The politics of identity, left and right

Malik, Kenan

Date Written:  08/04/2019
Year Published:  2019  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX23640

One of the consequences of the bifurcated debate is historical amnesia about the origins of identity politics. Most people imagine that its roots are on the left. In fact, they lie on the reactionary right, in the counter-Enlightenment of the late 18th century. It wasn’t then called the politics of identity. It was called racism. It is, however, in the concept of race -- the insistence that humans are divided into a number of essential groups, and that one’s group identity determines one’s moral and social place in the world -- that we find the original politics of identity, out of which ideas of white superiority emerged.



Faced with a left often indifferent to their plight, black people, women, gay people and others transformed the political landscape by placing their own experiences of oppression at the heart of new social movements. But what began as struggles against oppression and for social change transformed over time into demands for cultural recognition by myriad social groups. The social movements of the 1960s gave way to the identity politics of the 21st century.

The nadir of this process came with the demand that white people, too, be culturally ‘recognised’. Over the past decade, in the face of populist hostility to immigration, especially Muslim immigration, many mainstream commentators began arguing that white people should be able to assert what the political scientist Eric Kaufmann has called their 'racial self-interest'.
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