Politics & Media
Jul 23, 2018, 06:28AM

I Hate Shallow, Angry Critiques of Identity Politics

You either love people or you don’t.

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I met Larry, one of my favorite friends, at a techno festival in Amsterdam a few years ago. We were both at a panel where Robert Hood, a legend in the techno scene, talked about techno as religion, growing up in Detroit, and how music shaped him. At the end of the panel Larry and I met up at the bar, drank our weight in booze and connected right away. Since then we’ve travelled together and have had long, philosophical conversations about politics, sex, and the world. The thing is, we couldn’t be more different. He grew up in Switzerland, is tall, white, dates women, and plays funk music. I grew up in Ferguson, Missouri, date guys, play techno and sometimes wear blue lipstick. We definitely have different worldviews, but somehow it all works.

In this current political climate, where you’re either Leave or Remain, or on the Left or Right, or a progressive or a conservative, these kinds of friendships, partnerships, and love connections are increasingly endangered. It’s one thing to have different opinions but it’s an entirely different enterprise when people use pen, paper, keyboard strokes and airtime to attack and invalidate people’s humanity and life-experience.

President Obama recently gave a lecture in South Africa and used an analogy about building bridges with other people and coming together that perfectly explains how difficult it is for any of us to come together when we ignore personhood and life experience. The analogy goes like this: If we’re in a room looking at a table and you tell me the table is a cow, but it’s definitely not a cow because it is plainly a table, um, how do we even start this conversation? From the jump we are on completely different levels of understanding.

What I’m calling personhood, which another writer at Splice Today negatively refers to as the “self-defeating overreliance on identity politics,” is the cow vs. the table in the middle of a room. Only someone in power or with a certain kind of privilege could dare to say that identity is only political if you choose to make it so. This might actually be the whitest thought of all time.

And now, the cow vs. the table in the room. If you’re a person who believes that transgender people are sick, or that racism doesn’t exist, or that the Holocaust didn’t happen, or that hair isn’t political, or that sexual racism isn’t real, or that feminism is a hoax, or that the police are race-neutral, or that people coming into the country illegally should be separated from their children, or that white privilege isn’t real, or that reverse racism is a thing, or that “it’s not about race,” or that “it’s just a preference,” I don’t even know what to say to you. I’m speechless.

You’re trying to sell me on a cow when it’s absolutely a table.

You might say that having a productive debate, especially if you slide outside your echo chamber, is about having different worldviews and finding a place to agree. The point I want to make is how can you even get to a place of agreement if you roll into the debate telling someone that everything about them is a hoax, a sham, essentially that the way the experience the world is irrelevant?

Shallow, angry critiques of identity politics aim to dictate what people should feel, “dictate” being the most important word in the sentence. Point blank, these critiques work by invalidating experiences that don’t belong to you, and that’s what ultimately annoys me about shallow critiques of personhood. They not only tell me/us how to feel, but they also invalidate my/our experiences in the process.

You either love people or you don’t. It’s that simple. Of course we all have different experiences, opinions, values and beliefs. We are all the product of our life experiences, social environments, education, and so-forth. But the second you put someone’s personhood, humanity, and daily experience up for debate or shut it down, the conversation is over. 

  • Kind of an overreaction to write: "if you roll into the debate telling someone that everything about them is a hoax, a sham, essentially that the way the experience the world is irrelevant?" The topic is politics, as your article states, not "you," but everything you write is all about "you" so i guess that's a hard distinction to make.

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  • Much of what you list as "cow" can go either way, making you look like a cow identifier. Hair may be political in your world but, from my prospective, a balding white guy, its just something to deal with. I'm not saying one can't use hair (or lack thereof) to make a political statement but in and of itself? Its just cell excrement. Likewise some police are race-neutral, some are not, making the sweeping generalization that police are not race-neutral not only ignores many fine citizens, it's as true as the table being a cow. I normally enjoy your perspective on things Madison, but this sounds extremist to me.

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  • Straw man alert! For the record, I didn't "say that identity is only political if you choose to make it so." I said that about "hair." I question fretting like a busybody about how others choose to wear their hair when there are so many political issues that are of real consequence, such as economic inequality, the broken criminal justice system, student debt, police brutality etc etc. These complex issues take actual effort to tackle, because they involve more than just spilling your personal feelings and grievances about matters of fashion, so I can understand why some choose to write about hair, which isn't exactly a crisis of any kind. All the people wearing their hair the wrong way or inappropriately wearing sombreros at Cinco de Mayo parties can be shamed and brought to justice and the world won't be a much better place, and all the effort expended to that end will be for naught when it could have been put to better use.

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  • In other words, you called a table a cow.

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  • This is truly bizarre: "If you’re a person who believes that transgender people are sick, or that racism doesn’t exist, or that the Holocaust didn’t happen, or that hair isn’t political...I don’t even know what to say to you. I’m speechless." I'm speechless too over someone comparing hairstyles to the holocaust. How narcissistic can a person get?

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  • He didn't compare hair styles to the Holocaust. He said that the Holocaust happened, and that hair styles are political, and suggested that denying both of those things is a sign of racism. Which is correct.// People could be killed in the Holocaust for looking Jewish—which would include things like facial features and hair. My hair certainly would have made me a target at that time. //Racism is often built around physical characteristics (skin color, hair texture) which are trivial, but are used as an excuse by racists for violence, and sometimes for murder.

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  • To even bring the holocaust into the topic of whether anyone should fret about how others wear their hair, which hurts exactly zero people, is ludicrous but not all that surprising.

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  • Again, racism targets people for trivial cosmetic differences. Black people (and Jewish people) have distinctive hair textures; those become ways to single them out for discrimination and violence.// It's like saying, "to even bring skin color into a discussion of racism is ludicrous." It's only ludicrous if you have no idea what you're talking about.

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  • Th entire argument i made is that it's counterproductive to publicly fret about how a certain group of people wears their hair, and you're talking about the Holocaust. I rest my case.

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  • It's frustrating to make the same points over and over again, but not sure what else to do when you refuse to engage with a fairly simple point. My hair would have made me a target during the Holocaust, because racism is about "making a big deal" about fairly trivial aspects of appearance or background. The argument is about the fact that *people do make a big deal about these trivial issues*, and dismissing them as trivial therefore effectively denies the existence of racism. "No one cares about your big nose, you narcissist!" is a foolish thing to say; people do care about my big nose, and at various points in history they would have killed me because of it. "your hair doesn't matter" is a stupid thing to say because black people's hair has been used as an excuse to enslave, torture, and kill them.// Rather than posing another snarky reply, you could actually engage with what I'm saying?

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