If you were still confused on the matter, we are not all created equal. Whatever Thomas Jefferson meant, I think he may have got it twisted. If he meant to argue that, at birth, we are all the same, he definitely got it twisted. Humans are born without sight, with skin like a bullseye or without limbs every day. If he meant we all have the same possibility for greatness… well, wrong again.
We are born unequal. Due to this fact, it is the responsibility of an ethical politician to try to rectify the inequalities of nature through political might. Still some seek to revolt against the notion which have been coined ‘identity politics,’ citing that it creates a new standard through which inequality is proliferated.
Let’s get right down to the nitty gritty.
Everyone has a unique amalgam of identity that makes them who they are. A mixture of ethnicity, hobbies, food preferences, religion, politics, diseases and sexual identity make us who we are. Consider the following example:
There is a woman. She is a Mexican florist who does not benefit from the advantageous skill of understanding and speaking English. There’s a lack of privilege there.
Another woman. She is a trilingual college professor who was born male. Simply put, she doesn’t get the same advantages as a lot of women.
The first woman is a great florist and an eloquent speaker of Spanish, but she has a tough go. The transgender, trilingual professor? She’s got a tough go too. Maybe someday these women meet, they commiserate and they say “It’s not right that we have to suffer like this when others don’t.” They band together to make a difference and, in the process, call out some people for not understanding what they’re doing because they’re white, straight or cisgendered.
Along comes a politician who, whether or not they suffer from any of these lacks of privilege, agrees with the idea that it is society’s responsibilities to right this inequalities. So they decide to incorporate special proficiencies in their platform to help these constituencies. Inevitably, somebody feels left out. They look at the politician seeking to help someone else. They get on their Facebooks and vent their rage that minorities have created a clique without them.
Here’s where the confusion seems to lie. The women from the example don’t go home to their separate beds and lay down and think “Well I’ll be darned. That lady understands what it’s like to be me completely.” And if they do, they’re wrong.
I’m gay. I’ve been called a faggot and followed to my car by three drunk men. My best friend as a kid called me a gaywad before I knew what it was to be gay. A man threatened to drag me outside of Goldy’s Corner and teach me what it was to be a man. I’ve experienced a lot of things I wouldn’t have if I were straight.
I have never, however, been called a racial slur. And I don’t understand what it feels like to be insulted on account of my race. I would never say that I belong to a larger group that all falls into the same label as non-white, non-straight or non-binary, because it’s not that kind of club. However I do know what it feels like to be singled out, to be ‘othered’.
Stay with me. Don’t get bent out of shape about identity politics for two reasons. It’s an extreme oversimplification. I’m not just gay, I’m an outdoorsman, I’m a poet, I’m a feminist and I want to solve homelessness. No one candidate could every appeal to my every wish. Secondly, identity politics is unavoidable. If you think every president in the history of everything hasn’t used identity politics, you’re wrong. If you appeal to farmers, you’re appealing to a facet of their identity. Poor, homeless, black, non-binary, disabled, veterans, non-English speakers, deaf and avid canoers. These are all identities. When I say “Inter” you say “Sectional!”
If you’re made to feel singled out because of your whiteness or your straightness or your penis, don’t expect it to feel good. It’s never going to feel good. Being left out isn’t awesome, but it’s part of being an individual. Our overlapping cultures are made from ingroups and outgroups.
If my friend needed an interpreter of Japanese, I would hope she called someone who spoke japanese and not me. Because I don’t speak Japanese. It’s as simple as that. Maybe you’re left out of a conversation because you don’t understand, because your life up to this point has not prepared you to be a part of this conversation or to understand. That doesn’t mean you are worthless or that you will never understand, but it is the reality of being an individual with a multifaceted, intersectional identity.
We will never be a nation that can be fully united based on our identities. Politicians who are unwilling to cater to identity politics are like veterinarians who will only treat gerbils.
All these calls for snowflakes to simmer down echo against the giant idol that straight, white society has erected in the midst of our cities. The god says that people are finally equal. It says that the days of injustice are over. It creates an atmosphere in which if you’re not over the injustices of the past you are the one clinging to a dusty yesterday. To those, I say I would agree if it were a thing of the past. If near 30 percent of LGBT youth did not experience sexual and dating violence, according to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, I might agree. If the second leading cause of death in 15 to 24-year-old LGBT youth was cancer and not suicide, according to the CDC, I might agree. If more than eight years had elapsed since the passage of the Matthew Shepard act, I might agree. If it had been more than seven years since Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed, I might agree. If we lived in a nation where my people could not be fired, denied services, donate blood without being discriminated against or worry about the permanence of their marriage certificates, I might agree. If, despite only being 2 percent of the population, black Americans didn’t make up 15 percent of deaths at the hands of police men and women according to Jon Swaine’s article in the Guardian, and 40 percent of inmates in America according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons,I might agree. If it hadn’t been LAST WEEK that Youtube had adjusted their restricted mode to not filter out age-appropriate LGBT material, I might say that we’ve come to a place where I can accept the fact that we all have the same hard row to hoe.
But probably not.
Despite these realities, there will always be factions of our society who feel that minority groups are throwing a tantrum by asking for politicians to cater to their requests, and probably always will.
But when a politician reaches out to me specifically and tells me they have my interests at heart, that’s not ‘identity politics.’ That’s a politician executing the fundamentals of their position.