Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The wider problem of identity politics

Well the comment in Rachel Sylvester's Telegraph column yesterday that Jack Straw threatened to punch Ed Balls has gained a little traction this morning with the Times following it up. The Times is also reporting that,
Baroness Ashton of Upholland, the Leader of the Upper House, is said to be barely on speaking terms with Baroness Scotland of Asthal, the Attorney-General.

Lady Ashton is said to have taken offence when Lady Scotland, who is black, leant over to an Asian lobbyist at a meeting on forced marriages and said: "Don’t worry, these white people don’t really understand what we have to go through."
This has of course been hotly denied, as you'd expect, but I am reminded of a Darcus Howe documentary yet again where he looks at the phenomenon of inter-ethnic racism and also reverse racism towards white if I recall correctly.

This sort of comment, whilst being denied, is not an unusual thing in the wider world, and it is, arguably, the inevitable endgame that happens when identity politics has such a foothold in the cultural consciousness.

There is somewhat an irony here. After all, identity politics is the synthesis result of applying Hegel's dialectic to the master/slave, oppressed/oppressor relationship. What it has created as a consequence though is a role reversal of that relationship, philosophically at least. That is why the so-called "Culture Wars" are so important I think.

We need to break ourselves away from this view of the world that places people into special interest groups based upon different aspects of their identity. It actually creates more problems than those it is seeks to remove.

I'll give you an example to illustrate the point. I know of someone at a place I once worked that is known to be utterly incompetent at their job, and is also known to have skirted around dodgy ethical areas as well.

However, no one is willing to even dare to pull her up on it because she ticks so many identity politics boxes that they just fear the possibility of bad PR and a tribunal. She's not white, she's disabled, she's a single mum, and she has to take time off because her kid is often in hospital.

The problem is, not one of those things makes a difference or is a contributing factor in her just being utterly rubbish in the role that she has. The risk however of those things being cited as the "real" reason for action are just too scary for anyone to do anything. That is not a very good state of affairs for a political culture to be in I think.


JuliaM said...

Your use of the phrase 'reverse racism towards white' doesn't sit well with 'We need to break ourselves away from this view of the world that places people into special interest groups based upon different aspects of their identity.'

Racism is racism, full stop. Who cares from which direction it comes, or to whom its targetted?

If we'd simply adopted that as policy, we wouldn't be in the situation you describe below.

Anonymous said...

What annoys me about the so-called identity politics and special interest group nonsense is that they all campaign to be treated equally and fairly - which is fair enough.

But when they are treated the same as everyone else, ie "You are shit at your job, you're fired", they cry foul and play the race/disability/sexual identity card.

Just because you are black/diabled/homosexual, does not preclude you from incomeptence.

Unfortunately the incompetent will hide behind the nearest flag of convenience.

dizzy said...

Julia, I was making a philosophical point about how the dialectic has produced itself in reverse.

Anonymous said...

Indeed. Criticising anyone who can claim to be part of a minority group of any kind is always open to accusations of racism - meaning that underperforming people can get away with things that others cannot.

Anonymous said...

'The Times is also reporting that...'
This was in Rachel S's piece too.

JuliaM said...

"I was making a philosophical point about how the dialectic has produced itself in reverse"

Ah, point taken.

Cinnamon said...

Mollycoddling losers like that also leads to the annoying side-effect that many people will see a non-white person in a job and be prepared to deal with the possibility that they are in the position because of positive discrimination or because people are afraid to sack them.

The people this also hurts are the genuine non-white achievers who just want to be one of the crowd and be respected for who they are instead of what identity slot they belong to.

Condi Rice (and many others like her)is often called an 'Uncle Tom' by the race hustlers -- now, why is that they cannot be proud of her, but have to denounce her? Our homegrown race hustlers are not too different from the USian crowd... they are the worst racists of them all.

tory boys never grow up said...

I'm not denying that "reverse racism" (or whatever you may wish to call it) exists - it clearly does. The important question is what is the best way to deal with - and in my view the best way is to address the original racism, which still demonstrably exists on a very large scale, and now we are starting to see others (I am not placing Dizzy in this category, for the avoidance of doubt) using "reverse racism" as a basis for continuing with old fashioned racism.

One of the biggest problem in handling someone who is incompetent who plays the "reverse racism" card is that there is often some genuine racism that they can point to quite easily and it then becomes very difficult to disentagle the two.

Dave said...

Ah- the inconvenient truth about racism.
Back in the sixties I worked in a banana packing factory during my school holidays. I was amazed to hear the West Indian black workers call the West African black workers "monkeys". They considered them sub-human.
Racism is racism. It's also endemic. The race relations industry and the rest of the thought police will never ever ever stamp it out.
That's the other incovenient truth

Baldwin said...

A legacy of Labour government is that disproportionate importance is given to minorities making a fuss.

In short, under the guise of 'civilised values', the tail is allowed to wag the dog.

Meanwhile, Joe Average should take a back seat and shut up.

JuliaM said...

"I'm not denying that "reverse racism"...exists - it clearly does. The important question is what is the best way to deal with - and in my view the best way is to address the original racism..."

'If there is any', I think you meant to type...?

"One of the biggest problem in handling someone who is incompetent who plays the "reverse racism" card is that there is often some genuine racism that they can point to quite easily..."

Ah, the 'two wrongs make a right' approach!

I guess while 'tory boys never grow up', 'race hustlers never admit they could be wrong in case they lose their livlihood', eh...?

Unsworth said...

More years ago than I care to admit, an eminent lecturer (white european, as it happens) in Singapore remarked to me that if there is to be a true 'race war' it will be between the Chinese and the Blacks. His comment was based on the visceral responses he had observed in that 'multicultural' society. The wealthy chinese ladies would drive around in their open-topped Mercedes wearing their cashmere cardigans back to front so as to avoid the slightest hint of a suntan. Skin colour was a real issue.

a they said...

There is undoubtedly a good number of people who use the accusation of racist as cover for their own failings. I have to say that's because the term racist has become unfortunately a general term of abuse, you only have to look at the mayoral elections as a case in point.

However, the duty of having to explain colourful racial terms to a six year old child in the sure knowledge they are taking the first step in a painful life long journey of, at best, low level racism does explain the raw emotional reaction to many issues around racial politics. For those that do experience on a day to day basis it's a very open wound indeed and if you're white it's unlikely you're going to have that persistence experience through your lifetime - but that's just an assumption on my part maybe white folk do?

Newmania said...

Just caught up on a quite a bit of your stuff Dizzy and enjoyed it all.
Your point here is well illustrated by the contrasting experience of West Indians in the US , where they thrived and in the UK. When the first Trinidadians got here , amongst them Mrs N`s father . They faced real racism and I am sure you would not want to return to that . Despite these obstacles however they actually out performed their grandchildren both in employment and educational attainment despite forty years of anti -racism. The truth is that the collision of the UK`s welfare state and Liberals attitudes eroded the patriarchal and church based order that many were used to supplying nothing in its place but single motherhood and spirit crushing dependency.

In the US with their church and their financial independence West Indians became a by word for diligence in much the same way Jamaicans joke about certain the African immigrants .I am pleased to see Black Londoners starting to leave that nonsense about Africa behind and simply want to be in the main stream culture where the money and freedom can be found . Most I know have scratched their heads at the opining of their supposed representatives for years .

On disabled people I notice that accompanying the hand wringing and pretence has been a disgusting rise in attacks on the disabled . This revolting truth is , I suspect , partly due to making people , as you say , an identity and not a human being who may need some help.

So I agree with you that this area is the front line of a war about what it is to be a man or woman .A feeling moral soul informed by culture or a machine instructed to act in ways that someone once decided were moral. In the treatment of the disabled in the real world we see precisely the terrible danger of reducing people to a slither of their whole selves .

What the socialists cannot see is that every time you make a man a machine , however well you think you designed the rules , you make him less of a man.

tory boys never grow up said...


I think you have totally misread my point - I'm not even sure what a race hustler is, and it certainly has nothing to do with my livelihood.

I think a they said supports my point excellently - it is the normal low level racism which goes on that those who use accusations of racism to cover their own incompetence then in turn use to support their own case - and believe me it is all too easy too find.

Anonymous said...

When are they going to ban the genes that make birds of a feather flock together.

JuliaM said...

"I'm not even sure what a race hustler is..."

It's someone like you (and a they said) who sees 'racism' everywhere and seeks to amplify it.

"it is the normal low level racism which goes on..."

Specifics. What 'low level racism'..? Where...? To whom, by whom..?

The fact that you characterise it as 'normal' proves the point. The fact that, of all the comments to this post, you seize the one that corroborates your own view proves the point also.

sockpuppet said...

Indeed, indeed.

Worth remembering that just because someone is a member of an ethnic minority, doesn't mean they can't be a small-minded little tit. I read that somewhere, but I forget where.