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The Danger of Identity Politics

M. D. Jackson is a college psychology professor, author, family counselor, and a mother of nine adult children.

Identity Politics

Identity Politics is a phenomenon in which people of a demographic (race, age, economic status, religion) form political associations that are limited to a party or viewpoint. In the past you might see Identity Politics play a part in specific social issues such as the legalization of marijuana or of LGBTQ people to marry. Today battle lines have been draw. The political line in the sand has been turned into a concrete wall in which we all must choose a side and therefore agree with that political party on every subject.

Unfortunately this division has fueled strong emotional reactions. Some of these reactions are not only combative, they are hateful and destructive. Incidents of “siding” with a political viewpoint continue to cost people relationships and even their jobs. A South Carolina court clerk was fired after allegedly posting on Facebook, “Anyone protesting are obviously unhappy with their own life… shoot their a**, lock them up, stop their food stamps… take their children… they are showing their true colors… I’m upset about what happened but I would not destroy someone’s property… they are a piece of s***!!!!” While the general public is censored, politicians call for every manner of harassment and vile behavior. By now we have all seen the crazed rant by Maxine Waters calling for the harassment of Republicans in public places. The list of issues fueled by Identity Politics goes on and on.

the-danger-of-identity-politics

True Identity

People use to identify themselves and others by recognizing; integrity, honestly, attributes, and work ethics. Today people are identifying themselves and each other through political stereotypes created by a sensationalized media. The danger in this mode of thinking is that it does the reverse of what people believe it is doing. People think their voice matters as they sit on a pile of topics on which they have chosen a side. In reality group mentality in all its aspects negates the individual. When you are part of a group you might feel the safety of that group. In almost every case the security of the group is limited and your individual voice is stifled. True identity is not decided by political affiliation.

Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.

— William James

Young Adults and Political Identity

Do you remember graduating from high school? We were all so full of ideas and dreams. We were also scared kids and most of us were searching for an identity. Our previously established high school identities didn’t always translate into the harsh real world. Some people rebelled against the ideas of their parents while other people conformed to expectations. Early adulthood is riddled with pitfalls and decisions that impact our lives. Those decisions are not political or they didn’t use to be political. According to Statista over 50% of the protesters currently protesting are under the age of 25. What is the impact of dumping the world’s problems on the young adults of the United States?

According to Campellone, Fetterman, and Turley (2020), studies have shown the human brain continues to grow until around the age of twenty-five. Studies have also shown that impulsivity is common in people under the age of twenty-five (Campellone, etal, 2020). We see evidence of youthful impulsive behavior in every generation. In the 1960’s youth searching for identity entered into cults or communes and protested the war. Post 911 youth entered into the military to help the fight against terrorism. The examples of impulsive youth decisions good and bad are everywhere. Understanding and developing your own identity takes time. The youth deserve that time just as we had that time.

In a world where everything is instant, the idea of an instant identity might be appealing to some people. Just as racial prejudice happens we now have political prejudice. Who are you? Do you value human life, but only that of those who agree with you? Are you a supporter of open boarders, yet against new taxes? Are you for de-funding the police but, against abortion? There are a million political topics many of which are thrust into the limelight by politicians themselves. In a world where people are searching for an identity, politics offers a drive through meal where you can only order one of two meals Democrat or Republican. Opinions on every topic vary from person to person; identity politics do not leave room for critical thinking or individual thoughts. These are sides that our young adults are thrust into by an onslaught social media and propaganda news.

This above all, to thine own self be true.

— William Shakespeare (Hamlet)

Political Action

Politics is not an action word. Having an opinion is not an action. While there are people who protest, politics in of itself is not an action. The distinction is necessary to note because, even though someone thinks differently about a topic than you, it is not likely to result in an action that will affect your life. Even people who don’t vote have a political viewpoint at some time in their lives. We should never base our opinion of another person on something they think.

Our opinions of others should be rooted in the person’s actions and character. Over time people change, they learn and grow. Another part of life’s progression is that a person’s priorities change as they get older. People who have children have a different perspective than people without children. There are so many factors to why people think what they think. These are often rooted in personal experiences. The younger the person, the less life experience. Some will argue that many people are born smarter or travel. There is nothing that accounts for life experiences. You can be smart at 20 but, wisdom comes with age.

Identity politics creates a form of prejudice. Examples of this prejudice can be viewed across social media as one side calls the other “Gun toting Trump supporters” and the other side is labeled “Dummycrats” (both terms were pulled off social media threads). These terms and many others negate people as individuals. If you know someone in real life and they are a good person how can you then turn around and say “they are a racist Trump supporter” when you know the person is not racist at all? Likewise how can you say someone is an idiot when you know them in real life and consider them intelligent? A persons politics is not “who they are”. If you don’t know the person at all then you certainly cannot make judgements about them as a person based on their political affiliations.

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In a society that tries to standardize thinking, individuality is not highly prized.

— Alex Gray

Invasive Media

Part of the anxiety and judgement surrounding Identity Politics can be traced back to invasive media. Previous generations only watched the news when they wanted to watch. If we are being honest about our early 20's, politics was not necessarily on the radar of most 20 year olds. Today all forms of social media contain news within the feed so that you are attacked by the news without requesting to see the news. In other words social media is putting the issues and ideas into people's heads.

Click bait headlines that do not match the attached story are often the catalyst for anxiety. In a study conducted in 2011 “Nguyen 2008, argued that online news reading often happens unintentionally because of the structure of online media” (Heinström, J. , Yadamsuren,sic, B, 2011). Sloan, (2000) was quoted as saying “Studies have found that people tend to have severe negative reactions such as fear and anxiety to violent and detailed news coverage at times inducing symptoms on the borderline of post-traumatic stress disorder” (Keinan et al. 2003). An understanding of the negative reactions social media creates begs the question, should news be allowed on social media at all? Certainly more consideration should be given to how social media is handled.

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30 Day Rule

The thirty day rule is a little thing I started doing a while back when I realized that news stories were becoming fairytales. A fairytale news story creates a villain and a hero when neither is an accurate description. When a disturbing story comes out I reserve judgement about the story for about 30 days. Within 30 days you hear at least some of both sides of the story and certainly more evidence. Knee jerk reactions are not productive. Think about all the mistakes you have made in life when you react emotionally. Everything from poor relationship decisions to bar fights could be avoided with a 30 day rule (I know that is an oversimplification but, you get the point). Reserving judgement is one way of approaching news with a healthy way of processing the news. It’s important to note that knee jerk reactions are never problem solvers; instead they create whole other social problems.

Hitler Hijacking People

Often we see references to “Hitler” comparisons when we are dealing with politics. Hitler like other cult leaders used the inexperience and poverty of people to create a movement in which millions of people were killed. When I was young we struggled financially, sometimes to an alarming degree. Poverty happens to most people. It’s a normal process and it teaches us to be more responsible and work harder to get what we want. This time in our lives also builds character.

Vulnerability is is used as a political pawn to round up people who want things handed to them and to instill a victim mentality that pushes people toward an agenda. Hitler told the youth that the Jewish people were responsible for their poverty. Today our young adults are told their poverty is because of millionaires. When people buy into a victim mentality it keeps them from taking responsibility for their own actions. They begin to use the assumed victimization as an excuse for uncivilized behaviors. We are currently seeing this dynamic play out in the United States as rioters destroy public and private property.

Offhand comments from Hollywood Democrats about leaving the country if Trump was elected resulted in Republicans egging these Democrats to “leave the country if they didn’t like it”. Last week articles appeared about Keith Olbermann’s on air rant that called for the “prosecution” and “Removal from society” of Trump supporters. What a dangerous idea to throw into the heads of people that a group could be prosecuted or removed for their political affiliation. At some point in the last four years politicians decided they could no longer work through their differences with civil discussion. Identity politics allows for an anything goes free for all of uncivilized behavior. The comparison of Olbermann’s comments to Hitler’s Nazi movement is spot on as people make statements that infer “if youare part of this political party, you don’t deserve to live”.

The social unrest pushed by hate and propaganda have to stop before real progress can happen. Stop blaming each other, stop judging you neighbor. Most importantly we all need to stop feeding into these negative and destructive ideas. Any politician of either party that calls for censorship of thought or assault of others should be ostracized and removed from office by their own party. We are not Nazi Germany. We do not need to accost people in public settings, remove people from our country, or imprison people for their political views. Instead we need to calmly listen to each other’s concerns and find solutions.

Pandora's Box

We can all agree that 2020 has been an unusual year in which stresses have increased. Even for people who were only minimally inconvenienced by the pandemic, this year has been stressful. People in both political parties feel like they are fighting for their way of life. If you weren’t disheartened by the first presidential debate then you probably didn’t watch the debate. The message I got from that debate is that if our leaders are going to act like children in a school yard fight, are they leaders at all? We need to step back and expect more from both sides, more civility, more tact, more cooperation, and a more productive approach to our countries problems.

Our identity is wrapped in so much more than our political views. It’s time to stop judging each other and focus on the real issues facing our country. It’s time to end identity politics.

References

References

Campellone, J., Fetterman, A., Turley, R. (2020). Understanding the Teen Brain. University of Rochester Medical Center. Retrieved from https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=1&ContentID=3051

Heinström, J. , Yadamsuren, B. (2011). Emotional Reactions to Incidental Exposure to Online news, retrieved from http://www.informationr.net/ir/16-3/paper486.html

Keinan, G., Sadeh, A. & Rosen, S. (2003). Attitudes and reactions to media coverage of terrorist acts. Journal of Community Psychology. 31(2), 149-165.

© 2020 MD Jackson MSIOP