The Toxic Cocktail of Identity Politics

By K. Tymon Zhou | United States

In the United States, there are various demographic groups. There are inequalities in these groups. Our society’s cultural attitude towards such groups remains high debated. A thought experiment may illuminate this issue:

Imagine a hypothetical demographic group in the United States. This group is relatively small, constituting 1.9% of the population.  Despite this group’s status as a minority, it is fairly affluent: 46% of this group earns more than 100,000 dollars a year. By way of comparison, a mere 18% of Americans fall into this category. Moreover, this group is highly educated. 59% of the adults in this group have a college degree compared to the 27% of American adults as a whole.

How do you react to these statistics? Most people would react positively to this group’s success. They would see it evidence that the American Dream is real, that such a minority could succeed.  However, there are those who would resentfully respond that this group is oppressing others through their successes.

This group isn’t hypothetical; it’s American Jews. How could this be? Rampant antisemitism, thankfully, has faded. Yet, it occasionally raises its filthy face even in contemporary American life.

Shockingly, it manifests itself from the left, the supposed defenders of tolerance. In 2011, an Occupy Wall Street protestor carried placards with “Google: Jewish Billionaires” and “Google: Zionists Control Wall Street”. Another example occurred in 2017 at the University of Chicago, where a leaflet angrily declared,”Ending white privilege begins with ending Jewish privilege.”  Borrowing progressive language , it asks,”Is the 1% Straight White Men? Or is the 1% Jewish?”  To be completely fair, such examples are isolated. However, it speaks to the inherent toxicity of the progressive left’s identity politics.

Identity politics is defined as “politics in which groups of people having a particular racial, religious, ethnic, social, or cultural identity tend to promote their own specific interests or concerns without regard to the interests or concerns of any larger political group.”  It perceives the world through a zero-sum lens. There are the oppressors and the oppressed. This is no third party.  This is the stance adopted by the progressive left especially in regards to “privilege”.

Nian Hu, an opinion writer at the Harvard Crimson, expressed the concept as follows:

Privilege is the idea that society grants unearned benefits to people because of certain aspects of their identity. And, on the flip side, there is oppression—the idea that society disadvantages people because of certain aspects of their identity. Privileged people, therefore, benefit at the expense of oppressed people.

How can one cease being an oppressor? According to Hu, you cannot. By simply belonging to a “privileged” group, you are an oppressor.

…I am an oppressor. As a cisgender and heterosexual person, I benefit from the oppression of LGBT people. As an able-bodied person, I benefit from the oppression of people with disabilities. The power structures of heterosexism, cissexism, and ableism grant me unearned benefits at the expense of LGBT people and people with disabilities.

If you are a member of a “privileged” group, woe be unto your soul! No amount of tolerance can liberate you from your status as an “oppressor”

From this logic, we begin to see the dark path that leads to leftist Antisemitism. If you are wealthy and well-educated, you are an oppressor.  Many Jews fit this description.  Are they oppressors? Should they declare that “We are oppressors. As Jews, we benefit from the oppression of non-Jewish people.”? Such a monstrosity belongs to the deranged delusions of Adolf Hitler, not America!

American democracy is not built on such sentiments. It’s built on compromises between groups, not a zero-sum game. These groups set aside their differences to pursue a better life for all. This tolerant spirit is what lead to the miracles of Philadelphia, obtaining independence and forming the Constitution. The various colonies (and later states) had various identities. Despite such differences, they found unity. As Patrick Henry nobly declared, “The distinctions between Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers, and New Englanders are no more. I am not a Virginian but an American.” It is this spirit that it is needed today, not the toxic cocktail of identity politics.

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