Identity politics and dignity

‘Identity politics’ is a term that’s been increasingly used to criticise someone or something, but with the meaning being vague.

The Oxford definition is actually not very remarkable.

identity politics

A tendency for people of a particular religion, race, social background, etc., to form exclusive political alliances, moving away from traditional broad-based party politics.

The top definition at Urban Dictionary has a different take on it:

The act of believing that disagreeing with someone on certain ideologies equates to them disapproving a particular identity such as one’s race, sex, sexuality, religion, etc. rather than the ideology itself. Instead of focusing on the logical aspect of an idea or opinion, identity politics instead believes that a particular identity is opposing all people who belong to a particular identity.

This alternative seems closer to what I see as more common usage:

A dog whistle used by brocialists to attack any member of a minority group who gets above themselves by disagreeing with them.

Disabled lesbian: The flaws in state communism have been apparent to much of the left since long before the Soviet Union was ever founded. What do you think the Marx-Bakunin split was about?

Brocialist: Hey, quit your identity politics; we’re trying to talk about socialism here.

From The Spinoff article by NZ Privacy Commissioner John Edwards: Transgender self-identification: why it’s a human right”

What is “identity politics”? The term has come to be a slur, a shorthand encapsulating what is seen as the natural conclusion of another lazy and imprecise term, the much maligned ‘political correctness”. Identity politics is caricatured as a symptom of the decline of an increasingly fractured left, obsessed with smaller and smaller subgroupings of society, defined by some characteristic of race, gender, sexuality, disability or similar.

But that is only one side of what has become to be known as identity politics. Francis Fukuyama, in his 2018 book Identity – Contemporary Identity Politics and the Struggle for Recognition finds in the epithet also an explanation for the wave of rightwing Nationalism sweeping the world, from Hungary to Brazil, from the 2016 Brexit vote to the US presidential election of the same year.

The link is dignity, and the perception of the overlooked and disenfranchised, who, whether left or right, feel that their sense of identity is threatened. The subtitle to Fukuyama’s book is even more revealing: “The Demand For Dignity and the Politics of Resentment’.

The aspirations of marginalised gender or ethnic groupings have something in common with the overlooked and taken for granted Rust Belt Trump voters whose communities have been impoverished by economic decline, and ravaged by pain pills. Behind each is a cry for recognition and an equality of opportunity.

Dignity is something that’s missing from a lot of online discussion, especially when  terms like ‘identity politics’ are thrown around.

6 Comments

  1. Also from Edwards:

  2. Kitty Catkin

     /  21st February 2019

    Dignity is commanded (by the attitude of the person) not demanded.

    It’s like that overused word ’empower’. If someone can empower me, can’t they also disempower me ?

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  21st February 2019

      I mean that dignity is innate. But it can be demanded that someone be treated with it, I suppose.But then it’s really respect.

  3. Duker

     /  21st February 2019

    Identity politics is about…identity rather than ability.
    Having quotas , slots or positions for various groups based on gender , race, religion, even age is definitely identity.
    Sometimes the identity is bottom up , demanded by the party itself, that would be greens, labour amoung others. Other times it’s top down, this is national where it has slots for Ethnics’ in it’s list or the party leadership goes out to recruit someone to fit a pre selected ethnic or social position.National again is very focused on this. It’s latest Pacific Mp would be such a person, who would hardly have an connection with the party until approached by it’s MPs or party officials. Nationals new Northcote MP Bidois was slotted into that seat by party hierarchy as the selection process was largely out of the hands of the electorate members, being fairly low numbers that meant the party nomenklatura could be appointed as top ups to selection delegates with instruction to ‘vote under team orders’ ( no different to how Ferrari runs it’s team)
    The end result is that national party ‘looks like the electorate’ as much as the party hierarchy can manage. Identity politics 101. Their bottom up selection would mean more older stale males, and female professionals like Sarah Dowie, who are careerists, who’s careers have stalled.

  1. Identity politics and dignity — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition