Psychologist Kirsty Miller found the organisation’s behaviour deeply concerning, and after deliberating for a substantial amount of time, decided to resign. She also wrote a letter explaining her decision to leave — feeling it may be useful for ‘the powers that be’ in the BPS to understand why a member of several decades felt she could no longer face being associated with the organisation. The letter was published, the editor then added an addendum, and then it was removed.
In this Q&A interview, Asad Haider, author of Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump, reflects on the contemporary meanings of ‘identity politics’:
Too many irreconcilable things have been conflated in the contemporary usage of the term “identity politics”. We are supposed to believe that, for example, the mass movements for racial and economic justice that constituted the civil rights movement, or the anti-capitalist militancy of the Black Panther Party, are somehow in the same category as neoliberal elites who use the language of social justice to discourage policies that would address economic inequality. These elites, who control the supposed left wing of mainstream politics in the United States, claim that addressing economic inequality would not overcome the inequalities of race and gender. They completely obscure the reality that, for example, better wages and union representation in the workplace could help provide protection from sexual harassment by employers, and could help raise the standard of living for a great deal of people of colur. The Fight for 15 campaign, ridiculed by Democratic Party elites, is one example of such an initiative. But because these elites use the language of social justice, their rhetoric is extremely influential in establishing false oppositions between so-called “identity politics” and “class politics.”
“The authoritarian tide is rising”, warns Toby Young. It’s now “open season on mavericks and dissenters”. How can we push back?
If you publicly challenge any of the sacred nostrums of the social justice left and you work in a school, a college, a university, an arts company, a public broadcasting organisation, a tech company, a charity, a local authority or, indeed, Whitehall, you are at risk of being cancelled. How do I know? Because in February I set up the Free Speech Union to protect those being targeted in this way and in the past month we’ve been contacted by people in all of these fields who have either been fired, suspended or are ‘under investigation’ for having said or done something controversial, usually on Facebook or Twitter.
Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility, argues John McWhorter, is “the prayer book for what can only be described as a cult”:
In 2020 — as opposed to 1920 — I neither need nor want anyone to muse on how whiteness privileges them over me. Nor do I need wider society to undergo teachings in how to be exquisitely sensitive about my feelings. I see no connection between DiAngelo’s brand of reeducation and vigorous, constructive activism in the real world on issues of import to the Black community. And I cannot imagine that any Black readers could willingly submit themselves to DiAngelo’s ideas while considering themselves adults of ordinary self-regard and strength. Few books about race have more openly infantilized Black people than this supposedly authoritative tome.
The concept of “cultural appropriation” has gone from the esoteric academic realm of post-colonial and decolonial studies, to being a mainstream political issue. But it’s reactionary rather than progressive, argues Ralph Leonard:
An irony of this argument is that most opponents of cultural appropriation proclaim, often radically, to be for diversity, immigration and multiculturalism, yet they are same people who bitterly resent the actual results of such a symbiosis. Tribally marking off permission rights over who can use what cultural form, or whose “voice”, and in what way is puerile. It attacks the main benefits of living in a modern, culturally diverse, cosmopolitan society: freedom of expression, cultural innovation and experimentation and expansion of one’s horizons and liberation of the imagination.
Robin DiAngelo’s bestseller has “a simple message”, argues Matt Taibbi: “there is no such thing as a universal human experience, and we are defined not by our individual personalities or moral choices, but only by our racial category”.
White Fragility is based upon the idea that human beings are incapable of judging each other by the content of their character, and if people of different races think they are getting along or even loving one another, they probably need immediate antiracism training. This is an important passage because rejection of King’s “dream” of racial harmony — not even as a description of the obviously flawed present, but as the aspirational goal of a better future — has become a central tenet of this brand of antiracist doctrine mainstream press outlets are rushing to embrace.
What happens, asks Helen Pluckrose, when an ideology holds that beliefs other than its own are harmful and oppressive of others, and fails to recognise that it too is a belief system in itself?
It is essential that employers recognise that the concepts of Social Justice, whiteness, white privilege and white fragility all depend upon a very specific belief system that they do not have the moral right to demand any of their employees believe. It seems very likely that many employers organising this kind of training do not recognise this and simply regard the phenomenon epitomised by the work of Robin DiAngelo as the latest and most reputable development in the field of anti-racism and feel that they should support it in this current climate. Therefore, it needs to be made clear to them what the truth claims of this theory actually are, how they work and what they require people to pretend to believe about themselves, the nature of racism and the structure and culture of the society in which they live.
Photo by Tetiana SHYSHKINA on Unsplash
We should be able to discuss Black Lives Matter critically, argues Andrew Doyle, and not simply assume that its objectives are straightforwardly encapsulated by its name.
How many people know, for instance, that part of the Black Lives Matter manifesto is a commitment to ‘dismantle cisgender privilege’ and ‘disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another’? The movement, in other words, is not solely about standing up to racism, a goal that anyone with an intact moral compass would share. Look carefully at the messages of the graffiti and the placards on many of these protests. Yes, we all agree that black lives matter, but can we really say the same for ‘all cops are bastards’ or ‘fuck Madeleine McCann’?
Reflecting on her own experience of growing up in an ethnic minority family in the UK, Shabnam Nasimi wonders whether the categories of identity politics are holding people back rather than helping them:
I’ve always been suspicious of what I see as orthodoxies around certain cultural issues. I have found that “multiculturalism,” which was meant to be about equality and fairness and liberating people from oppression, has become quite a rigid and oppressive ideology. It has tended to box people into categories and worked against harmonious relationships between them, dividing communities. It’s possible to acknowledge racism still exists without over-exaggerating its modern significance.
Kelefa Sanneh unpacks the new thinking about race elaborated in Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist and Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility.
In modern American political discourse, racism connotes hatred, and just about everyone claims to oppose it. But many on the contemporary left have pursued a more active opposition, galvanized by the rise of Donald Trump, who has been eager to denounce black politicians but reluctant to denounce white racists. In many liberal circles, a movement has gathered force: a crusade against racism and other isms. It is a fierce movement, and sometimes a frivolous one, aiming the power of its outrage at excessive prison sentences, tasteless Halloween costumes, and many offenses in between. This movement seems to have been particularly transformative among white liberals, who are now, by some measures, more concerned about racism than African-Americans are. One survey found that white people who voted for Hillary Clinton felt warmer toward black people than toward their fellow-whites.