Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Identity politics


Life in the United States is increasingly defined by a person’s identity as a member of a particular race, gender, income stratum, political party, religion, and so forth.

I strongly dissent.

I am of European descent but that does not define my identity. My race certainly shapes my existence in ways that I only partially understand but my identity is primarily as a human. As a human I attempt to value people of all racial heritages equally. Racial diversity incalculably enriches rather than impoverishes my life.

I am a male but that does not define my identity. As with race, gender shapes my existence in ways that I only partially understand. However, masculinity does not define who I am. My X chromosome arguably shapes my existence more than does my Y chromosome. The diversity of gender identities incalculably enriches my life.

The same is also true for membership in a political party, affluence, religion, etc.

When I look at another person I see a child of God and wonder how my life will be enriched by my relationship with that person.

I don’t know what the slogan “Make America Great Again” means. What is greatness? When was American great in a way that both embraces and honors diversity?

Ironically, perhaps the most quoted phrase in the Declaration of Independence is “God created all men equal.” While in elementary school, I ceased accepting the prevailing interpretation of the word “men” used in that phrase, i.e., that “men” when placed in its historical context, meant all people. That interpretation is egregiously wrong. The authors of the Declaration of Independence intended the word “men” to denote white, property owning, males. By implication, females and people of color, whether free or enslaved, were less than fully human.

I do know what it means to “Make America Good.” A good nation is one that respects the dignity of every human being. A good nation is one in which all people enjoy liberty, justice, and equal opportunity.

Identity politics inherently move us away from goodness. Enjoy diversity. Allow diversity to enrich life. Illustratively, multi-racial ethnic and racial neighborhoods and workplaces are healthier, more creative, and horizon expanding. Living and working in economically and politically diverse contexts broaden perspectives and tear down artificial barriers to human community.

I regrettably attended an all-white elementary school (hard to avoid in small town Maine sixty years ago), divided my college years between an all-male school and one that accepted women, attended economically elite and economically diverse universities, worked in a couple of all-male environments, lived and worked in contexts in which some people had to hide their true gender identity, etc. I am thankful that these experiences have been exceptions not the norm in my life.

I have viewed my experiences at the time and in retrospect uniformly: a lack of diversity impoverished and harmed me; diversity of every type shaped me into a better person by improving my enjoyment of life, enabling me to better understand other people, and being a catalyst for my more fully respecting the dignity of every human being.

In the America of my adolescence many parents worried about a child marrying a person of another race or religion or of the same gender. Thankfully, those prejudices are rapidly dissipating. Even so, race, religion, and gender identity too often define a person’s identity rather than describing some of an individual’s characteristics. And too many neighborhoods are becoming more economically segregated.

Parents now worry that a child may marry someone of a different political party; people similarly worry that a new neighbor may belong to the wrong political party. A politician’s character and judgment are widely regarded as less important than whether the politician belongs to the right political party.

I vote to end identity politics. I vote for celebrating diversity. I vote for making America (and the whole world) good, not great.

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