For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in the political world around me. I blame my mother for this, as I recall her making me write a letter about how I felt when the U.S. hostages in Iran were freed under Ronald Reagan in 1981. My mother taught me that we need to identify common interests in order to move a political agenda forward. That is, we must look outward and find ways to connect with others who support a common goal. Labor unions and health care reformers have successfully worked in solidarity with diverse people who share a common goal.
Enter Identity Politics, which teaches us that to organize by Identity. That is, we advance causes that benefit our Identities, whatever that means. For many lesbians, for better or for worse, we have a LGBT Identity.
As a LGBT-Identified person, we must favor repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, hate crimes penalties based on sexual orientation and gender identity, marriage equality, and antidiscrimination protections based on gender identity. We organize as a community around this Identity. This Identity gives us Solidarity of Identity, with all persons in the Identity working towards a common goal that benefits (allegedly) the Identity. In reality, however, solidarity of identity does not exist; rather, laboring under a LGBT Identity can create cognitive dissonance, particularly for progressives (as most progressives are anti-military, so we don’t care about DADT, and anti-prison/industrial complex, so we don’t favor criminalizing more conduct) and feminists (or lesbians) as many feminists reject marriage as a patriarchical institution and find the concept of “gender identity” deeply conservative.
Identity, then, while a useful proxy to signal to others who share our Identity how we might think about specific issues that impact the Identity Community, is ultimately disappointing as an organizing tool. As Identity Politics quickly devolves into a game of “who’s the most oppressed identity” – a game members of an Identity Group can play all day long without advancing the discussion. For example, in the LGBT Community, lesbians have had to endure endless discussions about how we – as the Sub-Identity of Cisgender Lesbians – oppress Transgender Women simply by virtue of our Cisgender Identity – and we are expected to ignore the fact that many of these Transgender Women have lived much of their lives as males (or, if you prefer, the Identity of White Heterosexual Man – in Identity Politics, the White Heterosexual Man is *The Man* who causes *all the problems*). Such discussions devolve into infighting among Sub-Identities in the Identity Group or, as is far more likely to happen, the silencing of Sub-Identities who express criticism of the alleged “most oppressed” Identity. It’s tedious, at best.
As a (insert whatever Identity you want here) human, I refuse to do Identity Politics any longer. Identity politics is narcissistic and vain; inward looking and finger pointing. Identity politics creates hierarchies of oppression that don’t address underlying, systemic failures of society. In fact, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say that Identity Politics is a trick to keep us fighting each other while *The Man* profits. Some days I think The Man deserves to profit, as at least The Man sticks with an Interest agenda and advances it. You don’t see The Man endlessly babbling about Identity.
To end the endlessly irritating conversations about one’s Identity – and also in the hope of actually accomplishing something – I propose an alternative: Solidarity of Interest. Rather than framing political discussions in terms of who I am, who you are, or what our Identities may be, let’s try framing these issues in terms of the goal – the “what we want.”
Solidarity of Interest – it matters not how you Identify – it only matters as to what you can bring to the table to advance the goal. Solidarity of Interest requires us to put forth what skills we can bring to bear to advance a cause. Sometimes, this inventory of assets might include one’s Identity – but it is not the only thing that’s important to the conversation. Solidarity of Interest welcomes all people to the table who share common Interests – Solidarity of Interest doesn’t (necessarily or exclusively) care about your Identity. Your Identity only speaks for you and other *like you* who find meaning in the Identity. And, much like the personal stories that swarm the Identity Politics Orbit, your Identity does not necessarily advance a goal, unless the goal is to endlessly and unceasingly talk about the Identity. Solidarity of Interest demands more of us and from us – it calls upon us to acknowledge that there are goals more important that ourselves, even more important than our Identity. At the very least, it demands a certain level of altruism in the cause of advancing an Interest that will benefit all people with common Interests.
Friday, 04 November 2011