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February 17, 2011

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Gayl Jones, an African American writer whose books I highly recommend (Corregidora and Mosquito are two must reads) once said something to the effect that diversity was simply whites way of trying to dilute blackness. It's not hard to see her point when you see Shelby Steele waving the flag of mixed race categories.

And as such, I am very conscience and careful, when I claim “Black” and claim “Hispanic.”

And my kids, who are Black/Hispanic/Asian, I’m teaching the political consequences of identifying and accessing their different ethnic and racial identities.

I write this from far outside the discussion and debate about mixed race categories or women vs. gender studies. For the outsider catching whiffs and snippets of the conversation, it seems that race or sex or sexuality (intending LGBT) is a significant issue for some. As a trial lawyer, I get a look at a lot of different people, not just clients and witnesses, but large jury panels whose members fill out detailed personal questionnaires about themselves. Likewise, in Houston and in the surrounding counties, our jury pools are very diverse. Whether at the courthouse or in any office building downtown, or at a restaurant, theater, whatever, I see diversity all around me and no one seems to pay any particular attention to it. It is exceedingly rare to see someone stand on their identity in any walk of life I encounter. To me, it seems that most people accept themselves and others for who they are and go on about their business. I know not everyone feels this way, but those that don't keep it to themselves. So, I guess my question is: why is identity of such an apparent concern in some quarters on the left? Or am I missing something?

If I didn't know you, I'd think you were concern trolling here, McKinneyTX. In a country in which studies show that Bob and Mary are significantly more likely to get called for job interviews than Ahmed or Lashonda, where employers are more likely to hire a white ex-felon than they are a black person with a clean record, where until last month it was possible to get kicked out of the Army just for being male and saying "my boyfriend and me" . . . you wonder why people worry about this stuff? Really?

Should have added: Sitting around wondering why some people are so concerned with the facts of their racial and sexual identities is THE VERY DEFINITION of white/straight privilege.

It is exceedingly rare to see someone stand on their identity in any walk of life I encounter. To me, it seems that most people accept themselves and others for who they are and go on about their business.

Yeah, I used to think like that. And then I started talking to black people. And women. And other folks. Well, not so much talking as listening. Listening is a lot harder than talking. And the scales fell from my eyes.

McTex, I absolutely believe you when you say you honestly don't see stuff. But you need to trust me on this: there's a whole world that you can't see right now. Go listen to some people different than you and give it time. You'll see. Then you'll wish you hadn't.

I don't have much to say on this, largely because "don't see stuff" either. I read stuff online, so I have at least a vague sense of what I don't see in my day-to-day life, but I feel a whole lot more confident taking a strong stand on, say, a war than I do on whether a mixed-race category is a good idea (in the context of a school system). Sure, my gut reaction is "why is that bad? Isn't some mixing a good thing?" But that's really all I have on this. A gut reaction.

Gasoline to the fire.

What Phil says is absolutely true. I have had the experience of listening to some of my most valued employees go through the thought process of wondering whether their race/sexual preference/sex was contributing to their ability to fit in/succeed/be accepted/be understood/be judged equally. Heck, they wonder if they and their partner are welcome at the Christmas party.

NOT having to worry about this IS the essence of white male heterosexual privilege and no amount of reassurance by a white male heterosexual CEO removes that from their their consciousness.

I do not have a solution for that except on an individual level in any circumstance to demonstrate that it is not a factor in any personal interaction or professional organization that I am associated with.

Society will have to catch up somehow. I am just not sure that a continued focus on race/gender/gender and sexuality studies accomplishes it.

I agree that, as a white male, I can only see the world from that perspective. Yet, what I am saying I don't see is the vast majority of people I observe or meet having any particular interest in skin color or sex, mine, their's or anyone else's. Sexuality remains more of an issue for some, but that seems to be changing too.

What is there to see? People don't go to restuarants and worry out loud about wether or not the white waitress has a attitude about their skin tone. Women don't stand around at the mal discussing the possiblity of being raped in the parking lot.

Identiy issues and issues of persecution and prejudice usually aren't discussed causally.

Times have changed from the fifties and sixties. Relationships have changed. There is a lot more acceptance of divdersity-- al lot more. There is a generation of white folks who are post-Jim Crow and don't like being made to feel guilty abouut stuff their grandparents might have done.

On the other hand we are not there yet. We are not at the pooint where attitudes triggered by gender or skin tone don't harm the person who is the traget of the attitude. Just because people don't walk into the office or the store or the elevator and suddenly start talking about gender or ethinicity issues doesn't mean the issues aren't there.

In fact the absence of casual discussion shows that the issues are there.

Society will have to catch up somehow. I am just not sure that a continued focus on race/gender/gender and sexuality studies accomplishes it.

Exactly. The most important thing is to not think about it at all. Ever. The worst possible thing you can do is to think about/question/analyze the issue.

Here">http://thinkprogress.org/2011/02/15/ks-gop-rep-obrien/">Here you go, McK! A perfect example of a leftie overly concerned with skin color.

One week ago, the Kansas House Federal and State Committee held a hearing about in-state tuition being granted to the children of undocumented immigrants, which has been the policy in the state since 2004.

Speaking in favor of repealing the law, Rep. Connie O’Brien (R-KS) began telling an anecdote at the hearing about how her son had difficulty in getting financial assistance to attend college. She explained that she took her son to a financial aid office, and as she was waiting in line, she believed there was a girl waiting in line with them who was “not originally from this country.” Fellow committee member Rep. Sean Gatewood (D-KS) asked O’Brien how she knew this student was “illegal.” O’Brien replied that she knew because the student “wasn’t black, she wasn’t Asian, and she had the olive complexion”:

REP. O’BRIEN: My son who’s a Kansas resident, born here, raised here, didn’t qualify for any financial aid. Yet this girl was going to get financial aid. My son was kinda upset about it because he works and pays for his own schooling and his books and everything and he didn’t think that was fair. We didn’t ask the girl what nationality she was, we didn’t think that was proper. But we could tell by looking at her that she was not originally from this country. [...]

REP. GATEWOOD: Can you expand on how you could tell that they were illegal?

REP. O’BRIEN: Well she wasn’t black, she wasn’t Asian, and she had the olive complexion.

Whoops, looks like that story's actually about a Republican, but you knew it would be, didn't you? A Republican who can not only tell from someone's skin color whether or not he or she is a non-native-born American, but even whether they're here illegally! (Even though she can't tell the difference between "Federal education assistance" and "in-state tuition rates.")

"The most important thing is to not think about it at all. Ever. The worst possible thing you can do is to think about/question/analyze the issue."

Well that certainly put a few words in my mouth.

Class is not, always identifiable, especially now, that previous class identifiers are easily accessible because of credit and what-not…but that does not mean “class” has disappeared.

Visual identifiers of class should not be confused with the social and economic options of class.

Race and gender act as types of social class, as well. Their aesthetic identifiers should not be confused with their social and economic options.

Society will have to catch up somehow. I am just not sure that a continued focus on race/gender/gender and sexuality studies accomplishes it.

There are lots of departments at big universities that I don't find interesting at all. I don't see what society gains by focusing on those issues. But there are rich people willing to fund them so I don't really care. That's the free market at work.

Outside of the universities, I recently read about research on child rearing and racism. Apparently, parents who raise their kids to be color blind and who treat everyone the same regardless of race end up with more racist kids than parents who talk openly about race. That suggests that perhaps the 'don't ever talk about race and racism will go away' plan has some problems.

That suggests that perhaps the 'don't ever talk about race and racism will go away' plan has some problems.

My kids are pretty young, but we still discuss certain things with them related to racism. At their ages, we don't like to get into the water cannons, police dogs, nightsticks, murders, riots and such. But we will talk about segregation and gentler stories about the civil rights movement.

Some things totally blow their minds. They get really confused when we tell them that there was a time when black people and white people couldn't sit together on the bus. They get that "WTF are you talking about?" look on their faces, you know, when they pull their heads back, scrunch up their noses and look at each other to see if it makes any sense to anyone other than their idiot parents.

It just seemed like, as they went from babies to kids, if they didn't know what racism was, they wouldn't know if they were being racist, in thought or action.

And you never really know how their personal exposures will translate to their general view of the world. There are a couple of kids in my kids' preschool (former preschool for my son) who are mixed-race, with one white parent and one black parent. We became pretty friendly with the parents through the kids, so we've spent time with them outside of just school events at each other's houses and such. But we're (my family) out at a restaurant one night, and my son sees an interracial couple, and says, "There's a black guy and a white lady together over there." And I say, "Yeah? So?" His response is, "It's just weird." Yet, he's never found anything weird about the interracial couple we're friends with. How that works, I don't know.

At any rate, it seems that you have to talk about race with your kids even if they have personal experience with issues of race (or so it seems), and not just if you feel that they aren't exposed to various issues of race in their lives, for whatever reasons.

On one hand, I can understand the "what? you worry?" bafflement of whites and straights - rarely, if ever, having to be confronted with questions that go to the core of one's being is a luxury that non-whites/non-straights wish they had.

I have nothing else to add to the thread that has been developing above about identity politics, since it would be tempting to reprise what's already been said, except possibly to say that as a Caucasian minority person in an Asian country, this whole question certainly does get interesting.

But a question I do have is this: how exactly do people of color and gays on the right resolve this dilemma in their minds, if they even think this dilemma exists for them?

I've always been fascinated how, for example, Michelle Malkin can defend the internment of Japanese-Americans post-Pearl Harbor on grounds that their identities didn't gear with a white-grounded ideal of American-ness, yet appeal till blue in the face that she is American first while stridently and confidently dismissing the same appeal for those subjected to the Korematsu decision.

It's tempting to conclude that somehow rightists of color or different gender orientations get a pass from their ideology that those on the left don't give themselves, or each other. What I think is more plausible is that people of color/other gender orientations too have fallen under the sway of a certain blindness to facts of prejudice that subject everyone except themselves to it.

Wow, Lee, there are a bunch of folks here in a similar situation, I think.

You are right about how categories get sorted out here in Asia, and I have a helluva time trying to figure out what to tell students in regard to this. My own choice has been to get students to watch movies, which is not a great solution, but one that at least exposes them to lots of other things than just my pronouncements on the way things are (or at least, were, from 20+ years ago)

And I think it is really a good point to note that different groups can fall prey to different preconceptions and end up being as prejudiced as anyone else. Still, the reason why they fall prey to those preconceptions does give us a point of difference.

One example that interests me is the development of US judo in the post war years. After the war, the Japanese-Americans who formed the core of judo instruction were pretty much all touched by the internment, so they largely shut out westerners. It was only with the influx of servicemen who did Judo while serving in Japan that the stranglehold was broken. While it would be nice to have said that those Japanese-Americans were able to rise above the prejudice they experienced, it seems less blameworthy than a situation where a majority culture freezes out a minority.

"Apparently, parents who raise their kids to be color blind and who treat everyone the same regardless of race end up with more racist kids than parents who talk openly about race."

More racist kids than racist parents who talk openly about race? Or are we just talking about different anti-racist strategies? And what level of "more racist kids" are we talking about here? Is this like 'noticeable and maybe statistically significant but not a big difference' or 'close to the views of kids with openly racist parents' or what?

And then I started talking to black people. And women. And other folks. Well, not so much talking as listening. Listening is a lot harder than talking. And the scales fell from my eyes.

We may be talking about two different things. LJ's post addresses people who seem very, very centered on their identity. Here was my question: why is identity of such an apparent concern in some quarters on the left? We all have identities, my point is that I don't see very many people letting identity drive their lives. In fact, it's just the opposite. Which is not to say that I can see the world from someone else's perspective. I can't and don't claim to.

Turb, I've had tons of conversations with women--they are half the legal field and are well established in the business world, at least the business world I am in touch with. I've had a number of conversations with African-American and Hispanic friends and colleagues. Identity is an issue infrequently and insignificantly.

Phil, one example of a stupid person doesn't prove a point, and besides, the question I raised wasn't "are their people out there who evaluate others based on skin color?" Rather, why does one's own skin color or sexuality or whatever seem to matter so much to a small quarter on the left? That is, those to whom LJ was referring?

LJ's post addresses people who seem very, very centered on their identity.

I think you may be trying to draw too wide an inference here.

LJ's post was about a specialized academic journal. I don't think it is fair to say that academics who write for one particular journal are very very centered on their identity. Maybe you could say that they're very very centered on the idea of using identity to understand societies or social problems, but even then, it seems unlikely. I mean, the whole issue came up because Scott Lemiux, a political scientist who blogs at Lawyers Guns and Money raised the issue: I've been reading him for years and his interests vary widely; he's by no means focused on identity issues as the be-all and end-all of understanding society, but he does read the journal at least occasionally.

Academic journals tend to specialize, and many of the more specialized ones get lots of readers or contributors who are far more diverse. I always thought that was a good thing....

We all have identities, my point is that I don't see very many people letting identity drive their lives. In fact, it's just the opposite.

If you think that -- for example -- straight, white men don't let the identity "straight, white man" drive their lives, you are not looking at the world discerningly enough. Seriously.

Phil, one example of a stupid person doesn't prove a point, and besides, the question I raised wasn't "are their people out there who evaluate others based on skin color?" Rather, why does one's own skin color or sexuality or whatever seem to matter so much to a small quarter on the left?

You're missing the forest for the trees here. Think about the same story from the perspective of the young woman being discussed. There are people out there -- far more than one Republican Kansan -- who will make all sorts of assumptions about her based on the color of her skin, not to mention her gender. Given that, why should it not be an important part of her identity?

I've had a number of conversations with African-American and Hispanic friends and colleagues. Identity is an issue infrequently and insignificantly.

Uh, maybe they just don't talk to you about it? It's like gay people know exactly who it is and isn't safe to come out to, lots of nonwhite people know who it is and isn't safe to discuss racial politics with. I'm not saying this is the case with your friends and colleagues, but it's within the realm of possibility.

Over here racism (esp. antisemitism) is inherited primarily from the grandparents not the parents. The grandparents grew up under Hitler, the parents rebelled against them in the 60ies and now the youngsters rebel against their antifa parents encouraged by granny (less by grandfathers, guess why?)

I think that there are individuals who are too focused on their own identity issues to their own detriment. An example: a very conflicted unhappy young man of my acquaintance who was raised to see homosexuality asa sin but is in fact gay himself. He has accepted his nature but is enraged at the world for all the suffereing he had to go through because of the prejjudice. he would be a happier person if his acceptance of himself was real rather than a rebellion against those who rejected him, if you see what i mean. i am giving an example here of one person's struggle. For other people the development of identity agaisnt the backdrop of sterotypes and negativeity has been much easier. For many people the hassle is there but it isn't sommething discussed very much because it isn't water cooler chat. For other people the way to deal with the struggle is to not deal iwth it. Antoher exsample: a female buddy of my sister's who became a corporate lawyer. At frist she complained to my sister about the sexism but after a while Stockholm Syndrome kicked in and she's more silverback in her work behavior than the guys are.

Example number one is very involved in left politics. Example number two is very involved in rightwing politics.

Of course this is just tiny data blips, not research.

I think most people just muddle along as best they can and that the development of identity agsint the negative expecxtations is part of the muddling, there but not forefront all the time.

"Phil, one example of a stupid person doesn't ...."

I don't know.

I accept that the stupid person in question does not represent you, McKinneyTexas.

But what worries me are all of the stupid people NOT rising up and claiming they are unrepresented by the Representative and that their points haven't been proven.

The silence among the represented stupid people proves some sort of point ... or not, I guess.

Who does the Texas State Government represent?

Are they just single examples of stupid people (Louis Gohmert doesn't represent anyone on the national stage?) who somehow find themselves by coincidence all in one building?

Turb, I've had tons of conversations with women--they are half the legal field and are well established in the business world, at least the business world I am in touch with. I've had a number of conversations with African-American and Hispanic friends and colleagues. Identity is an issue infrequently and insignificantly.

In my experience, racial minorities are often unwilling to broach the subject directly, without any kind of framework in place, in part because the minute you talk about how your race affects you, white people get very defensive and that just ruins any conversation.

To give one example: I've been friendly with a guy in my church for years. He's a tall middle aged black man who works as a conscierge. We had a forum in my church recently about the legacy of the slave trade (a former parishioner discovered that her family had been one of the biggest slave trading families in the country and she made a documentary about it). During the discussion, he mentioned that he encounters people, every single work day, who will not talk to him because he's black. There are people he's worked with for years who have not spoken a single word to him. Despite speaking regularly with all of his coworkers.

Now, this guy is not some black nationalist. He's not scary. He's middle class and respectable. And he's a genuinely caring, warm, funny guy. The fact that every single work day he is reminded that a decent fraction of the population will not even speak to him clearly hurt him. But that's the sort of thing that he (justifiably I think) did not feel comfortable talking about except in the context of a very structured discussion on race. Besides that, most people don't like appearing vulnerable. Talking about stuff that hurts you is hard for most. So the fact that you haven't picked up on this in your conversations really is not dispositive.

I ask you: is my friend obsessed with his identity? Is he letting it drive his life?

McT,
Interesting observation. I wasn't consciously thinking of identity at all, I was thinking of how the left is often a coalition of interests and how it can, in the course of political developments, find one interest pitted against another. In the draft of the post, I had a riff about how a phrase like 'Solidarity' is something that you wouldn't be surprised to see on a banner at a rally for the left, but that you wouldn't see it at a right or libertarian or tea party event. I deleted that because it was just an impression but I put it here to suggest what I was thinking about. That my examples come from questions of identity is worth pondering, but isn't what I was getting at. I think.

Also, McTex, I'm curious what you think about Phil's point about resumes with African-American sounding names not getting callbacks merits a lot more discussion. I mean, that's clearly not the result of an isolated example of a single racist or stupid person: we're talking about the aggregate behavior of many employers. And the difference in callback rates is not some insignificant fluke: it is pretty massive. That suggests that many employers ACT as if they are very very concerned about racial identity, even if they're not aware of that.

I am reminded of how the number of women getting admitted to major orchestras skyrocketed once they started holding auditions behind a screen so that judges couldn't tell the gender of the applicant. Now, do you really think that most orchestra interviewers were raving sexist pigs who were convinced that women were just inferior? If not, then how do you explain the huge jump in female membership once candidates started auditioning behind a screen? My guess is that there are implicit biases that people don't talk about and mostly don't know about, but I'm curious to hear yours.

I mean, the whole issue came up because Scott Lemiux, a political scientist who blogs at Lawyers Guns and Money raised the issue:

Yes. You'd think he could get the name of the journal right (if only to help people check this out). He could also have said it's the journal of the Women and Politics APSA group. The article wasn't rejected because the editorial board were "very very centered on their identity", Turbulence is right to reject that assumption, if perhaps for the wrong reasons. See the LGM comment by cer, who knows what's at stake here.

mckinneytexas

why does one's own skin color or sexuality or whatever seem to matter so much to a small quarter on the left?

why "the left"? and why "small quarter"? -- why do skin colour and sexuality matter so much to some people? Because racism and homophobia tell them it matters to other people. White male heterosexuals don't need identity politics, other groups do or have.

mckinney texas


The most important thing is to not think about it at all. Ever. The worst possible thing you can do is to think about/question/analyze the issue.

The most important thing is to think about it [race/gender] to the exclusion of all else. Always. The best possible thing you can do is dwell on/question/analyze the issue.

So much for marginalizing, for the time being.

I went to cabietmaking school back inthe eighties. I was one of four women in the class, among the first to enter the program. Ouur teacher was a sweet old guy but very old school. he didn'tt hink women could be cabinetmakers and said so. he also said that it was nice to have the ladies arouund becuase we kept the bathroom clean.

i enjoyed the class and learned how to design and build furniture but i never worked as a cabinetmaker. I couldn't hack the sexism.

I never got harassed. It wasn't like that. At first the guys thought that they had to help us women becase it wasthe gentlemanly thing to do and of course to be female meant being incompetent arouund power tools and phyiscally weak. After awhile we demonstrated the we cod do the work and the men stopped helpiinng. Instead they went all guys together on us--srude talk abot girsl freinds etc. It wasn't harassment. They just decided to treat us like guys!

The source of tension fo me was the since of being watched ll the time the sense that the future of eery femal cabinetmaker rested on my success. TThe guys could screw up eery now and then. I couldn't. i do not have the personslity to stand up to that kinnd of pressure.

I thknthat this sort of situation is easier on women now. The defintion of feminie has braodened and no longer includes weakness and incompetence. It is possible now to be feminine competent physically strong and able to do "a man's job."

I just tell this story in respnse to the bit about letting identity run one's life. I can't compleete my thought here becuase I have to goto work--sorry!

In response to no one in particular I always wonder why people wonder why certain groups "need identity politics". Almost all politics is identity politics. Southie, Christian, Religious Right, Small Town, Western Mass vs Boston, Upstate NY vs the City, Western States, Agricultural States, Rural, Urban, Intellectual Elite, Working Class, etc.

It is jus another way we identify key issues to be discussed that we identiy racial, gender and sexual prefernce issues politically and culturally. I don't see why that is an issue. Just me.

If you're not sure of your identity, walk around at CPAC for a few days.

I agree that, as a white male, I can only see the world from that perspective. Yet, what I am saying I don't see is the vast majority of people I observe or meet having any particular interest in skin color or sex, mine, their's or anyone else's. Sexuality remains more of an issue for some, but that seems to be changing too.

So, I guess my question is: why is identity of such an apparent concern in some quarters on the left? Or am I missing something?

Rather, why does one's own skin color or sexuality or whatever seem to matter so much to a small quarter on the left?

I wouldn’t talk to or in front of you either. Just look at the way you have dismissed concerns that apply to millions of people as belonging to “a small quarter on the left.”

I would totally have preferred to live in a world where my sexual orientation (and gender) wouldn’t have mattered any more than yours do. I don’t live in that world. So the paradox is that while I don’t think my sexual orientation is important (it doesn’t matter to how well I do my job, what kind of a parent I am to my kids, what kind of a friend I am to my friends, the grades I achieved in school, how well I cook...), a lot of other people do think it’s important, and in a way that is detrimental to my ability to fully participate in civic life (and other kinds as well).

I don’t want to talk about my sexual orientation any more than you want to talk about yours. Who cares about it, except in the context of asking someone for a date?

But I’m not the one who has created the conditions that make it important to talk about it. And conversely, those conditions aren’t going to change unless people do talk about it, and treat it as important. It’s a PITA, but that’s the world we inhabit.

*****

When I started college at MIT in 1968, there were 60 women in the entering class of 900. Now the ratio is http://web.mit.edu/ir/pop/students/diversity.html>almost even.

That year you could count the number of black freshmen on one hand. The following admissions cycle was the first year MIT took specific steps to increase the number of black students, including looking actively for bright kids from not-so-bright high schools, and allowing black students (and other minorities) to choose to be in a separate admissions pool. The summer of 1969 saw the first http://web.mit.edu/ome/programs-services/interphase/about.html>Interphase group arrive on campus. Now the percentage of black students on campus is more in the direction of respectable (see the link 2 paragraphs back).

These changes happened because “one’s own skin color or sexuality or whatever seem[ed] to matter so much...” -- not to a small quarter on the left, but to lots of people of all skin colors and genders (and yes, even political persuasions) who were willing to speak up and take action to change things.

To me, it seems that most people accept themselves and others for who they are and go on about their business. I know not everyone feels this way, but those that don't keep it to themselves.

They most certainly do not keep it to themselves.

They instigate statewide referenda and other political campaigns to make sure that people with certain “identities” don’t enjoy the same rights and conditions of citizenship and community participation that they take for granted. Gay marriage. A mosque in New York City. I could go on and on.

In 2009 we had half the state of Maine standing up for what I consider to be, in essence, another step on the road to the abolition of identity politics: the right of same-sex couples to get married. We had the other half of the state of Maine not “keeping it to themselves,” but campaigning madly in opposition to the end of identity politics.

I didn’t choose to have my life partially derailed by identity politics. Or rather, my choice was that or the closet. I would much rather have lived in a world that treated my sexual orientation as something that was as much to be taken for granted as yours. But this is the paradox of being a member of a minority that has not been allowed full participation in civic life. You have to open your mouth and do something about it. That doesn’t mean you talk about it all the time to everyone at work, or when you are called to jury duty, or at church, or on the subway. (Although some people do choose to do that.)

So lots of people get to go through life thinking that there’s no problem, or if there once was a problem it has been corrected, so why on earth do people still keep talking about it, and get stuck on things like “identity politics”?

Again, I’m not the one who wants to live in a world full of identity politics. If you want to know why so many people are still stuck on identity politics, ask all the people in Maine who voted against my right to marry someone I love. They’re the ones playing identity politics.

But what worries me are all of the stupid people NOT rising up and claiming they are unrepresented by the Representative and that their points haven't been proven.

The silence among the represented stupid people proves some sort of point ... or not, I guess.

If I am tracking, perhaps a big IF, my take is that most people, regardless of sex/sexuality/ethnicity do not define themselves in any significant way by that criteria alone, even if different social or other transitory contexts might make who they are a more immediate and relevant issue. Ex--I think of myself as a white male either when someone says "you're a white male and so that defines where you are coming from" or when I compare what I see everyday and compare it to what I saw when I was young and what I know happened historically.

I wasn't consciously thinking of identity at all, I was thinking of how the left is often a coalition of interests and how it can, in the course of political developments, find one interest pitted against another.

LJ, I was looking at this (the move from Women Studies to Gender Studies to Gender and Sexuality studies returns women to an invisible state. The commenter says "So I think there are legitimate political concerns at work here but they are going about addressing them completely incorrectly and in a way that is likely to do more long-term damage.") and the mixed-race dialogue. Your point about the left splintering holds true for the right. I'm on the right, but where is my home? I don't think there is a home for me. Which, given the current situation, is more than fine with me.

Also, McTex, I'm curious what you think about Phil's point about resumes with African-American sounding names not getting callbacks merits a lot more discussion. I mean, that's clearly not the result of an isolated example of a single racist or stupid person: we're talking about the aggregate behavior of many employers. And the difference in callback rates is not some insignificant fluke: it is pretty massive. That suggests that many employers ACT as if they are very very concerned about racial identity, even if they're not aware of that.

I am reminded of how the number of women getting admitted to major orchestras skyrocketed once they started holding auditions behind a screen so that judges couldn't tell the gender of the applicant. Now, do you really think that most orchestra interviewers were raving sexist pigs who were convinced that women were just inferior? If not, then how do you explain the huge jump in female membership once candidates started auditioning behind a screen? My guess is that there are implicit biases that people don't talk about and mostly don't know about, but I'm curious to hear yours.

I have been thinking about Phil's comment, which, while not the point I was originally making, merits thought and a reply. Please understand that what I am about to say is a description of what I've seen, not a reflection of my views. Larger operations hire more minorities than smaller operations. I believe this to be true, and I believe it to be true, in part because of fear of litigation, particularly Title VII litigation. For a company with more than 50 employees (I think 50 is the threshold number, and 15 is the threshold in some other, related area, but I don't practice in Employment Law, so I can't be sure), terminating a minority employee carries with it a risk of litigation that, for a small operation, is a very expensive proposition. For a small operation, better to not hire if there is any reason to think the employee might not pan out. Whether the fear of litigation is well-founded is beside the point. Small businesses are terrified of being sued. Litigation costs being what they are, this is a valid fear, even if it is misdirected in this instance. I hope this isn't too murky.

Larger entities, particularly those that contract with gov't entities or who subcontract or vend with contracting entities, but larger entities regardless (1) tend to value diversity, (2)or support diversity because, cynically, they think it makes them look good. Larger entities have the funds for more sophisticated HR programs that either mitigate the rare Title VII claim or resolve the claim internally.

The above is what I see and what I think accounts for some of the reluctance to hire minorities.

White male heterosexuals don't need identity politics, other groups do or have.

I think this is also a different discussion, but one that would be worthwhile. I disagree that the need for identity politics is as compelling today as it was 30 or more years ago. In many instances, the shelf life has expired and it creates more problems than it solves.

I just tell this story in respnse to the bit about letting identity run one's life. I can't compleete my thought here becuase I have to goto work--sorry!

Wonkie, to summarize: your teacher didn't think you could cut it, but you did. The guys first feminized you by being 'gentlemen' then they treated you as an equal, but the pressure of carrying the load of representing all female cabinet makers was too much, so you went elsewhere? With respect, you are kind of making my point. This seems like a self-imposed burden that ultimately had a negative effect, assuming that, but for your sense of load carrying, you would have stayed in the cabinet business.

In response to no one in particular I always wonder why people wonder why certain groups "need identity politics". Almost all politics is identity politics. Southie, Christian, Religious Right, Small Town, Western Mass vs Boston, Upstate NY vs the City, Western States, Agricultural States, Rural, Urban, Intellectual Elite, Working Class, etc.

Well, there are organic identities such as male/female, ethnicity, sexuality, and there are labels, classifications, etc. I think the points about identity politics relates to organic identities, not labels.

If you think that -- for example -- straight, white men don't let the identity "straight, white man" drive their lives, you are not looking at the world discerningly enough. Seriously.

Indeed. Except that for the "straight" part, one might more accurately substitute "NOT GAY."

You want to see people letting their sexual identity "drive their lives," McK? Watch an Adam Sandler movie. Or take in a couple of hours of straight, male stand-up comics on the tube.

McTex, if you've observed that lots of small companies are extremely reluctant to hire qualified minorities, then doesn't that explain why people are so interested in their own racial identity? I mean, if I was a black man who listened to you and concluded 'huh -- no one will hire me because I'm black' I'd start to think about my identity a whole lot. Maybe I'd change my name to something more anglo-sounding (and then resent the hell out of it), maybe I'd get into political activism, but there's no way that learning that employers won't hire me because of my skin color could possibly lead me to deemphasize my racial identity.

As I understand it, employment discrimination suits are very difficult to prosecute, even in cases of egregious racism, so I'm skeptical that fear of such suits is the causal factor. As an attorney, do you agree that such suits are difficult to prosecute?

I wouldn’t talk to or in front of you either. Just look at the way you have dismissed concerns that apply to millions of people as belonging to “a small quarter on the left.”

Janie--I'm sorry if you think that is what I am doing. My question is why do what I perceive to be a small number of people on the left identify themselves primarily by who or what they are. My sense, base on what I see everyday, is that most people have pretty much--not entirely but pretty much--moved past that.

I don’t want to talk about my sexual orientation any more than you want to talk about yours. Who cares about it, except in the context of asking someone for a date?

Exactly my point. My sense is that the fact that you are gay informs your concerns with civil rights but beyond that you're just a person, not intending to sound trite.

my apologies, my previous comment should have quoted the OP, not repeated it inadvertently...

liberaljaponicus
I wasn't consciously thinking of identity at all, I was thinking of how the left is often a coalition of interests and how it can, in the course of political developments, find one interest pitted against another

yes (but I wouldn't confine it to the left), the journal incident is of course an example of that.

mckinneytexas,
"White male heterosexuals don't need identity politics, other groups do or have."

I think this is also a different discussion, but one that would be worthwhile.

thank you. I'm not sure it's a different discussion, though.

I think there's a lot in this for some "identity politics" groups, in some places. But then identity politics has lessened too.

Before McKinney says that I am making his point about shelf life for him because my examples are rooted in a past that is a few decades gone by, I want to weight in and point out that even on the surface -- or perhaps especially on the surface -- there is a big difference between the appearance and the reality of diversity in a big city (even in Texas ;) and and the same equations in rural areas and small towns.

I live in rural Maine but spend a lot of time in Cambridge, Massachusetts, specifically Harvard Square. Harvard Square is a lot like McK's description of where he lives. People from everywhere, the possibility of hearing a dozen languages while walking down the street to get a sandwich, no one apparently paying much attention to their "identity" (except the people asking for $ for the homeless).

I don't see the dark underbelly of Cambridge, because I'm a visitor. But I see the dark underbelly of the whitest state in the nation when I'm at home. Quick samples:

Overheard at a track meet a few years ago, muttered by one parent to another: "I can't believe the nigger won."

There was a cross burning in Augusta not all that long ago.

We are not past the shelf life of trying to deal with this stuff.

Even I get tired of hearing about it; heck, I get tired of hearing myself talk, think, and write about it. I would like nothing better than to have no need to do so.

We aren't there yet, McKinney's perceptions of shelf life notwithstanding.

McK,
Your point about the left splintering holds true for the right. I'm on the right, but where is my home? I don't think there is a home for me.

I think we can agree that this is a more recent phenomenon on the right, cf the 11th commandment. Of course, you might say that Goldwater and 1964 is not that long ago, but it is actually almost a half a century.

And what I find interesting is that the Tea Party phenomenon, while resulting in a left-like splintering on the Republican side, is different in that so many Republican politicians feel like they need to give homage rather than distance themselves. I can't think of an equivalent Tea Party invocation of a Sister Souljah moment (though wikipedia gives examples of Bush the elder and McCain) Still, it seems telling that there isn't a similar term for someone who wants to repudiate the furthest right. (and just to be clear, I'm not applying this to you or any other commenter here)

. My question is why do what I perceive to be a small number of people on the left identify themselves primarily by who or what they are. My sense, base on what I see everyday, is that most people have pretty much--not entirely but pretty much--moved past that.

McK -- there will always be differences in how people identify themselves. I don't think it's a question, or only a question, of "moving past that." There are plenty of straight white males -- I know a couple of them at work -- who, whether they would consciously frame it that way or not, most certainly identify themselves primarily by their straight-white-maleness. Off the top of my head, I'd say that this comes out differently from the way a conscious and politically-linked identity comes out in, let's say, a gay person. The guys at work for whome staight-white-maleness is primary to their sense of themselves let you know that by what they say about other people, how they treat coworkers, etc. It is very clear that some of us don't measure up precisely because we're not in their club.

(I will hasten to add that these people, one in particular that I'm thinking of, is not all that well thought of by other people either, including the unanimously straight white males that run the company.)

Indeed. Except that for the "straight" part, one might more accurately substitute "NOT GAY."

Ok, bad phrasing: I don't know a single straight male who identifies and defines himself, first and foremost, as a straight male, or a straight white male. I certainly agree our sexuality is central to our lives, but few of us define ourselves by our sex drives, at least not in a political sense.

if you've observed that lots of small companies are extremely reluctant to hire qualified minorities, then doesn't that explain why people are so interested in their own racial identity?

Not lots and "extremely" may be going a bit too far. That said, I think it is tougher for an African American to get his/her foot in the door at smaller shops for this reason, but how much tougher I couldn't say. What I tried to say is that this is a factor I have observed. The counterweight is that larger operations are more open to minorities, so there is some balance in the equation.

As I understand it, employment discrimination suits are very difficult to prosecute, even in cases of egregious racism, so I'm skeptical that fear of such suits is the causal factor. As an attorney, do you agree that such suits are difficult to prosecute?

It's not my area. I've been involved in maybe a half dozen Title VII matters over the years. That said, my sense is that there are a lot of chickensh*t obstacles to recovery and a lot of post-claim remediations an employer can do to mitigate if not defeat a claim. I've been on both sides and usually associate with a specialist to avoid the pitfalls. The few cases I've handled were resolved on the "did it happen or not" paradigm that is simple enough for me (and for a jury) to understand and either prosecute, defend or settle, as the facts happened to fall out.

I don't know a single straight male who identifies and defines himself, first and foremost, as a straight male, or a straight white male. I certainly agree our sexuality is central to our lives, but few of us define ourselves by our sex drives, at least not in a political sense.

You don't have to in order to call attention to the fact that you are not a fully-equal citizen, because in fact you are the default fully equal citizen. (See our founding document.)

That's the point.

*****

As for the rest, another thing I suspect you don't see is the non-public life of all the people you meet in public who don't seem to want, in public, to make their identity the central thing. (Whether skin color, gender, sexuality, whatever.) I think you would find a very different dynamic at work if you could see people at home, in their neighborhoods, churches, families, etc.

Also -- to whatever extent it's true that there's only a small percentage of people making a minority identity the most important thing about themselves (never mind whether they're all in some corner of the left) (what about Log Cabin and GOPround?), as long as the work isn't done, we need them. I may not always agree with them, and I don't focus my own life they focus theirs and the way they want me to focus mine, but we wouldn't have made the progress we have without them.

Overheard at a track meet a few years ago, muttered by one parent to another: "I can't believe the nigger won."

There was a cross burning in Augusta not all that long ago.

We are not past the shelf life of trying to deal with this stuff.

Even I get tired of hearing about it; heck, I get tired of hearing myself talk, think, and write about it. I would like nothing better than to have no need to do so.

We aren't there yet, McKinney's perceptions of shelf life notwithstanding.

Again, these are two different topics. Bigotry will never end. Never. It is on the wane, not in any kind of identifiable steady decline, since it can be and often is amorphous, situational, unintended, and a host of other things. It can also be intended and viscous. Opposing bigotry is not the same as defining oneself politically primarily by who or what you are.

LJ, i've addressed the Tea Party before. It's been co-opted by Palin et al and is not what I think it started out to be or what it had the potential to be. I think where you see the Sister Souljah moments is not attacks on the Tea Party but the less than qualified support many on the right extend to Palin. Still, she's a force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately. At least Christie is acting interested in a national presence.

(I will hasten to add that these people, one in particular that I'm thinking of, is not all that well thought of by other people either, including the unanimously straight white males that run the company.)

Again, I think we see the same thing and come to similar conclusions described differently. It's the "few who do" vs. the "most who don't." Do the bosses have any issues with you, in any way, shape or form? If not, then what you experience is what I see. Which is why I don't understand the identity thing as a political position that seems to be mainly on the left. I don't know where on the spectrum you'd put White Supremacists.

My question is why do what I perceive to be a small number of people on the left identify themselves primarily by who or what they are.

How do you identify yourself? First and foremost as a lawyer? A husband? A father? What? I mean, I hate to get all Tyler Durden here, but you are not your job, nor are you the contents of your wallet.

(BTW, those last two are, by and large, how straight men practice identity politics without really doing it -- "I'm a husband and a father" = "I am a straight man.")

I don't know a single straight male who identifies and defines himself, first and foremost, as a straight male, or a straight white male.

Sure they do. Except, because "straight white male" is assumed by so many Americans to be the default setting for "normal," they do it through talking about their likes and dislikes (admit it -- while you might not be conscious of it, you'd look a little askance at a guy who doesn't like beer and football ), or by what female celebrities they'd like to nail, and so on.

Which is why I don't understand the identity thing as a political position that seems to be mainly on the left. I don't know where on the spectrum you'd put White Supremacists.

McK -- I agree that there will always be bigotry. Going at this more quickly than I want to, because I should be working -- besides the fact that some people will always choose to identify themselves primarily around some single characteristic that's important to them -- there will always be these people, just as there will always be bigots -- I would suggest that doing that as a political stance is at its core a response to institutionalized bigotry.

We have come a long way, legally and otherwise, but again -- we're not done. Not all that long ago there was an attempt to institutionalize bigotry in the Colorado constitution (mid-nineties). There was a similar effort in Maine, but just aimed at a law (not the state constitution) forbidding the state and towns to have anti-discrimination (against gays) laws and ordinances.

That people who identify this way concentrate on the left I leave as an exercise to the political-science-savvy reader. It doesn't seem that hard to me.

McK--they didn't treat me as an equal. They treated me as a male.

I did not have the emotional stamina to stand up to the pressure, IU have a great deal of respect for those who pioneer into areas where they were not fully welcome.

I think I can support McKTx's observations on hiring practices with a related phenomenon over here. Although many companies have a standard formula in their job ads 'Handicapped persons will be preferredly hired if equally qualified'(in the past 'women' was part of this too), the reality looks a bit different. It is almost an axiom that a handicapped person cannot be fired even with very good cause. Add to that that there is a distinct minority of handicapped persons that will abuse their 'privileged' status. While large companies can afford the risk, smaller companies can't. As a result smaller companies are very reluctant to hire.

How do you identify yourself? First and foremost as a lawyer? A husband? A father? What? I mean, I hate to get all Tyler Durden here, but you are not your job, nor are you the contents of your wallet.

Depends on the context of what I am doing, but I've never self-identified for political or social reasons as a straight white male, i.e. being a straight white male does determine my policy preferences.

I would suggest that doing that as a political stance is at its core a response to institutionalized bigotry.

In my initial comment, I noted that progress has been slower for LGBT's. With respect to civil rights, it continues to make sense, on those issues, for organic identity to drive policy choices. Outside the LGBT laws, or absence thereof, de jure bigotry is vanishingly rare if not non-existent. I mean, how does being gay drive one's thoughts on tax policy? Or being a woman? To me, it just doesn't make sense.

they didn't treat me as an equal. They treated me as a male.

I am totally not tracking. If they were all males and treated you as one of them, how could they not have been treating you as an equal?

Women were quite rare in the trial lawyer community way back when. Two of my female classmates (Class of '80) became outstanding trial lawyers. Some of the old guys didn't get it, as one would expect, but they were hired by other old guys and mentored into outstanding courtroom lawyers. I can't say they were treated like men in the sense that they were subjected to locker room talk, but in terms of going out for drinks, generally rough language, and the general rough and tumble of the adversarial system, they were treated as equals, which is to say, they were treated the same as male trial lawyers treated each other. We tried cases together before a number of crusty old fossils and my best memory is that we were all equally abused by the old guard, not because our sex, but because we were snotty young lawyers who didn't know their place.

I mean, how does being gay drive one's thoughts on tax policy? Or being a woman? To me, it just doesn't make sense.

I guess you haven't been following the recent kerfuffle over Michelle Obama suggesting that nursing mothers who buy a breast pump so that their children can be easily breastfeed even if the mother works outside the home be given a tax credit for doing so.

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