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An Introduction to the Dangers of Identity Politics

By Morgan Jacobsen

In order to examine the dangers of Identity Politics, we must first define it. There are numerous perspectives and definitions of identity politics, but for the purpose of this article I will cite the following: “Identity Politics is the tendency for people of a particular race, religion, gender or ethnicity to organize politically around that group identity for the sole purpose of advancing a specific, sometimes narrow interest, without concern or regard for any larger group or collective” (Joseph Klein). Another important definition for the purpose of this conversation is that of Political Tribalism: “... the possession of a strong cultural or ethnic identity that separates one member of a group from the members of another group. Based on strong relations of proximity and kinship, members of a tribe tend to possess a strong feeling of identity.”

The United States is experiencing an intense wave of political polarization. Politics divides friends, families, and communities as political issues become synonymous with personal identity. Depending on who you supported politically in the 2016 election, a set of beliefs and values are used to define you. If you supported one side then you are against women, the LGBTQIA+ community, immigrants and various other groups. If you supported the other side, then you are against industry, middle class families, the rights of religious peoples, and the right to speak freely without regard to political correctness. These various labels applied to individuals based solely on their political perspective is an aspect of Identity Politics. Identity Politics is not a new concept, and it’s been seen before in the United States. However, it is intensifying.

Many argue that those who are critical of Identity Politics are only critical because they do not belong to a minority group.This is due to a misconception of the definition of Identity Politics. The unification of minority groups is necessary in order to achieve legal equality. A great example of this is the Civil Rights Movement. Although these ‘60s movements brought a group together, they are not an example of Identity Politics due to their goals. The main figures of the Civil Rights Movement aimed to dissolve Identity Politics rather than promote it. The objective of the Civil Rights Movement was racial equality under the law, equality that would make the color of one's skin unimportant in politics. These aims were articulated by Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” The difference between current Identity Politics--taking place on the right and the left sides of the political spectrum--and the movements of the ‘60s is that the Civil Rights Movement strove to make an identity group unimportant to politics rather than to make it the focus of a political party. Therefore, the unification of an identity group is only ethical when dissolving the importance of belonging to a particular identity group in politics.

Today, Identity Politics is heavily utilized by politicians and results in the further division of our nation. It is employed in attempt to garner votes. It is unethical for politicians to compete for votes simply because the voter is part of a particular minority group rather than the broad based political groups with aims that benefit the entire nation. Unfortunately, many assume that their political party is the one advocating improvement to the entire nation and the opposition is catering to small viewpoints. This is prevalent on both sides. One example of this is the false dichotomy with respect to border security and illegal immigration. Those on the political right are branded as racist and xenophobic when they advocate border security and enforcing our current immigration policy. This is false. Illegal immigrants are in fact taking opportunity from those who immigrated legally.

It is hypocritical to advocate equality while simultaneously stating that people should vote for you simply because they are female, gay or a minority. In the United States we should be treated like individuals, not targeted by politicians based on a particular identity group. Similarly, it is unethical and hypocritical to criticize another for not voting in accordance with their “best interest” as a member of a certain identity group. In the United States the only identity that should be of importance in the political arena is one’s identity as an American. We must treat various groups with differing beliefs and backgrounds with respect. Politicians should not appeal to an individual based on a group identity. If the promotion of Identity Politics continues, the United States will only fall further into political tribalism. As high school students we can resist political tribalism by pursuing information for ourselves. Get your political news from places other than social media, and don’t rely solely upon the credibility of others. Stay informed.

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