The very polarized views people have about identity politics have been on my mind recently. I have had several conversations about Jordan Peterson, exchanged emails about the nature of race and gender, and taught my Chinese students about feminism. Most recently, a post in our new series, Women in Philosophy, attracted a lot of attention from members who felt that the topic it discussed was an example of identity politics run amok and an attack on academic freedom. This has all reminded me of the stark opposition between the two sides: one says that true equality will never happen without addressing the factors that produce unequal treatment along lines of gender, race, and similar identities; the other that to move in that direction is a move towards totalitarianism.
It is impossible to adequately address the debate here, but I may be able to address one small piece. A common claim of identity politics’ opponents is that advocates are trying to silence debate (e.g. the meme that “social justice warriors” are “liberal snowflakes”). It seems to me that this claim mistakes the contribution identity politics makes to discussion for an attempt to end discussion. It is quite consistent to hold that someone has is allowed to say something but still criticize them if it is wrong or dangerous. Similarly, if one can cite evidence that certain words, behaviors, or practices cause harm, it is not antithetical to freedom to tell people that they should seek better ones. Asking for one to put care into their words, and criticizing those who don’t, is not the same as preventing one from using their words. The debate won’t be over any time soon, but here are some pieces—articulating multiple positions—to help us understand the various sides of this issue.
- Paddy McQueen, “Post-identity politics and the social weightlessness of radical gender theory,” Thesis Eleven, June 2016.
- Laura Papish, “Promoting Black (Social) Identity”, Social Theory and Practice, January 2015
- Victor Wallis, “Intersectionality’s Binding Agent,” New Political Science, December 2015.
- James J Brittain, “Reading the (identity politics) market: Articulating the forest past the trees post-Trump,” Capital & Class, October 2017.
- Amanda Keddie, “‘We haven’t done enough for White working-class children’: issues of distributive justice and ethnic identity politics,” Race, Ethnicity, and Education, July 2015.
Note: With this post, the What Are You Reading column moves to a biweekly schedule for the rest of the Summer.
Have a suggestion for the What Are You Reading column? Contact us here.