Why Black Lives Matter need to be wary of Identity Politics.

The concept of Identity politics has some fundamental flaws that BLM need to be careful of it they want to sustain themselves.

Words by William Cooper.

Black Lives Matter. (photo by Teen Vogue)

The culture war that is ensuing between Black Lives Matter (BLM) and the Establishment and their supporters, is yet another conflict that, given its current trajectory, will end in mere marginal concessions from the Establishment. BLM need to be wary of this and not let themselves be short-changed.

BLM and its opposers are locked in Identity Politics warfare, something that has become all too common in the post-modern world. Both sides reject the other completely, remaining fiercely loyal to their group identity. Whilst BLM are protesting and campaigning for an end to institutional racism, the system they use to do so is also used by the Establishment in an attempt to ridicule and vilify BLM.

Identity politics, fundamentally, is a social construct in which a two-dimensional conflict emerges between two distinct groups: the oppressor and the oppressed. It views people based on one characteristic, which varies between groups, but is upheld above all various characteristics that a person possesses. It essentially reverts society back into tribes; groups of people who identify with each other based on one overarching characteristic or belief and reject or subordinate all other traits as inferior.

The reality is however that a person can be split up into nearly infinite categories. So, when a person identifies with a group, they choose to repress the majority of their self. This creates a hierarchy of value within the individual, who then has to begin to rank their traits in order of superiority, so they will reflect well within the group.

Therefore, within Identity politics, multi-dimensional hierarchies are created. There is the overarching binary hierarchy of the group itself; whether they are classed as the oppressor or the oppressed. Then there is the subliminal hierarchy of the individual within the group, who ranks their characteristics, claiming that one in particular is the sole buttress of their total identity.

However, through Identity politics, a few fundamental flaws occur:

1. Opposition overpowers advocation. A group concentrates so much on what they oppose that they can never articulate what they actually want. This is the case with many activists groups who are fighting against something, but when they are asked what they are for, or how would they want their goal to be achieved, few can answer with any clarity.

2. The problem of intersectionality. People can be part of multiple groups because there are various intersection points between identities. Every time another group identity is created, another intersection point is created between that group and every single other group. Moreover, people can identify themselves at multiple intersection points between multiple groups. Intersections points therefore expand exponentially. These intersection points cannot be equalised across all points; it is technically impossible.

3. By dividing society by group identities, the overarching social blanket naturally becomes weaker. Moreover, as a group identity is created, a significant minority of widespread support is lost because of the fact that a physical, distinct identity has been created.

Therefore, if we take the BLM movement, we find that they use the same system of Identity politics. Members of the BLM movement identify explicitly as anti-racist. Their identity is naturally a rejection of what they see as the status quo.

So now, we must ask where the movement stands on the three important points from before:

1. BLM opposes institutional racism, whether in the form of implicit bias or explicit racism. They advocate for a racially equal society; one where all races are treated equally. Whilst that advocation is perfectly valid and is fundamentally just, what do they mean by equality? Do BLM advocate for equality of outcome, or equality of opportunity? Which ever it may be, how would we go about achieving this equality, and do they understand the consequences of both.

2. BLM’s overarching identity is anti-racist. However, the intersectionality of group identities is still relevant here; advocates of BLM are also linked to other identities. And due to the fact that one cannot equalise across all points of intersection, an identity hierarchy is created, with BLM sitting at the top. So, it could be argued that through the creation of the BLM, anti-racist identity, who oppose the institutional racial hierarchy that undoubtedly exists in modern day establishments, the movement itself creates its own hierarchy, in which it sits on top and oppresses all other group identities as inferior to itself.

3. By creating BLM, society becomes weaker. By creating an identity who people are then compelled to join, BLM only add another group identity to the already unlimited identities. Another identity only results in further fragmenting and stratifying society, because when you ever create a physical group, you will automatically lose a significant minority of support because of the very existence of the group. Some argue that anti-racism does not need a group identity because anti-racism should be the fundamental belief of any well-natured person.

It must be stressed that anti-racism is a morally just and fundamental characteristic that any person with a scintilla of compassion and kindness will hold. That is not what is being argued here. What is being argued is whether the creation of a physical, specific group identity which chooses to propel this fact, is the correct way to bring about true racial equality.

There is no doubt what BLM oppose. But what is more important is what they advocate for, and more specifically, how they want to achieve their goals. A group is undoubtedly most unified when they are in combat against a common enemy. By having that common enemy, the physical structure of the group identity remains constant and buttressed.

However, when a discussion begins within the group over what they want to achieve, and how they want to achieve it, the group will naturally begin to internally fragment. Some will be far more radical than others. Fundamentally, which ever sub-group has the most support will naturally rise to the top of the internal hierarchy.

They will then espouse that what they advocate for is the belief of the entire group, even though a considerable minority of dissent still exists at the bottom of the group.

This is what Black Lives Matter need to be wary of. Peaceful protesting, whilst effective and emotive, will only get racial equality to a certain stage. When a physical agenda is required, who will rise to the top to set that agenda?

Moreover, Black Lives Matter need to be wary of the Identity politics they are inherently built upon. It may come to destroy them before any institutional reform, which the Western world dearly needs, is put in place.



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All articles written by William Cooper | Psychology, Philosophy, History, Religion, Politics.