The toxic and divisive identity politics that now defines much of Left-wing thinking across the Western world rests upon the notion that individuals today can use past injustices to further their own illiberal agendas. Conversely, certain ‘privileged’ groups are viewed as having responsibility for the wrongdoings of another era.
Take, for instance, the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States, a far-Left group which is by no means representative of the views of all black people in America. Supporters of Black Lives Matter believe that white people in the United States and the Western world have inherited privileges that black people do not have because of slavery and the abhorrent Jim Crow laws which discriminated against black people in the southern United States well into the 1960s. However, it is hard to take seriously the claim that black people are an oppressed minority in 2017, when we have had a black President, there is a large black middle class and black people have equal rights under the law and the same equality of opportunity as any other ethnic group. Still, the narratives that Black Lives Matter promulgate have widespread support among university students whose minds have been poisoned with illiberal post-modernist academic theories that fuel identity politics. The most absurd aspect of all this is that some black students at elite universities, spurred on by their white supporters, claim they are victims of white privilege. I’m sorry, but you can’t play the victim card when you are a student at Yale and are more privileged than working-class Americans, be they black, white or Latino.
Student life has become so toxic and unnecessarily racialised in the US that some black student groups are calling for racial segregation on campus. This is the antithesis of Martin Luther King’s vision of an end to segregation where people are judged on character instead of skin colour. Some black activists are even calling for financial reparations to be made for slavery. It is unclear who would benefit from these payments, given that the former slaves and their immediate families are long gone.
Feminists are another group who weave legitimate grievances from the past into their victimhood narrative. Not content with equal rights under the law which include equal pay legislation, they cling to the widely debunked myth of the ‘gender pay gap’, and use individual encounters with obnoxious males as evidence of a pervasive patriarchy which oppresses them. Demonstrate that, far from being oppressed, women are outperforming men in education and in the workplace and you are dismissed as a sexist if you are a man or as having ‘internalised misogyny’ if you are a woman. The entire movement is built on the lie that women in the West are a perpetually oppressed group, so anyone presenting them with facts must be dismissed as having an ulterior motive.
In 1997, Tony Blair apologised to the Irish people for the potato famine of the 1840s. As an Irish person, I found this ludicrous. Unless Blair was the Minister for Potatoes in the mid-nineteenth century British Cabinet, he was in no position to be issuing apologies on behalf of the state. By the same token, those Irish people who gobbled down that apology had no right to accept or refuse it. I have pointed out to the minority of Irish people who are still angry at Britain about a catastrophe which did not affect them that many British people are descended from the hundreds of thousands who fled Ireland during and after the famine.
The problem with identity politics is that it diminishes who we are as individuals and turns us into little more than members of this or that group. Then it pits us against each other in a battle to be the group which was the most oppressed or did the most oppressing. It demands that we continuously look back and focus on the wrongs committed in the past. It blinds us to life in the here and now and the hard-won individual rights we all have as members of Western liberal democracies.
This should be the focus – how to use these freedoms to build better lives in harmony with others regardless of gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation.