Identity Politics Criticism Wasn’t Racially Based
To the Editor:
In reading the letters that attack Professor [Roger] Copeland’s position on identity politics, the message is abundantly clear: people of a certain race, class, gender or sexuality have inviolate experiences that cannot be understood by someone who does not meet the same identity makeup. This new “liberal” mantra is curiously enough also the cornerstone of the racialist politics of the far right. It is the crucial principle in people’s minds about why interracial marriage is destructive, and why segregation, on a self-selected basis, is understandable and even admirable.
To say that all black people have a unique but uniform experience is patently silly, but more importantly, it is profoundly dangerous. It lends credibility to genetic theories like the Bell Curve and saps the life out of the true efforts people make to understand others who are not like themselves.
[Junior Atley] Chock writes, “People of color think about race everyday, every waking hour.” As a person of color myself, I really don’t think about race very often. And I certainly don’t feel entitled to speak for people with whom I share genetic phenotypes, but no common lifetime experience. Still, I know some people are perfectly content, and have good reason, to think about their race and their role as a member of it as a career. I’m just not certain to what end we continually harangue the world with the message that we cannot possibly, at any level, understand different people all the while condemning any and all folks who don’t unconditionally accept these mysterious humans from other races.
Though [first-year Shahana] Siddiqui has conceded her efforts to ever understand someone different, she would at least allow that she cannot “speak” for me and what I can do. Perhaps I, as a biracial Indian-American, can understand the “voice of African-American women.” In fact, I don’t, but more importantly I also fail to understand how black women have a “voice” that is unique, expressible and constant. If Siddiqui means to imply that only an African-American woman can give voice to the ideas of another African-American woman, that idea seems intellectually bankrupt as well. Because either you believe that African-American women have a uniform experience, mutual consensus and are interchangeable, or you don’t. Maybe you think that these factors color the worlds they live in, but saying that only identical people can understand each other remains untrue in reality and unhelpful in continuing real racial dialogue.
Siddiqui’s original letter sounds as if it were waiting to be written, as if she longed to express just how “tolerant” and “inoffensive” she was. It felt like the equivalent of a politically correct resume builder — if only there would have been a way she could have been unjustly arrested as well.
There is, of course, little value in calling Professor Copeland a racist. Doing so neither contributes to the dialogue on racial politics in a meaningful way, nor does an adequate job of explaining just why so many people have trouble accepting the contention that he truly is a bigot.
He is right to say that the rush to remain politically correct is something that must be cultivated, both in the classroom and in the social environment of the trendy left. Such crippling attitudes are not intrinsic; they are the product of the incestuous culture of victimology and serve no apparent purpose (except to make the speaker feel self-righteous). If PC liberals think they are going to create social harmony through the enforcement of “ideas,” meaning that people will be told how to speak and act correctly toward different people, a particularly dismal future awaits the left. Social well-being is created through understanding, not the “agree to disagree” attitude. The crucible of mutual experience, and yes, even understanding, is a far more useful tool for soothing racial hatred than some contrived notion of who is and is not qualified to write a theater piece. As usual, “liberals” seem afraid of people living life in an uncontrolled fashion, and as usual find themselves behind the curve on the racial debate, more infatuated with the idea of not being offensive than creating sustainable approaches to the real problem of racial misunderstanding. Why on earth did we integrate schools in the first place? Let us hope this circle jerk doesn’t set truly progressive movement on racial politics back any farther than it already has.
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