We Can’t Go Back to the ‘80s:
White Delusions About Identity Politics
“[I]dentity alone should neither uphold nor invalidate an idea, or we’ve lost the Enlightenment to pure tribalism.”
That’s the cry of journalist George Packer, a distraught liberal who can’t believe identity politics ruined his kids’ school system. In a widely-discussed Atlantic essay, Packer described the problems New York’s white elite have with their children’s education. Part of the essay laments the insane rat race white liberals have to compete in to get their kids into a good school. The other part is a critique of the minority identity politics espoused in these schools.
Packer, like a number of older white liberals, thinks identity politics has gone too far and wants a return to the “post-racial” promise of Obama. But those days are never coming back. Identity politics is the natural course for multicultural America. It can only be avoided in a homogeneous society where citizens trust one another. 2019 America is the opposite of that society. All criticisms of identity politics fail to understand these truths and suffer from colorblind delusions.
Packer’s milieu celebrates diversity as the highest good and wants their kids to be surrounded by non-whites – but only the good ones, and not too many of them. They all fear their kids being assigned to a “bad” school. Packer is a committed liberal who boasts of his kids’ multiracial friends and woke politics.
Yet, Packer is disturbed by what he has seen over the past five years: His kids’ education heavily emphasizes slavery and colonialism, but ignores civics; white privilege indoctrination is everywhere; Left-wing activism is championed as the epitome of virtue; and racial identity is encouraged, with some schools dividing students into race groups. The elementary school Packer’s son went to made all bathrooms gender-neutral to accommodate one trans student.
But Packer is most outraged by the abandonment of meritocracy. He can’t believe schools would drop standardized testing and other basic academic requirements. He knows whites and Asians do best in these categories, and that it makes schools less diverse; he just wants the diversity and the meritocracy. By contrast, New York City’s progressive leaders have decided diversity is more important than merit.
This has made Packer wary of identity politics. While he fawns over diversity and insists his kids need to be surrounded by a comfortable number of non-whites, he’s had enough of the race talk. He was disturbed when his daughter told him she wishes she wasn’t white because of slavery.
He sees this as a new phenomenon – claiming he began noticing it in 2014 – and defines it as a dangerous aberration of the American project:
In politics, identity is an appeal to authority – the moral authority of the oppressed: I am what I am, which explains my view and makes it the truth. The politics of identity starts out with the universal principles of equality, dignity, and freedom, but in practice it becomes an end in itself – often a dead end, a trap from which there’s no easy escape and maybe no desire for escape. Instead of equality, it sets up a new hierarchy that inverts the old, discredited one – a new moral caste system that ranks people by the oppression of their group identity. It makes race, which is a dubious and sinister social construct, an essence that defines individuals regardless of agency or circumstance – as when Representative Ayanna Pressley said, “We don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice; we don’t need black faces that don’t want to be a black voice.”
Identity is foreign to Packer because, as a white liberal, he’s never needed one. Only hicks see white identity as something important. He blames his fellow white liberals for this upsurge. Surveys do show that white progressives are more likely to support political correctness, blame problems on systemic racism, and support increased immigration than any other group. But Packer fails to understand that all non-white groups have strong racial identities; identity politics is not imposed on them by wacky whites.
The Atlantic writer doesn’t offer a real alternative to the current climate. The only thing he offers is a plea for civics education and standardized testing. The meritocracy’s existence must be secured.
The essay is typical of the thriving genre of identity politics discontent. Conservatives, centrists, and certain liberals all hate identity politics. Each persuasion imagines America once was a land free of identity politics. They endlessly chant Martin Luther King’s worn-out dream that every man should be judged by his character, and not by his color. Conservatives truly believe America didn’t see race from the end of segregation until the 2016 election. Centrists and liberals believe race was a factor in that time, but the country was progressing to a post-racial utopia – just look at the election of Barack Hussein Obama, after all.
That dream was fully dashed by Donald Trump’s election. Now race dominates the national discourse, and identity is everywhere. Critics of identity politics wish for a return to the glorious aughts and its less-pushy multiracialism. Conservatives want George W. Bush’s compassionate conservatism that only whites support, despite the fact that it bows its head in the face of non-whites. And anti-identitarian liberals just want 2008 Obama back: The articulate black guy who didn’t berate them for being white. The conservative solution to identity politics is to ignore race and return to a colorblind past that never existed. The liberal solution is to make identity politics civil and less threatening to the meritocracy.
Both sides deny the “white” implications of their views. Conservatives celebrate the Founding, yet refuse to accept the Founders’ belief that America was a white man’s country. They ignore the demographics that made the 1950s the paradise they wish to return to. Liberals love the meritocracy as the great equalizer, yet think whites and Asians doing best is a minor error. They refuse to see whites and Asians as inherently smarter, and think more education is the answer to racial disparities.
Neither solution will appeal to non-whites. The rising minority tide doesn’t want to return to the colorblind ‘80s or uphold the meritocracy that denies them entry. They want to tear it all down and crush whites under America’s alleged sins. Politics is a contest for power. Identity politics gives non-whites an advantage in that contest, and there is no reason for them to relinquish it for the sake of wealthy white liberals.
These delusions about identity politics really emerge when critics seek to find its root causes. Packer blames Left-wing disappointment with Obama rather than demographics. And in her new book about identity politics, Mary Eberstadt blames the sexual revolution:
Yes, racism, sexism and other forms of cruelty exist, and are always to be deplored and countered. At the same time, the timeline of identity politics suggest another source. Up until the middle of the twentieth century (and barring the frequent foreshortening of life by disease or nature) human expectations remained largely the same throughout the ages: that one would grow up to have children and a family; that parents and siblings and extended family would remain one’s primal community; and that, conversely, it was a tragedy not to be part of a family. The post-1960s order of sexual consumerism has upended every one of these expectations.
Eberstadt’s analysis explains anomie, not identity politics. Historically, strong extended families upheld ethnic identity. Parents encouraged their kids to marry people like themselves and remain true to their community. Blacks still had high racial consciousness when they had stronger families. Whites have less ethnic consciousness than they did in the pre-sexual revolution era. Families were never islands that formed the entirety of a person’s identity. Eberstadt’s theory is silly and falls apart with the slightest scrutiny.
Critiques of identity politics are not worthless, however; they are baby steps in the direction of identitarianism. These articles confirm white fears that something is going wrong and that non-whites are demanding too much. Most of the time, in fact, these articles and books confirm the existence of anti-white racism. Douglas Murray’s latest book, The Madness of Crowds, longs for MLK’s dream while detailing the anti-white racism of minority identity politics. The book argues that whiteness is now a crime thanks to identity politics. Murray’s take is cringey, but his book furthers the cause nonetheless.
This criticism is just a step in the right direction. The real red pill is that identity politics is natural and inevitable in our diverse society. Instead of demanding that non-whites to erase their identities, whites should assert our own and fight for our interests. The new America requires us to do this. No one else is dumb enough to buy the colorblind nonsense of affluent liberals and bamboozled conservatives.
White identity politics is the only solution. Good riddance to MLK’s dream.
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