The stark contradiction at the heart of identity politics

For ideologues of identity, a racist is someone who does not share a whole, approved and totalised view of race, racism and how to combat it; likewise with sexism and gender. Their arguments come down to an assumption that, since they are ‘fighting’ racism or sexism or both, then anyone who criticises anything about them or their approach is by definition racist or sexist.

We can see here a stark contradiction, that you can be defined as (and therefore known to be) racist or sexist without having expressed a single racist or sexist thought, indeed for just sitting at home watching TV and not joining the struggle.

This approach is based on the assumption of higher knowledge and understanding; in seeing that terms like ‘racist’ and ‘sexist’ have a broader meaning in relation to the status of society as a whole rather than the person who is being judged and condemned. We might see it as an example of  a sort of ‘social justice’ trumping personalised ideas of justice and ethics: whether you are a racist or not does not matter if you are a racist on a structural level which those of superior understanding can see. 

As a form of moralistic judgement this negates morality itself and places knowledge – of the ‘real’ situation - in its place. It negates factual reality for a higher plain which most of us do not have access to. Alas, we poor souls are stuck in a version of the old Marxist ‘false consciousness’, failing to see reality as it really is beneath the false sheen of...reality.

For more on similar themes, see Identity politics and the left page.


  1. I shudder whenever I hear the term "structural". It's all about denial of the fact that any problem relates to actual real people, in the real world. For me, if you don't believe in justice on an individual level then you don't believe in justice. I guess that's the difference between enlightenment liberals and authoritarians. It's sad that kids are not taught properly about basic democratic principles - equality before the law, presumption of innocence, etc. I honestly think that would help counter the kind of nonsense we are seeing these days. You have to hope it is temporary.

  2. I don't think many of these people understand how truly alienating their behaviour is. I have noticed with myself that I have to be careful not to abandon all my 'left wing' principles because I am in conflict with some very strident and arrogant members of the left. If you're not careful you end up becoming contrarian and Clarkson or Liddle-esque.

    A close personal friend said I was a racist yesterday when I commented that given that it is possible that White Britons will be in the minority in the UK by the end of the century, it might have been nice if someone had asked them if this is what they wanted. To be frank, I don't think it's what my Great Uncle fought and was wounded in Normandy for.

    I'm not convinced that such sentiment is 'racist' although I accept that since it is fear-based, it is xenophobia. I am not comfortable with myself for that but I recognise it nonetheless. I think what I really object to is that it has all been so undemocratic.

    The difficulty for me is that I have worked with students from around the world for over seen years. Currently, my learners are from Nigeria, Kuwait and China. I have never worked in a less politically correct environment in my life. Just the suggestion the other day that via immigration / migration their countries might receive a 15 per cent change in their ethnic make up caused howls of protest. Does that make my Nigerians, Kuwaitis and Chinese racists?

  3. (Plane rather than plain, maybe?) anyway - there also self-identification distinct from being identified. As you know I'm struggling to pull together something myself on identity, and finding as I broaden from not just race, gender & sexuality to ethnic-religio-cultural, national and local identities. A minefield between (say) Paul Mason calling identity "bogus" and (say) Kenan Malik (say) seeing a more amorphous continuum.


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