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How do anarchists define "identity politics"?

+3 votes
asked Aug 3, 2011 by AutumnLeavesCascade (8,910 points)

3 Answers

+5 votes
i define identity politics mostly negatively -- ie, i think that most people who use identity to mean something, tend to drastically simplify and over-generalize what it means in a person's (and/pr a people's) life (whatever "it" might be - usually race, class, sex, sexual preference, physical ability, etc). so i get very wary when people talk about identity. also i think people talk about identity (or use identity-coded language) as a way to identify themselves and each other as belonging to a particular group (we are the people who use these words and by doing so indicate that we care about the following things in the correct manner...)

that said, i do think that socially created/understood markers do mean something. i do think that being poor, rich, paraplegic, queer, able-bodied, brown haired, balding (etc) means *some*thing. i just don't think that people know what it means, or have figured out a good way to think about what it means.
answered Aug 4, 2011 by dot (50,470 points)
+3 votes
Answers to this question will be determined by what anarchists mean by "politics" which is a weighty question unto itself. Some answers to that have been attempted here: http://anarchy101.org/324/is-anarchism-political . To focus on the identity portion of the term:

Like dot, i tend to use the phrase as an unfavorable shorthand for certain approaches. These approaches tend to focus on a particular identity group to the (near) exclusion of other subjects for analysis, theory and practice. The epitome of identity political analysis views a specific form of oppression as the main oppression from which all others stem. It then becomes hard to arrive at coherent analysis of other forms of oppression. Even much of economic analysis can turn into identity politics in the form of fetishization of workers.

Of course, identity is important. First of all because it is socially enforced. Second because it is often internalized. For the foreseeable future people will continue to distinguish themselves based on all sorts of identity components, and our social experience will thus be informed by vast categories of wildly diverse individuals. There is useful information to be gleaned from the theorization about different identity groups to which people assign themselves or are assigned by others. There are tens of thousands of years of history based on identity concepts like Woman or Slave or Deviant. Even if it is desirable to move away from using such stock categories for the individuals that compose society, these concepts are highly embedded in the culture and are therefore important touchstones in any good analysis.

It is when we submit to essentialist thinking about these groups that we limit the potential for our own identity-creation. For my whole life i have taken it for granted that because i have certain sex characteristics, i am a man. Everyone i have ever encountered has treated me like a man (or boy), and yet there has always been some nagging doubt. It is only recently that i am able to express that, though i am easily categorizable biologically, that i have no affinity to any gender identity. Though i now understand this, i am still stuck in a society that wants to pigeon-hole me in the male gender. This is just as disconcerting coming from leftist feminists as from aggressive men.

So as an alternative to the extremes of identity politics and attempted identity-blindness i try to understand peoples' own self-identity constructions.
answered Aug 4, 2011 by enkidu (6,110 points)
To clarify a bit, i find that identity discourse is often interesting and worthwhile. As an example; i know a twin who has developed their own unique discourse about the prejudices and stereotypes of "singlets" toward "multiples". They have actually been asked such things as "How do you know which one you are?"! It's the subsumation of all other discourses about oppressive behavior to one particular identity discourse that i would disdainfully call "identity politics".
–2 votes
It depends. For me, identity is directly related to how a person defines themselves to the rest of world. For a lot of people, "identity politics!" is something that people yell because they feel guilty or don't want to deal with the fact they are privileged. (only half kidding)

Identity politics as it is related to North American anarchism is the question of whether the identity that the State gives you has any relevance on your social/political interactions. Are certain identities silenced? Are they demeaned? Does the State give white hetero cis males more say and does that play into other apparatuses?

There are no definite answers. Unfortunately, screaming "identity politics!" is a politically and identity charged way of silencing people who generally have valid concerns. On the flip-side, dealing with identity is a sore spot for anarchists and it's not hard for law enforcement to exploit that sore spot to provoke disunity.

It's often critiqued for being essentialist and essentializing identities. Interestingly, enough, so is generalizing all persons who believe identity politics is important as "oppressed filled with ressentiment."

Ironically, in my experience, posties spend more time thinking about identity politics and being careful and helpful than "lefties."
answered Mar 21, 2012 by veranasi (190 points)
I don't think I really understand the term now after reading these responses.  Peter Gelderloos doesn't really understand either and has written a pretty interesting piece about it - http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/peter-gelderloos-lines-in-sand

The words that we use can be confusing and constricting, but until we have figured out some telepathic super powers, our words are great tools.  That said the term "identity politics" has not seemed helpful to me so far though.

edited to make into a comment.