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The Carletonian

Poiliticized Identities

<st fall, following Peter Thiel’s outspoken support of Donald Trump at the RNC, prominent LGBT magazine The Advocate published an article making the case that he was “an example of a man who has sex with other men, but [is] not a gay man.” While seemingly paradoxical, the claim so perfectly exemplifies a version of identity politics in which the only logical conclusion must be the denial of its own basic principles.

It’s tempting to dismiss this as an outlier, some strange instance of good intentions gone bad, but as a mixed-race Asian American, I’m all too familiar with this kind of “social progressivism.” In my own life, the slightest deviance from established narratives is all it takes to be reminded that I’m “basically White,” and “not actually Asian.” I call this the logical conclusion, because anyone resting their epistemology on the tenant that identity yields authority will inevitably have to make the subsequent claim that people with different authoritative claims must also have different identities. Of course, with the exception of sexuality which has always been hidden, and my own race which has always been positioned for public debate, these kinds of claims appear patently absurd. Replace “gay” with “female” or “black” in The Advocate article, and you’ll quickly find yourself with a much less credible narrative.

Short of denying identity outright, the recourse of those committed to identity-as-authority has been to fall back on the trope of the self-hating victim, made over time to internalize their own oppression. It is through this mechanism that we find ourselves in a situation where the very ideology known as identity politics seems to have rejected its own reliance on identity. It’s worth asking what exactly a white liberal should do when Crystal Wright, self-proclaimed “Conservative Black Chick” declares that Democrats are “running a con” on Black Americans.

To be absolutely clear, none of this is to say that identity politics is bad, or even that it’s necessarily broken. It’s certainly better than living in a world where men are regularly taken to be authorities on women’s issues, and abandoning every imperfect system of beliefs would likely leave us with nothing. The point is not even self-critique, because as much as we could do better, that’s not a burden that can be put on anyone’s shoulders, and as has so often be explained, it’s not anyone’s job to educate the ignorant.

The real no-bullshit purpose of understanding the flaws in your understanding is to comprehend exactly how easy it is for your ideological opponents to stay that way. Again, this isn’t about sympathy, it’s about survival and being able to see ignorance over malice as much as possible. And much more aggressively, it’s about being able to correct that ignorance, at scale, as quickly as possible. If we can’t see the nonsensicality of our own words, we’ll never manage to understand why others do.

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