What’s in a label?
One of the most important lessons a teacher can communicate to his/her students is “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” In today’s world, however, individuality has been replaced with characterization based on gender, race, ethnicity and religion. The term “intersectionality” helps explain this phenomenon: “The interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.” The nature of this definition intends to bring forth a sympathetic feeling for those of overlapping social categorizations. Alan Dershowitz, however, states “What do feminists have in common with radical Islamic sexists who support the honor killing and genital mutilation of women? Nothing of course. Unless you subscribe to the pseudo-academic concept of intersectionality.” Intersectionality “has forced artificial coalitions between causes that have nothing to do with each other except a hatred for their fellow students who are ‘privileged’ because they are white, heterosexual, male.” You may ask yourself what labels have to do with current events, but labels, identity politics and hate are the premise for many of the cultural issues we see today.
Much of the news recently has focused on controversial actions by the President or the Republican-dominated Congress. Protestors, including the far-left “Anti-Fascists,” have countered each of these major moves. These protestors claim to stand for anti-racism, gender equality and a host of other inclusive matters. The KKK and Neo-Nazi organizations have been the main target of these counter-protestors.
While white supremacy is crumbling—the KKK constituted 4 percent of the population in the 1920s compared to 0.0003 percent today—identity politics is surging into the mainstream; movements such as Black Lives Matters (BLM) are growing in relevance. At its core, BLM seeks to eliminate incidents of innocent African Americans being wrongfully murdered by police officers and promote equality for African Americans. Most Americans, including myself, stand by this cause, however BLM expresses it at times via disruptive, non-inclusive rhetoric. An example of this is a viral video showing some members of this movement chanting, “What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want them? Now!” Additionally, Chanelle Helm co-founder of BLM-Louisville, demanded white people give up their property and money to poor minorities since they are “bound to make money in some other privileged way.” BLM has brought much needed attention to police brutality and racial issues, however, some within the movement have taken this to the extreme—in some cases resorting to an “us versus them” argument.
Another group involved in identity politics is the Women’s March. This group discusses positive societal changes including equal pay for equal work, abortion access rights and equal opportunity. According to a Washington Post poll, only 48 percent of all women believe the feminist movement today is focused on changes they want, with 35 percent responding no and 17 percent having no opinion. Among all women, 44 percent agree that the choices women make themselves is a bigger factor keeping women from achieving full equality with men while 44 percent believe discrimination against women prevents full equality. Women are split on the causes of sexual inequality. One possible reason might be promotion of controversial figures by the Women’s March. Linda Sarsour is a prominent Women’s March figure and a Sharia Law activist. She has tweeted, “Nothing is creepier than Zionism” and dismissed Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a survivor of female genital mutilation, as “not a real woman.” Additionally, she praised Assata Shakur as a “revolutionary” and tweeted a “#SignOfResistance, in Assata’s honor.”
Shakur is a convicted murderer currently on the F.B.I.’s most wanted terrorist list. While defending Shakur, Sarsour attacked Jake Tapper, who tweeted about Shakur’s crimes, by tweeting “@jaketapper joins the ranks of the alt-right to target me online. Welcome to the party.” Jake Tapper is one of the least partisan journalists on CNN, as he remains fair and adheres to the facts. Associating Mr. Tapper with the Alt-Right is a smear intended to silence him. Modern feminism’s association with fringe elements and use of smear tactics will estrange moderates and conservatives from supporting their cause.
There has been an uptick in mention of the “Alt-Right.” The alternative “right” is a loose collection of individuals who believe in white identity above all. The Alt-Right is a small, fringe countermovement in response to other identity movements. Many who seek to associate these individuals with the right neglect the Alt-Right’s predominant belief in collectivism and rejection of democracy. One of the main issues with identity politics is the well-known principle that “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” White supremacy is a countermovement to organizations such as Black Lives Matter. Identity politics itself is a misguided concept since it embraces division rather than unity. This fringe group is one such example of the negative characteristics of identity politics.
Political labeling is common in mainstream news and political discussion. The most common labels are Liberal, Conservative, Democrat, or Republican. Many today hurl these labels around as insults. The issue with labels is that individual opinions differ significantly within general political principles or parties. It is possible to find numerous pro-life Democrats and it is possible to find numerous non-interventionist Republicans. The beauty of political discourse is the wealth of ideas subjected to numerous angles of critique. This is one such reason that groupthink and collectivism are failing the current American politic structure. Labeling and identity politics fail to allow varying degrees of individual opinion within the group for the sake of valuing harmony. Politics is no simple system and varying individual opinions allow all persons to be represented.
Collectivism along the lines of race, ethnicity, gender and religion detaches the individual from the notion that they should think and act independently and respect their own choices. Identity politics discount individual autonomy and force individuals to resort to groupthink. This promotion of labeling is resulting in tribalism. Each American tribe is distinctly political as one major tribe identifies with progressive views and the other associating with conservative or nationalist populist views. Unfortunately, America continues to become more and more polarized as its demographics change. The elimination of groupthink and identity-politics, on both sides of the political spectrum, is beneficial for America’s future as the demographics grow increasingly diverse. Political polarization will dissipate as individuals relearn the benefits of individual autonomy and leave behind the labels associated with identity politics.
Mitchell Nemeth is studying towards his Masters of Law at the University of Georgia.