Kushay's Matter Bank Social Movements

[AK] Criticisms Against Identity Politics – Turning Moderates into the Enemy of Progressives

This note will discuss how identity politics can be counterproductive to social progress. Source:

Racism is empirically proven to be declining all around the world (source: and so cannot be blamed as the only factor behind the rise of extremist leaders such as Donald Trump. Rather, racism right now is more subtle; direct bigoted attitudes might not be as much as it was before, but sentiments and biases, which are less visible, but exists nonetheless.

In addition, research has shown that a behavior is latent (isn’t transformed into concrete actions) until it is “triggered”; it’s as if humans have this “on switch” on their head that makes them behave in a certain way. In this context, white people is generally indifferent or even tolerant on racial issues until they are exposed to a “group-based threat”, such as the prediction that whites will become a US minority in the future.

This phenomenon is exploited by Trump by basing his campaign on the rhetoric that China and Mexicans are the collective enemy of the white people, hence making white people acting defensively and exclusively favoring their own group. This phenomenon is amplified by “social sorting”, where boxing of identities is lined up among political partisan lines. If in the past, both Democrats and Republicans have voter bases across all religion and ethnicity, now Republicans are increasingly becoming white, rural, and evangelical exclusive, and it’s Democratic counterpart metropolitan, liberal, minority exclusive.

This lining up of identities dramatically changes electoral stakes: previously if your party lost, other parts of your identity were not threatened, but today losing is also a blow to your racial, religious, regional and ideological identity. This social sorting has led partisans of both parties to engage in negative stereotyping and even demonization. (One study found less support for “out-group” marriage among partisan Republicans and Democrats than for interracial marriage among Americans overall.)

Once the other party becomes an enemy rather than an opponent, winning becomes more important than the common good and compromise becomes impossible. Such situations also promote emotional rather than rational evaluations of policies and evidence. Making matters worse, social scientists consistently find that the most committed partisans, those who are the angriest and have the most negative feelings towards out-groups, are the most politically engaged.

So the solution to the current situation is to focus and celebrate on similarities between people of differing group instead of emphasizing differences. For example, calling people “racist” why they might necessarily think so is counterproductive.

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