All posts tagged: identity politics

Another Dream Deferred

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. —Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 1963 When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered what, in the fullness of time, would become his most memorable vision from his 1963 magisterial “I Have a Dream” speech, he could not have known how much progress in civil rights would ensue over the coming half century, in no small measure because of his work. Human progress in general, and moral advancement in particular, have been documented in detail in a number of recent books, including Hans Rosling’s Factfulness (2018, Flatiron Books), Yuval Noah Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (2018, Spiegel & Grau), Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now (2018, Penguin) and The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011, Penguin), Gregg Easterbrook’s It’s Better Than it Looks (2018, PublicAffairs), Johan Norberg’s Progress (2017, OneWorld), my own The Moral Arc (2015, Henry Holt), Matt Ridley’s The …

White Privilege Is Real, but Well-Meaning White Liberals Are Helping to Perpetuate It

After hosting African-American writer Ta-Nehisi Coates on his television show, Jon Stewart asked Coates whether America’s changing demographics could finally upend the anti-black society portrayed in Coates’s autobiographical Between the World and Me. Coates was doubtful, but Stewart, speaking for many white liberals, replied, “I hope you’re wrong.” Stewart’s presumption is that America’s ethnic transformation will relegate whites, and their prejudice, to the sidelines, ending racial inequality. Regardless of whether Coates is correct to portray American society as tilted against African-Americans, his skeptical response was closer to reality than Stewart’s. The stereotypes, worldviews and institutional practices that advantage native-born whites over other groups—in America and Europe—arise as the result of a complex interaction between individuals and collective representations. Stereotypes about African-Americans are passed on from parents and peers, encoded in cultural products, and internalized by blacks themselves, who may come to cherish them and condemn other African-Americans for failing to “act black,” i.e. comply with those stereotypes. To imagine this thinking is limited to white people is naïve and belied by the research literature. In …

Identity Politics Does More Harm Than Good to Minorities

It is difficult to think of an issue today as contentious as identity politics. Long criticised by the right as divisive and polarising, it has begun to be questioned by some on the left as well – from thinkers such as Mark Lilla and Jonathan Haidt. Writing from a liberal perspective in the Guardian, Columbia University professor Sheri Berman cited a host of psychological surveys showing that many white voters are supporting right-wing populists like Trump in a “defensive reaction” against perceived “group-based threats” that have been provoked, in part, by left-wing identity politics. Berman’s article – “Why identity politics benefits the right more than the left” – insisted that liberalism’s goal must be “winning elections,” which means “not helping Trump rile up his base by activating their sense of ‘threat’ and inflaming the grievances and anger that lead them to rally around him.” In her view, this requires “avoiding the type of ‘identity politics’ that stresses differences and creates a sense of ‘zero-sum’ competition between groups and instead emphasizing common values and interests.” Like Mark Lilla, …