Identity politics, the trend according to which external aspects (race, sex, etc.) define one’s personality, worth, guilt or innocence, have become one of the most dangerous fashions within public debate. This is particularly the case in the United States, where they are driven by the cultural and political machinery of the left based on the concept of intersectionality.
In general terms, intersectionality suggests that human identity can be distinguished from a series of axes that divide privilege and oppression; for example: white/colored, male/female, heterosexual/homosexual, cisgender/transgender. Depending on their position on these axes, people automatically become either privileged or oppressed.
The appeal of this theory to political activism is clear, as it automatically creates a series of victims and enemies against whom to direct the collective wrath of justice. However, it is also deeply poisonous, because it caricatures even the absurdity of much more complex realities, because it implies in itself an act of segregation, and because it has become a tool of political manipulation, especially in the left.
Three arguments against identity politics
One. Human identity is too complex to be reduced to a standardized model of oppressor/oppressed. No matter how many axes are added to the intersectional model, they will never be enough to capture the infinite nuances of human beings.
In real life, the level of “privilege” or “oppression” will not only vary from person to person (however physically similar) but also from moment to moment, so not all white people are equally privileged, nor will they always be so to the same extent. For example, being white was definitely a privilege if you wanted to make a successful debut at the high society cotillions in the Hamptons 50 years ago, but it will definitely be less beneficial if you find yourself lost in a South Chicago neighborhood.
Those examples may sound exaggerated, but they illustrate a fact that is more subtly reflected in our daily lives: roles and privileges are dynamic and depend on context. A person who is in a privileged position within the classroom, due to his or her extensive knowledge, is automatically at a disadvantage when the interaction moves to the sports field. A person who has a privileged position in the office may well become vulnerable when he or she arrives home or even goes out into the street.
From The Big Bang Theory to A Detective in Kindergarten, that premise works because deep down we know it has a real basis. In other words: it’s funny because it’s true.
Two: Those who advocate intersectionalism and identity politics arbitrarily choose some conditions (race, gender, etc.) and promulgate them as the defining elements of human identity, without taking into account that there are many other characteristics that shape our identity, and that sharing an external trait or preference does not mean that people are equal in the rest of their personality or decisions.
There is talk of the need for “quotas” for certain arbitrarily defined groups, promising that these will guarantee the representation of social diversity, but in reality these quotas do not guarantee a true representation of the identity or interests of the people they resemble, and furthermore they do not take into account other axes of difference that could be even more relevant.
Let’s think, for example, of affirmative actions based on race or gender. They are supposed to ensure that everyone is represented by someone “like them”.
But, according to that same logic, shouldn’t there be quotas to encourage the hiring of introverted people, who might be disadvantaged compared to extroverted people, of ugly people, who might be disadvantaged compared to pretty people, of shorter people, who might be disadvantaged compared to their taller colleagues? Or, perhaps, from people who like sunsets, who might be disadvantaged against their colleagues who like nightlife in the big city?
Naturally, the result of these identitarian visions would be not only a permanent conflict, but also an absolute tyranny where power is held by those who define which features should be promoted and to what extent. Eventually, every human role would have to be assigned by a central planning committee that would balance the “intersectional” composition of society, without people having any say in the matter. That is why the left likes the discourse of equity so much: underneath the empathy they hide the desire for control.
Three: This leads us to the uncomfortable reality that the left is openly and perversely manipulating identity politics to construct stereotypes that directly benefit them.
Through its cultural machinery, the left constructs stereotypes and positions referents, whether they are African-American, “Latinxs”, women, or homosexuals. They then give them an ideological charge and present them as if they were the authentic representation of those groups, pressuring all people who share that specific trait to follow suit.
The mechanism works as follows: the left takes a characteristic of people, turns it into a brand, fills it with ideological content and positions it as the model to follow. According to that discourse, if you have such a colored skin, possess certain geographical background or sexual preferences, then you must assume the political positions defined by the left, and whoever does not do so will be a traitor or an “alienated”. It’s basically the same strategy that the 19th and 20th century socialists used with the class struggle and the workers, but now they’ve turned it into a 10-ring circus.
Identity politics collectivizes and oppresses
As a result of these three factors, identity politics is not a factor of liberation, individuality and peace, but an instrument of collectivization, tyranny and polarization. The great attraction of intersectionality is also its great poison: group thinking that generates conditions of conflict, diminishes empathy and perverts the desire for justice into desires for punishment, rewarded with dopamine for the brain and pats for the politicians of the Democratic party.
In the film version of Fight Club, Tyler Durden’s character proclaims “you are not your job. You are not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You are not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your damn pants. It should be added that you are also not the color of your skin, your sexual preference, or your ancestry.
Yes, all these elements influence our identity, but it is much more complex than a simple label. Your privilege or oppression depends on an infinite number of physical, biological and emotional contexts and characteristics. At the end of the day, intersectionality succeeds in understanding that there are certain elements that make us more or less popular in the eyes of others, but it does not capture that this recipe is different for each person.
It is not that there are 2, 4, 10, or 20 different groups of oppressors and oppressed. There are 7.594 billion, because at the end of the day each person has an individual identity and it isn’t possible to cleanly divide victims and executioners. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once wrote, “the line between good and evil runs through the heart of all human beings. The rest are labels.”
Gerardo Garibay Camarena, is a doctor of law, writer and political analyst with experience in the public and private sectors. His new book is "How to Play Chess Without Craps: A Guide to Reading Politics and Understanding Politicians" // Gerardo Garibay Camarena es doctor en derecho, escritor y analista político con experiencia en el sector público y privado. Su nuevo libro es “Cómo jugar al ajedrez Sin dados: Una guía para leer la política y entender a los políticos”