By Vicky Diloné
You are betraying your race.
This statement and others like it have been directed towards me throughout my adult life. I have been called a tool of the patriarchy, an extremist, and yes, someone who hates minorities. Having said that, this post isn’t about me being a victim to hateful comments or discrimination. In fact, it is the opposite.
I am not a victim. I am not oppressed by white supremacy or the patriarchy. My failures or hardships are not the result of nationwide systematic racism. The rise of identity politics seeks to make me a victim, one that can never be saved because of who I am.
Identity politics is defined as “politics in which groups of people having a particular racial, religious, ethnic, social, or cultural identity tend to promote their own specific interests or concerns without regard to the interests or concerns of any larger political group.”
At first glance identity politics doesn’t seem bad, nonetheless people tend to forget the last part of the definition. Claiming to be a part of a specific group does not automatically grant anyone special authority outside of that group. We are all given equal inalienable rights; we should all be seen as human and given fair treatment. If one comes from a different or even problematic culture, they are to be treated with respect.
I’m not saying that fair treatment is always given or that discrimination doesn’t exist. Boxing ourselves into an infinite number of identities and checking our “privilege” does nothing but make us hyper aware of our differences.
What Divides Us
Wanting to identify with a certain group is not a bad thing. Where you come from and what you’ve been through are important to celebrate. Yet, when it is used to turn a complex argument into a black and white statement of “us vs them” it becomes political tribalism.
Suddenly the only thing that matters is identity, and individual ideas and beliefs do not. One can now say that because they belong to a certain group they don’t need to argue with constructive evidence; their evidence is the nature of their sex or skin color. No one can tell them that are wrong because only they know their experiences. No one can say they too have struggled because it will implicitly disregard other groups’ struggles.
“I used to believe in identity politics because it told me: You and your experience matter. Your identity gives you authority. Your beliefs can’t be invalidated because your identity can’t be invalidated. This logical leap was empowering to take.”
This is one of the reasons why I do not like being called a person of color. Not because I ashamed of my heritage but because it attempts to put me in a box. I have a couple of friends from China. We get along very well even though we are not particularly knowledgeable with each other’s culture. With the logic behind identity politics, we are thrust into the POC label that doesn’t say anything about us other than we’re not white.
Many of us are tired of being put into these different boxes and then pitted against each other. Not all people of color think and act the same. Not all women think and act the same. Not all Hispanics/Latinos think and act the same. Not all immigrants think and act the same. Not all conservatives/liberals think and act the same. Judge me not by the color of my skin rather by the content of my character.
“On identity politics…it’s hard for many liberals to understand (or at least admit) that there might be something pernicious about dividing everybody up into categories of race, sex, ethnicity, etc. Meanwhile, many on the right struggle to see how their side might be guilty of doing the same thing.”
Some may say that it is harder to recognize the individual than the group, but I fail to see how the system we are heading towards actually builds us up. Instead I see the implication that if anything negative happens to me it because I am underprivileged, and I can never climb out of that label.
The Victim Mentality
In the past month I went to an event here at UI called Campus Conversations. Usually there is a panel that talks about different polarizing subjects and then a group discussion afterwards. This particular session was small because of upcoming finals, so the eight of us were all able to sit in a circle and have a more personal discussion. We were first asked to introduce ourselves by our different identities and as it came my turn to speak I became more uncomfortable. I was the only non-white person there and with every introduction I became hyper aware of this fact. Every person mentioned that they were white and most importantly that they recognized they have privileges that helped them succeed in life. This declaration of white privilege did not comfort me, in fact it made me feel isolated from the group and almost pitied.
When I gave my introduction, I was very clear. I may be Hispanic and in spite of this, I am not plagued by all these disadvantages because of that fact. I do not believe in white privilege because it suggests that I should feel inferior about my background. It means that no matter what I do I can never fully achieve what my white counterparts have. It makes me a victim.
After I said this, the woman after me made no mention to her race or privilege in her introduction. The conversation went on amicably and I enjoyed talking with my peers about the session’s topic. (I don’t want to bash on this event because I find it helpful for this campus. I just want to highlight a specific incident that I think no one in the room was aware of and of which I don’t blame them.)
It made me think about this victim mentality I have seen in the media lately. One that says whatever your group or even you as an individual has gone through is the direct result of some systematic and often invisible oppression from another group or individual.
There are legitimate racists in this state and around the world. Incidences of racism, sexism, etc. do exist and are horrible. However, going to a random white person and demand they apologize for something that happened a century ago, and had no control over, is not going to solve racism. Shouting at men over the internet about how most, if not all, are rapist is wrong and is not going to solve sexism. Forcing the wealthy to give their money to strangers and divisive causes is not going to solve classism (or poverty.)
“The fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation…unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life.”
Who Am I?
Entering into a university setting, I felt nervous to state my values and beliefs, yet this first semester has taught me otherwise. All my professors were encouraging and never censored any of my words. Neither did my classmates refuse to talk to me if I brought up a controversial topic. I have friends everywhere who understand me and even if they don’t agree, still love me. Now I am not so afraid to speak my mind.
Because this is a post on identity I would like to share mine. If you were to ask me to describe myself in three words it would be Catholic, American, and Hispanic in that order. Catholic because God is the number one thing in my life and I am not scared of being labelled too religious. American because I am grateful to all the opportunities this country had given to my parents and I. Hispanic because I still recognize the values of my parents’ countries and am proud to be a child of immigrants.
I am also a woman; I don’t merely identify as one. And as a woman what I value is my decision. I am unashamedly pro-life and that doesn’t mean I have internalized misogyny. It means I looked into the issue with an open mind and came to the conclusion that all life is precious. In addition, I’m not just “personally” pro-life; I want to abolish abortion in my lifetime and have both the woman and child loved.
As great as it is to be a part of these groups, I don’t want to subscribe to the identity politics these labels can bring on. Foremost I would like to be treated as a fellow human being.
I’m not here to propose a quick fix to all the world’s problems. I cannot give a all-encompassing remedy for bigotry and discrimination. I cannot even say that one political party is perfect and electing the right person is going to solve everything. What I can say for certain is that you can take control of your own life. Being a decent person and working honestly and earnestly will get you far in life. Treat each other as part of human race, one that has many differences yet, can still see similarities.
Recognize if you have hurt someone, apologize, and intend to do better. Apologies shouldn’t be on behalf of race or sex, but on who personally caused injury. If you have been hurt, discriminated against or even assaulted, you have not given up control of your life. You can choose whether to remain a victim and never learn to grow past your circumstances. Or you can choose to become a survivor and rise above your abuser. This is easier said than done still I believe it one of the first steps to healing as an individual and then as a country.
In the words of St Catherine of Siena: “Be who you were meant to be and you will set the world on fire.”