In Division We Trust: Identity Politics and the American People

In Division We Trust: Identity Politics and the American People

Angry protesters gather in formation on a San Fransisco beach following Donald Trump's election.

Courtesy of Tim Gouw

Across the nation, it seems that political tensions are higher than ever. With terms like fake news and hate speech dominating every media outlet, there's no debate that division is rife among the American people. Screams of racism, sexism and homophobia clang in our ears every moment of every day, demanding attention. Demanding justice.

I think we’re tired of hearing those battle cries. Our nation desires peace, equality and freedom on both sides. We want a break from the constant war our country seems to be facing. We demand more from the government, others and ourselves. We want equality, and everyone seems to be fighting for it.

We hold candlelight vigils, we march, we fly brightly colored flags. But what if our approach is more divisive than inclusive? What if our mentality to associate with, rally around and cater to the identities we associate ourselves with is actually hurting the ability to gain the equality we’re clamoring for?

When we so closely tie ideological thought with our identity, we are not allowing ourselves to be free-thinking individuals. For example, to make the statement, “As a woman, I am pro-choice,” does not add any logic or reason to your argument. This adds an emotional layer to your statement, but it in turn isolates others in the process. Men, suddenly, are rendered unable to speak about this deeply personal issue, and pro-life women are considered “anti-woman.”

Instead of evaluating biological facts, using reason or assessing morality to determine my position on abortion, I'm now forced to adopt the view of a group of people that I share a commonality with. This isn't freedom. This is enslavement to identity.

Our values, our reasoning, our beliefs should be just that—our own. It's dangerous to suggest that our race, gender or sexuality should determine our thinking rather than facts and logic. I don’t care whether you’re black, white, Asian or Latino; I don’t care if you’re gay, straight, or anything in between when I ask you your stance on an issue. I want to know what else spurs you to believe what you do.

To ignore someone’s thinking because of the color of their skin is the definition of prejudice. To say that a person has no right to weigh in on a political issue due to their gender is discriminatory. When you silence a person based on that person’s identity, you are reversing the work of those who have fought for their individual voice to be heard—regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation.

How can we then claim that we fight for equality while advocating for an outlook that discourages true freedom of thought for the individual? By binding together ideology and identity rather than ideology and values, our nation elevates factionalism at the expense of citizens' voices.

All in the name of…equality?

When we engage in identity politics, it isn’t just those who are silenced that are at risk. The responsibility of an individual is negated as we choose to blame groups for personal failings. The popularized idea of white privilege is a prime example of why identity politics is harmful to black Americans.

It's now common to hear about societal oppression that hinders black Americans from success. After all, the black unemployment rate has been twice as high as the white unemployment rate for the past five decades, and the black-white disparity in incarceration rates today is larger than it was in 1960.

With statistics like that, the only natural conclusion is that our society is broken, right? Black Americans are in a system that is inherently against them because of our history of slavery.

A recent study tells a different story. According to research conducted by the Brookings Institute, there are three guidelines to staying out of poverty and planting firmly in a comfortable lifestyle in American society:

1.       Finish high school.

2.       Get a full-time job.

3.       Don’t have children out of wedlock.

Read more about that here:

These three actions have nothing to do with race, gender or sexual orientation, and they have everything to do with our choices.

We're all born under circumstances we can’t control. But how we respond, how we overcome and how we live our lives, despite the hand we’ve been dealt, is something we can control.

And there’s a difference in fault and responsibility that I think is overlooked when discussing this issue. Of course, it is not someone’s fault that their father abandoned them. It is, however, the responsibility of that person to seek healing from that trauma, find out how to rise above their circumstances and live the best life they can.

Statistically, black households are more likely to be without a father figure. Black American children are less likely to graduate from high school, despite the millions of dollars poured into finding solutions for inner-city education, and again the incarceration rates of blacks to whites are doubled.  This doesn’t point to a broken system. This points to a broken culture that consists of victimhood and shifting responsibility.

It would be foolish to claim that racism doesn’t exist in the United States. There is still work to be done. If you find an individual case of racism, sexism or homophobia, I will fight for you. I will advocate for justice because I believe all people are created equally and America is a place of opportunity for everyone.

So let’s not excuse an individual by creating victims out of the group they identify with, and let’s give that same person the freedom to succeed. If we truly believe in equality, then we will treat every person the same—regardless of their skin color, gender or sexual orientation. We won’t ask for special allowances or shame others for the differences they have no control over.

As we watch our divided nation tear even further, we're trying to usher in peace in all the wrong ways. It's only through the freedom of opportunity that we will find the rest we seek. We need an equal playing field that is full of free thought for the individual and one that allows citizens to take personal responsibility for their outcomes in life. That's the America that will bring real equality to all citizens, and that’s the America I’m fighting for.

At Lee Clarion, we welcome diversity of opinion as a means of making students' voices heard.

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