“We know what we are but not what we may be” – Spinoza
Identity politics sucks. Last time, my wife wanted to register for a seminar. She had to answer a few questions: what race, what ethnicity, what age, what sexual identity she identified with, and how she wanted to be referred to. That’s insane. My problem with it is that the persons going this way think that they are broadening their deepness when in fact they are just reducing someone to a few concepts that are independent from (or should be just a part of) their way of thinking and who they truly are. In a free world, there is nothing freer than being unidentified. Reducing someone to a label is wrong, whatever the reason is. How you identify should not be a representation of your whole self.
Identity based politics is something that America loves. The whole idea of Identity politics is to treat others or yourself differently because of the label you decided to give them or yourself. Originally, Identity politics was championed by the conservatives and the right. It started with the differentiation between black and white, Irish and nativist, Chinese and nativist, Japanese, Communists and now Middle Easterners who want to ‘take our freedom’. And keeping in the background through all these years a focus on treating Black Americans like shit, treating women as second class citizens, and homosexuality as a mental illness. Today though, it is increasingly a problem from the left. With people finally opening their hearts instead of basing their morals on religious and “cultural” minds, we start to accept more and more people for who they are. But this advancement forced the oppressed ones to see themselves as a representation of their identity first (because most people hated the way they are born). So today, we have groups that promote Black, gay, trans, latino, etc. agendas independently. Everybody wants to promote the rights of its own clan when there is only one clan that matters, the American one (or from wherever you live). For that to happen, everybody needs to find a common ground. We all have to agree that what happened in the past has influenced what is happening today. But that is today that we need to make efforts to change for the better, for everybody.
As I mentioned earlier, even if today it is seen as a liberal ideal, Identity politics was set up by the Founding Fathers. The whole system of American politics, laws, taboos have been based on identity since its inception. Everyone was free and equal, except certain identities, i.e. women, blacks, Indians, the poor. Slavery has existed forever all over the world, but America (and most of the European Empires) decided to make it based on the color of your skin. Slavery was thought to be needed to Unite all the colonies and is seen as America’s original sin. The sin is even bigger when we learn that the same year the Constitution was signed (treating slaves as non citizens), the Northwest Ordinance was signed too, which prohibited slavery in the States that would enter the Union after the 13 original ones. 75 years later, Slavery had to stop to keep the Union together.
After the Emancipation, which could have been the late start to treat Black Americans as equals, Americans decided to treat them as wild animals. But what was the reason for all the suffering that ensued against people based on their physical identity, their Blackness? Shouldn’t the treatment of Black people in America be seen as its Perpetual Sin? Black and White didn’t have to mix right after 1865, but how could it have made sense for anybody to paint “Whites only” on benches, to spend less money on black children education, to forbid them to live in certain places or to restrain their right to vote? I mean, slavery was abolished in many countries or colonies around the world at that time. Nowhere did it turn as bad as in America (Except South Africa).
I will never get past the fact that Americans thought of the Nazi government’s actions against Jews as horrific and worth fighting for, while at the same letting their Black citizens being burned and lynched. White Politics were more important than Black lives. Neither Congress passed a law, nor any President used his Executive power to stop the lynching. Wasn’t it the racist white folk who decided to base his hatred on the identity of his fellow American? Wasn’t it the lawmakers who didn’t want to lose the vote of the racist white? There cannot be a real United America until every person in this country realizes that White Americans have purposefully undermined Black Americans because of their skin color. White Americans identified Black Americans as “not as worthy as a white person” instead of as human beings just like they were. Black Americans had no choice but to take their identity as a strength and use it to campaign for their Civil Rights. Black Lives Matter today not because they are superior or more important than whites. But because Black lives have been treated as inferior by many throughout history. What I just applied to Black Americans could be just as easily applied to the constant homophobia that existed through the years, the sexism that persisted and the mistreatment of all the other minorities at some point or another.
“If you want the present to be different from the past, study the past” – Spinoza
We need to stop blaming the victims of discrimination for wanting to unite. The government who was supposed to protect them, decided to annihilate them instead. But I would argue that this mechanism of defense is not the best way to go.
I wanted to put the blame for identity politics back where it belonged. We just “gave back to Caesar what’s his” and understood that Identity politics was a movement forced by the repressive ones, not the progressive ones. I am opposed to the idea of proudness for uncontrollable elements though. Now we base our judgment of someone on who they identify with instead of who they really are. There is no real meaning behind the idea of being proud to be American (or French), Black (or white), gay (or straight), Christian (or Atheist), or whatever. Just like there is no real meaning in feeling guilty to be born, white, rich or “beautiful”. I don’t even know if I can be proud of who I am in my entirety when I think that it is mostly based onmy environment, my inherited genes and luck or the lack of it. But I can’t blame someone for willing to feel proud for being Black, gay or for having a different culture. Throughout history, people who were not from your identity couldn’t be trusted to serve your interests. The bad guys based their politics on identity. This is the role of the good guys not to fall deeper into this trap. Basing who you are on your identity first will always play the game of the “Us” vs “Them” instead of trying to be a better Us. We live in a supposedly free world. So whatever is your identity, you should be it. Everything but your personality is just a social construct. We are all different. We all have different backgrounds, religions, sexualities, etc. There should be only one fight and it is the fight for fair treatment. And not the fair treatment that Peter Williams Jr., a Black citizen of NYC asked for in 1830: “We are native of this country, we ask only to be treated as well as foreigners”. If you are a breathing human, you are entitled to as many rights as anybody else. That’s all. To reach that utopia, we need to focus on all the unconcerned citizens to open their eyes and hearts that we have as much of a right to be who we are as they do.
But progress is not becoming blind to differences. Color blindness is a stupid notion. This is what led people to think that racism was over. We need to see the difference, but not judge it. I mean, MLK said it so well, we need to judge people “by the content of their character”. Through the ages, we did not do that. We focused on letting only the heterosexual white man succeed. And we need to own that. It is because in this country and in all white populated countries, we do not own the fact that the – Western world – and their colonies – always turned around the White man. It was judged that anybody else was unfit for anything of important matter. It was not only a cultural stupidity of the past, it was set into laws and customs that were present long after their moral demise. I mean, the founders, who helped shape a new country, decided to give the liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to only a handful of the people on this land. How can you have such great ideals and purposefully keep them away from a part of the population?
However, we also need to remember that most white people were not authorized to vote at first. In NYC, only in 1826 all white men were authorized to vote, 40 years after the signing of the Constitution. And we have to remember that today, the rate of white people being poor is lower than the one for minorities, but the number is pretty much the same. It’s not because the White straight man has always been advantaged that there are no white straight men who are now in suffering. Asians are the ones who do the best in term of salaries in this country. Not white people. But still, we have to acknowledge that the treatment of Asians in this country doesn’t seem to bother people as much as the treatment for other minorities. Everyone has problems for different reasons, let’s not just think about the ones in our box.
Our different identities need to be seen at a personal level and we need to understand that they do not matter to our characters. We need to become environment aware instead of color blind. People have been pushed down based on their identities. Blacks, Chinese, Japanese, women, gays, white poor, etc have been living in a different environment than us. They had to hide who they were or live in a shitty environment. Laws were voted in this country – and others – to forbid these people the access to the same ceiling as most white men. Anybody who tells you that we all had the same chance for success is wrong. The American Dream has always been one. I’ve always been in love with this country. It is the country which was created with the best ideals ever imagined for one country. But it is as bad as any other in the application of these ideals. And for claiming to be the country of freedom, it has been pretty good at voting restrictive laws. White Americans were fine when these identity based laws were putting pressure on minorities as they were not affected by it.
Identity politics was originally used to deprive rights, now it is used to reclaim them. I am against identity as a politic anyhow. We need people to work on themselves to understand that they are part of a community of identities. I’m gonna be honest, seeing 2 guys kiss used to make me cringe. But should my discomfort – brought up my 2 people doing a consensual act – matter? This is my fault or what society put in my head if I feel bad about it. I need to change, not them. Anytime, I see people going to church, I cringe too. I always think like why would people in 2018 still believe in that crap? But I have no right to judge who these people are because of their beliefs. It is on me to work on respecting them on their personal choices. I need to judge people on their character. And that’s hard. Putting your personal feelings in perspective is a tough job. It is even harder to understand when what you feel is wrong. What’s the point for being for Freedom if it’s only for your freedom and not the one of your fellow citizen? Better said by Spinoza “Desire nothing for yourself which you do not desire for others”. It needed 1 amendment to the Constitution to give every body the right to bear arms. But it needed the 15th, the 19th and the 26th to finally give to all Americans over 18 the right to vote. The path to equality is long, but as long as we agree on the truths of the past and that togetherness is more important than divisiveness, we can start moving forward. E pluribus unum, we are all Homo Americanus.