The “Identity Politics” Conundrum

Have you noticed that those who base their identity on  their race,  their gender, or their religion etc.,–and therefore base, almost robotically, their decisions on that one identity–often seem to be the most confused person in the discussion or debate?   Have you witnessed them become progressively more agitated when you try to solve a problem through a set of logics beyond simple “identity”?   Do they sometimes seem to be stuck or trapped in a limited or narrow alley, with their argument restrained and weakened by their “identity?”  I have.   And I watch smart, good, well-intentioned people be less effective  than they otherwise would be.

So, the question is:   How does that happen?

This is not a Blog on indoctrination.   That’s covered by other columnists.   What I want to do is illustrate that the dilemma comes when we see ourselves through one “identity.”   In fact, we are ourselves, and we are members of a family.   But we are also all members of groups.  As a group member, we want to help that group towards its goals.   Herein lies the confusion.

We are not just a member of one group.   We are a member of just one birth family, but we are a member of multiple groups, and the confusion comes from trying to decide who you want to be, if the groups you are part of are colliding.

Let’s take an example:   I am a woman.   My friend HM is a woman.  We share that group and the interest and goals of women.   But, I am also white.  She is black.   So, we do not share the same group related to race.   If the conflict is defined as black vs. white, which so much of politics has degraded to today, how do she and I decide?  One white woman and one black woman.   Do we act according to our race, and ignore the other group called women?  Do we engage in conflict with each other because of our identity as black and white? Or do we try to decide based upon what is best for all women, and not just the women of our color?

But suppose also I tell you that my friend and I share another group.   We are both Californians.  So, we are both members of that decidedly unique group defined by our state’s boundaries.   So, what race and what gender do we support politically in California?  Do we support our state if an issue conflicts with one of the other identities?  Do we support our state if women from another state have an issue with California? Which “identity” is premier.

And we are also both entrepreneurs.   Suppose a racial group, or ethnic group, or state decides that it is hostile to our business and wants to force us to act in ways that would be detrimental to our business.  To make matters even worse, suppose a white man from Kansas brings a solution for our business issues.   What does my friend do about the helper being white?   What do we both do about the fact he’s a male?   What do we do with the fact he comes from “flyover country?”

What do we do if he is attacked for his religion–especially if his religion is different from ours?   So, does a black female Buddhist Californian support a white, male, Christian from the Midwest?  Does a white female Californian support a white, male, Christian from Kansas?

Worse yet we are members of different parties.   Two are Republican.   One is Democrat.

We three–the Kansas hero, my friend, and I–are all Americans.   Boy, this is probably starting to make your head spin.   How do I choose?   From which “identity” do I speak?  Which group do I support singularly, at the expense of the others?  Who do I attack, at the expense of the others?

Well, if my friend and I are sane and rational we will ignore all the noise, and support the people and actions that do the greatest amount of good, for the greatest number.  If we are instead insistent on shrilly screaming from only the point of view of our race, our gender, or our party, then we have a terrible, almost pretzel-like confusion.   We are torn, and no matter what we espouse, we seem to be serving only one group, one identity.  We help the one, and potentially harm the others.

The reality is that though we are in fact a unique individual, we are all members of multiple groups, some of which conflict, but almost all of which overlap in some ways.   Ex. the white woman/black woman.   The Christian man/the Jewish man.  The male Republican/the male Democrat.   You can do endless examples for yourself based on careers, community involvement, parental status, income strata, gym memberships, charitable organizations, churches, schools…

But, In our hearts, I think we know that all of us are members of the largest group of all–Mankind.   These others are all sub-groups.   More importantly, we are not just one “identity.”   We are multiple “identities”– part of many groups–and we set the priorities.   Perhaps it is easier to assume just one, and ignore all the others.   That eliminates the need to understand anyone else, or any other point of view.  We might be smaller and less wise because of that choice, but surely we can take solace in hiding behind the “identity” talking points of our lone “identity.”

I doubt it.   And that’s my parting gift to you–that doubt!!

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