For the past couple of years, there has been a rise in individual interest in political discussions. Particularly, a rise in conversations about what many scholars have referred to as Identity Politics.
Identity politics by definition is simply politics that surrounds one’s identity. By politics I mean, the values, ideas, beliefs and behavioural orientations that determine and influence the actions towards and generally, the perception of an identity.
Why does Identity Matter?
Before I get to the reasons why identity Politics matters, I would like to quickly state why Identity itself matters.
I feel it is important to do this because, people often undervalue identity in their disregard of identity politics. They don’t understand why individuals insist on preserving their history, culture and language especially when it is a minority on the midst of a culture, history and language that is assumed to be bigger and better. They ask why people insist on holding on to a dying language, an unsharable word and the pride of an easily misunderstood culture in this new globalised age.
They ask, isn’t this segregation? Isn’t this distruptive of society? And my personal favourite go to word. Isn’t this divisive?
For a start, the world is massive and people are in comparison, small. We need our friends, family and communities to help us survive in and navigate through the complexities of the world we live in. It also comes naturally to us to just identify with things that are familiar with us, but there are so many of us on this Earth that the things that are familiar will always vary per group. Even more, just generally being a part of a group makes us more knowledgeable, it makes us happier and it makes us confident in our ability to survive.
For instance, in a zombie apocalypse you are more likely to survive if you are with a group of people (people will fight me on this, but I stand my ground) and you’re definitely going to want to survive more if there are people to survive with. Otherwise what is the point?
These are reasons why we develop identities and why we chose to protect these identities however, follows from the fact when we survive and grow with particular people and things, we develop an attachment for them.
Anyone that watched The Vampire Dairies’ Damon and Bonnie being stuck in Kai’s prison would see this very clearly. When they went into the prison they only tolerated each other, but going through that experience together allowed them to survive and hope and care to survive which in turn caused them to get attached to each other and just love each other regardless of their past. That is the power one person can have over you let alone a community of people.
Then you see members of the military and how devoted they are to each other, this didn’t happen because they are all from the same mother and father, it happened because going through experiences with people allows you to identify with them which in turn causes you to get attached to these people and the things you did together.
And why do you get attached? Because being with these people and having the experiences you had is what causes you to grow as a person, and to want to keep growing. So it makes sense that if your identity does not harm anyone a (and even if it does, although in that case you need to re-evaluate things) you would want to protect it because it is essentially you.
So, how does this translate to why identity politics matters?
Well in idenity politics, most times the politics is done with the aim of protecting an identity and in simple terms there are two main reasons why this occurs and why it matters.
The reasons behind Identity Politics.
The first reason reason why Identity Politics matters is that other people or people with a different identity, make it matter.
Think of your high school days or your relationship (or lack there of) with your colleagues at work.
By being yourself, or who you want to be at a time, you attract and repel certain groups of people who immediately either identify you and the people you associate with, or identify themselves and they people they associate with, either way giving you a part to play whether you like to or not.
In high school if you were not popular, you were unpopular and at work (extreme case) if a group of colleages are always getting the bonuses, promotions and getting invited to the boss’ office they are the hardworkers and everyone else is a slacker or just average.
An African wasn’t an African until everyone else said they were and a Black man wasn’t a Black man until a White man identified himself as White. That is how it works and how it always will work.
People give you identities whether you want them to or not. Women are associated with being motherly whether they want to be mothers or not. Biker’s are associated with being dangerous when in reality most are actually really kind and helpful.
Generally because identity and being part of one is important to humans we create grouping which in turn cause the possiblitity that being an ‘other’ is an identity in itself.
This is one of the most important, but equally dangerous parts of identity politics because it allows room for biases, primarily fear-based ones or superiority complexes. Here racism, gender-based discrimination, classism and xenophobia develop and without proper regulation and control, they persist.
The second reason why identity politics matters follows the previous point, if unchecked identity politics could affect the daily lives of individuals, both socially and economically.
Imagine Hogwarts is a classist society, and the houses at Hogwarts are identities.
Now in this imagination, consider the situation where if you are in Slytherin you are averagely the 1%, if you are in Ravenclaw or in Gryffindor you averagely are the middle class, and lastly, if you are in Hufflepuff, you are averagely the poor (forgive me).
That is basically how identity and class works except in reality rather than having your identity sorted by a hat, you are born into your identity and consequently, your class.
Nonetheless, in modern society, you can move between classes, if you ‘work hard enough’ so a Hufflepuff can become the 1% if they wish it and work towards it. However and more realistically, this can only really happen if you are lucky enough to access the right amenities and meet the right people.
In other words, in modern society, regardless of hard work, accessibility is key. And this is the point where your identity can play a huge role in how your life will be. Things accessible to a Slytherin, such as standard of living, education, network of family, friends and neighbours, jobs, and in special cases the perception the law has of such an individual, will not be the same for the ‘lowly’ Hufflepuff.
In situations like this, intelligent folk would like to know why Slytherins have all this access and why Hufflepuffs do not. How can an identity successfully become economically and therefore, socially superior to another?
I will answer this question in the next part of this essay. My aim at this point was to show that identity is an important part of human life and to get you to see the importance and effect of identity politics.🔷