What are identity politics?

Over the holidays, I was unable to escape the politics of the holidays. Get the booster, or don’t get the booster? Vaccinate your kids or do not vaccinate? Is Biden a good or bad president? Essentially, a whole lot of political conversations I am sick and tired of hearing about. 

I could not be more exhausted by the pandemic and talking about it, by all the stupidity and conspiracy theories surrounding those conversations. I turned my focus away from those hot button issues.

Instead, I started learning about an equally controversial issue: identity politics. I stumbled onto this issue thanks to one of my favorite YouTube channels: Jubilee. They have a series titled “Middle Ground”. The series is all about taking people of opposing viewpoints and forcing them to have a conversation. 

Think rich vs. poor, conservative vs. liberal, man vs. woman. Right up my alley. I love the idea of people who think differently, who live differently, coming together to try and see things differently. 

They are so educational because if you think critically, you as an audience member are being forced to see things from the perspective of the people in these videos, which brings me to today’s topic. 

Before this video came up on my feed, I had never heard of identity politics. Identity politics is defined as, “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.” 

Instead of subscribing to traditional political beliefs, people are now being informed and defined by the identity of the person who is voting. For example, a black voter may be more likely to vote for a black politician because they feel that politician may be more likely to understand the black American experience. 

This statement is not pure conjecture. In an article published by Sanford news, they said, “For the would-be voters who weren’t very familiar with the candidates or in perfect lockstep with their positions or political parties, the facial similarity was enough to clinch their votes.” 

From my experience in the last election, when presented with candidates who I am unsure of their policy or beliefs, I am more likely to vote for a female candidate over a male candidate. While I will be the first to admit that this is unwise, I was 18, and I didn’t know you voted for state officials at the same time you voted for which presidential candidate you preferred. 

That shows that the choices I made as a voter were motivated by the assumption that female candidates would likely align with my values more than a male candidate. 

Both data and my personal experience show that our identity and values will influence our beliefs and, in turn, affect our votes. Issues associated with identity politics differ from traditional political party alignments. Instead of asking questions about the economy or foreign affairs, identity politics ask what social changes are being made.

Younger voters, like myself, are more likely to look at specific issues that matter to them and try to sus out if the problems that we care about truly matter to that politician.  

For the most part, young people want politicians to take a stand on Black Lives Matter, on race and gender and on privilege. I want to see a politician come forward with a nuanced view of these issues. While issues of the economy still matter, many people are opening their eyes to social issues that affect Americans, like the aforementioned Black Lives Matter and the #MeToo movements. 

Many systemic issues are becoming impossible to ignore and require more willful ignorance not to realize and understand how these social issues affect real people. 

While this political system allows us to look at issues that would have otherwise been perceived as less important, the individual nature of identity politics can be its downfall due to its exclusive nature. 

It can contribute to a very ‘me vs. them’ attitude. A very extreme example of this would be white supremacists; a group whose “values” are deeply entrenched in their actions. 

They genuinely believe that others getting rights means that they don’t have them anymore, and this separation doesn’t allow them to see others as human or equally important. 

Now, I am not saying that everyone who subscribed to the idea of identity politics is a white supremacist. It can fall into the trap of hyper-fixation on concepts or issues that don’t affect us all. 

I am not part of the LGBTQAI+ community, so if I were subscribing to this idea, I would only care about issues that affect white straight women. I do share something in common with every other person, and that is we are all human. 

Even though I am not a part of that community, violence against LGBTQAI+ people still matter and is an issue that all people should care about. 

Our identities are important and affect us all one way or another. I don’t need to tell you that your beliefs matter. We should celebrate our differences because they make us human, but let’s not let our differences come between us. As long as someone’s beliefs are not hurtful or hateful, there is no reason for us to remain divided. 

It’s not a zero-sum game. Minorities can have rights that don’t come at the expense of the majority. 

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