Check Your Privilege, Comrade: Identity Politics & The Left

Lee Jenkins November 21, 2013 3
Check Your Privilege, Comrade: Identity Politics & The Left

Can the Left have unity when everybody needs their own collectivised voice?

Identity politics is largely a result of how the organised labour came into being; a group (in this case industrial workers) was perceived to be suffering under a combination of exploitation, lack of opportunity and poor wages/conditions. As each individual worker was weak, but the collective potentially strong, the obvious solution seemed to be a pooling of political capital. This bloc could then bargain from a position of, if not parity, then at least less disadvantage.

But a necessary prerequisite to the forming of a bloc is surrendering some degree of personal sovereignty. For the purposes of the union, you exists as merely part of the collective, with any deviation or dissent a betrayal that would undermine the collective.

This can be seen in the language used by unions; united we stand divided we fall, the workers united will never be defeated, one out all out, in unity strength.
Individuality, therefore, plays into the hands of the enemy. Indeed, unions even went so far as to make up a word to describe disloyalty during a strike; scab.

It should be little surprise that the successful format used in lumping workers together was used to group other disadvantaged individuals together; picking a salient feature and making that their unifying banner. The natural results of a desire to ensure that every group, real or perceived has a voice is the catalyst for identity politics.

Women, homosexuals and ethnic minorities were the next three obvious candidates for collectivisation, and most would agree that was necessary and beneficial to these groups in particular, and as society ad a whole.

But has this created a monster? Or rather, once the identity genie is out of its bottle, how much mischief can it cause?

Should transexual and transgender individuals fall under the existing gay rights banner by putting a T on the end to make it LGBT? And what of the curious? The * on the end of LGBT* is for them, but do they deserve their own group? Undoubtedly they face many of the challenges and disadvantages that plain old homosexuals do, but they also get a unique chunk of their own too.

venn_no_1-bigAnd should transgender women (by which I mean those born male but who identify themselves as female) be admitted to feminist events and discussions? Transgender women will face many of the problems biological women face, but is that enough, or should they be confined to their own group, less they ruin, dilute or taint ‘proper’ feminism? Is this transphobia, and is it justified under certain circumstances if feminism is to avoid  losing focus?

And what of ethnic minority women? Few would argue that they don’t suffer greater discrimination than women or male ethnic minorities do alone, so do they need their own group, or should mainstream feminism devote time and energy to addressing their challenges first?

And if feminism as a movement decides to challenge the inherent male dominance prevalent in some minority cultures, is this a betrayal of cultural sensitivity and tolerance? By attacking deeply held minority customs and practice, would feminism be unwittingly doing the job of rich white men for them?

This last example touches on a fundamental dilemma for adherents of identity politics; if everybody deserves a voice, and those voices are best heard in groups, how do you manage an individual who over laps multiple groups, especially when their interests are contrary?

Another word was invented to at least try and square that circle. Dizzy from all the Venn diagrams, intersectionality was an attempt to bring order to the chaos. It’s a fascinating and worthy cause, but also huge. Here’s an excellent introduction.

Yet despite all the campaigns and lofty pledges of empowerment and diversity, why do the flag bearers of the Left tend to be comparatively well off white men? And does it matter if they’re rape joke making, womanising types like Russell Brand? Brocialism, anyone? Should minority issues be put on the back burner while the ‘real’ battle is fought? Does unity trump all else, or is a revolution without every minority injustice accounted for not really worthy of the term?

There’s no easy answer.
But as an able bodied white male class traitor, would I even be allowed to answer?


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