Currently, identity politics are articulated in “identities” rather than in principles, objectives or collective interests. These policies have a long history: the gradual dissolution of what was once intended to be a progressive grand coalition – which included various forms of socialism, activism against racism, machismo and homophobia – into forms of increasingly fragmented and separatist groups. The result has been the emergence of a wide range of monothematic and mono-authoritarian policies that have lost not only their connections to each other, but also to the agenda that the left used to keep at its center. It turned out that certain sectors of feminism and sexual diversities were rewarded for their assimilation to neoliberal hegemony, with new rights and privileges. If the goal is simply to “fit in” without changing much beyond that, then the current system is very comfortable.
However, certain forms of identity politics remain highly indispensable. The simple fact that many women are not paid the same for the same work as men makes the political mobilization of feminism still important. However, I believe that identity politics has also become a place of ambivalence. It is hard for me to understand that Luis Larraín (of Fundación Iguales) has appeared in the presidential strip of Sebastián Piñera to give him his support in his first government. I also find it hard to understand that the owner of the restaurant “El Toro” – a place oriented to the gay community – supported the far-right candidate in the last elections. In both cases, the social demands of LGBTIQ+ groups seem to be unimportant.
Identity politics have enjoyed a socio-cultural life of their own, so they admit a general tendency, but also nuances and differences. This seems important to me at this time when it is intended to support a new Constitution that represents us and benefits us all. But lately, identity politics consolidate a form of self-interest. Interested activists are expected to support the group that represents themselves: gay men advocating for gay men, transgender for transgenders, women for women, Mapuches for Mapuches, etc. But if my policy is always about me – about me and my group – that doesn’t help me understand others.
What has happened to the idea of a policy whose beneficiary is someone other than me and my own group? That possibility is not only ignored, but actively discouraged. In fact, anyone who dares to talk about someone else’s situation runs the risk of being attacked for appropriation or wanting to get attention. I can understand the situation: there are still many men (and women) in situations of power who believe themselves to be with the authority to make totalizing judgments no matter how far they are from their lived experience. But the opposite pole, that is, forcing people to talk only about their own experience and identity, is also not useful. Just because you’ve lived it doesn’t mean you’re always right. Too many discussions deteriorate in a contest over who has the right to speak out about an identity issue.
This separatist approach to identity politics impedes effective cooperation between groups. Coalitions are fleeting; infighting is widespread. Today, we are witnessing the heated controversies between transgender movements and old-school essentialist feminists (who can be called “women”?). Thus, each group feeds the suspicion that the “others” intend to dilute their own interests. It seems as if identities prefer fighting each other rather than resolving the discrimination they suffer together.
The personal investment imposed by identity politics places a heavy burden on personal experiences of discrimination. I don’t want to trivialize those stories. But something unproductive happens when those experiences become political and academic capital, a resource to mobilize. Today, identity politics tend to be validated through pain and anger. I think it’s not a good idea to encourage people to politically validate their pain. According to Jack Halberstam, this can lead to a widespread “culture of resentment,” where people feel perpetually offended by each other.
Redistribution is the real goal of every policy. For the leftIf the goal would be to share access to knowledge, power and wealth more equitably. Identity politics can help with that, but it can also hinder. We must think of identities as interim strategies at the service of socio-economic justice that benefits all. “Identity” is not only who we are but also a political strategy. Identity politics become misguided when people just want to promote self-interest. The goal of identity politics is not only to raise the claims of one group over all others, but to dissolve them, in a more just society for all. Today, I find it very difficult to trust identity politics. For the same reason, I think it is time to rethink and interrogate them.
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The content expressed in this opinion column is the sole responsibility of its author, and does not necessarily reflect the editorial line or position of El Mostrador.