I don't have much in common with.

RedToothBrush Tue 24-Apr-18 22:26:35

Identity politics always pulls to the extremes because its competitive about who can do identity best and is most authentic and pure in ideology and thought.

Nuanced approaches are not nearly as click baity.

The alternative is consensus building and evidence based approaches. Which are altogether 'more dull'. In a social media age where its all about I rather than we.

NoSuchThingAsAlpha Tue 24-Apr-18 22:37:28

Identity politics is the left-leaning version of neoliberalism. It's both individualistically selfish and socially authoritarian - pretty much the worst aspects of left and right wing political ideologies as found in Liberal democracies.

There replacement is an awareness of the subjectivity of the self, an understanding of how this subjectivity is intrinsically self-serving at the expense of others and that there is an interconnectedness of humans within society that plays into this self-serving approach. Also, we must understand the deterministic nature of human consciousness, in the sense that we have no real free will and that what we feel are "conscious choices" are actually illusions.

In essence:
Not one of us is really the person we think we are.
We are limited in our understanding of the self and of others.
Our conscious minds do not have authority over our choices.
The healthy human mind is inherently selfish.
No-one is exempt from these observations.

But that's not a very easy sell when you're looking for votes or political foot soldiers.

Freespeecher Tue 24-Apr-18 22:42:37

Thing with identity politics is that some people with the required minority status are feted despite having some pretty regressive views.

As an example I give you Linda Sarsour (genuine tweet btw).

Ereshkigal Tue 24-Apr-18 22:46:53

Linda Sarsour is awful. The "Women's" March leadership is awful.

ALittleBitOfButter Wed 25-Apr-18 00:14:26

People have to fawn over the likes of Linda Sarsour because if they don't they get "called out", which is a modern scolds bridle. That's how they take over IWD collectives. It's sickening.

ChattyLion Wed 25-Apr-18 01:47:01

Identity politics has killed solidarity movements.

Butter that’s what really worries me. Feels like at this point in history we urgently need solidarity but even to call for that seems impossible if the starting point has to be that we spend a lot of energy thinking about who is talking and difference, less than what they are actually saying or what they are trying to change. (Not politically educated at all so this may not make sense). I really feel like some kind of old relic thinking like this..

thebewilderness Wed 25-Apr-18 02:21:31

As soon as you frame society as a competition between various groups you are on the road to destroying you society.

womanformallyknownaswoman Wed 25-Apr-18 05:52:44

To do whatever is in the interests of the community as a whole to create a thriving, working democracy where the conditions are in place for all to contribute and flourish. Those who know no limits are contained.

What we have at the moment is anything but that.

ChattyLion Wed 25-Apr-18 09:41:31

I agree Red that consensus building is the way (feels like the only way forward), so articulate careful explaining is needed around political issues- rather than relying on assumptions about who should support what, or assuming that party or cultural loyalties will lead to support on a specific issue.
I also agree about the key importance of using and prioritising evidence, although one of the issues about evidence is that trust is needed to accept it as valid or relevant. where there isn’t trust you can’t gain any traction with it. Especially when faced with an emotive counter argument.

Some of the traps that I think people fall into when trying to promote evidence- especially with scientific or environmental arguments, is that they rely on implicit trust or respect and understanding for expert authority. Sometimes they don’t understand that a lot of the audience they need to reach is sceptical or doesn’t trust authority.
furthermore I think sometimes they feel that producing evidence is kind of the rebuttal to a political argument. In some ways it is, but you often need to have a political or moral argument ready as a framework that the evidence then helps with. Sometimes I think people who I see trying to use evidence to get an important consensus going, aren’t so comfortable with advocating a political case to support it and are then shocked to see they haven’t got the support that they need.

WomaninGreen Wed 25-Apr-18 18:08:06

I hope this doesn't sound horribly simplistic but as a woman of Asian appearance, I feel like things were better before.

Couple of things confuse me

1) how much of this has come from the US and somehow gets mirrored in politics here when perhaps we haven't got that many people who are interested in it (if election results are anything to go by)

2) why don't we see each other more as human? That seems to cover everything.

I also feel there was a period where it almost somehow became impolite NOT to mention someone's skin colour, like you are insulting their heritage, but mine is Welsh, which seems to throw people now..but not in the past.

I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but the last couple of months I have wondered if the internet is actually a bad influence on me! Is identity politics one of those things - in the UK - that's made a big deal online but when we actually go to vote, it won't matter? I'm so confused.

WomaninGreen Wed 25-Apr-18 18:09:58

Just looked at the Linda Sarsour tweet. Not even sure how to interpret it.

she is more angry about lack of maternity pay in some places than lack of the right to drive, is that correct?

Ereshkigal Wed 25-Apr-18 18:15:13

She's a bit like Riley J Dennis saying how wonderfully trans accepting Iran was.

Freespeecher Wed 25-Apr-18 19:14:19

Regarding Woman In Green's point, a few weeks ago, one of the questions put to the Question Time panel was about how to increase BAME numbers at Oxbridge (or something along those lines).

It was noticeable (to me anyway) how all the panel members answered along the lines of class rather than race - how, while it was key that standards be maintained, it was also important to give those of poorer backgrounds, who met the entry criteria, the chance to go. Of course, this would also include some ethnic minorities from poorer backgrounds.

Therefore, going by this limited example, American-style identity politics has yet to fully take root over here, and, personally, I'm glad this is the case.

Spending2muchtimeonMN Wed 25-Apr-18 22:26:07

Thanks for the responses. I'm just belatedly catching up on them now. Very interesting article @QuentinSummers

hipsterfun Wed 25-Apr-18 23:09:21

Invariably, ‘calling out’ something or somebody makes the caller-out sound like a sanctimonious prick.

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