'Can a White Man Still Be Elected President?' How Identity Politics Are Creating Public Anxiety and Moral Panic
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They call this “diversity.” A decent idea – that an institution should look like the people it serves and the world in which it operates – has spawned an industry of consultants, advisers and departments that, between them, have corporatized identity beyond all meaning. Having eviscerated from the issue of representation all notions of fairness, equality and justice, “equal opportunities” morph effortlessly into photo opportunities – a way of making things look different but act the same. It is what radical Angela Davis once described to me as “the difference that brings no difference, the change that brings no change.”
So identity lay abandoned – publicly derided and hypocritically exploited by the Right; willfully neglected or carelessly promoted by the Left; shamelessly embraced and marketized by the corporate world. The notion is vulnerable to cynicism but can also act as the lynchpin to great acts of solidarity. It has the potential to be both source and pollutant: the starting point for some of the most inspirational moments in politics; the endpoint for some of the most insidious.
“At a market, a Hutu can spot a Tutsi at 50 meters, and vice versa,” Innocent Rwililiza, a Tutsi survivor of the Rwandan genocide, told Jean Hatzfeld in Into the Quick of Life. “But to admit to any difference is a taboo subject, even among ourselves...We have never been comfortable with these nuances which exist between us. In certain ways, ethnicity is like AIDS, the less you dare talk of it the more ravages it causes.”
But the way you talk about it matters. So let’s talk about it properly.
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Gary Younge is a columnist for the Guardian and The Nation , and an Alfred Knobler Journalism Fellow at the Nation Institute. In 2009, he received the James Cameron Prize for his reports on the election of Barack Obama.