No, it isn't only the left that plays "identity politics"
My piece for Salon today ...
My first exposure to the term “identity politics” came from conservative commentators who used it to complain about civil rights. (It usually went hand-in-hand with derisive right-wing phrases like “playing the race card” and “professional poverty pimp.”) Indeed, I assumed for years that it was a catch-all conservative insult for anyone who sought equality and advancement for marginalized constituencies. That’s my bad. As it happens, the term has a serious academic pedigree and is hotly debated in intellectual circles so it’s not just another right wing epithet.
Nonetheless, that is exactly the way the term used today, and there are certain left-leaning types who use it as such as well. Interestingly, both sides lodge a similar complaint in terms of practical politics: “Identity politics” is seen as a scam to dupe racial and ethnic minorities, gays and women into voting for Democrats who pander to their personal concerns, letting their economic interest and the nation’s best interest as a whole be obscured in the process. The right sees this as a matter of ignorance, while the much smaller faction on the left that subscribes to a similar view sees it as a kind of selfish naivete. The left, to be fair, also thinks that right-wingers are being duped into voting against their economic interest by Republicans who pander to their personal concerns about religion and culture. (See: the “What’s the Matter with Kansas” critique.) So, in these lefties' minds, it’s an equal opportunity duping. Still one cannot help but notice that most of the people on both sides who complain about their fellow citizens being duped by politicians pandering to their narrow concerns have rarely walked in the shoes of those to whom the pols are allegedly pandering. It undoubtedly looks a little different from that perspective.
But let’s not kid ourselves about what the term most commonly means in our current political discourse. When a conservative derides “identity politics” he’s saying that white people are getting the short end of the stick. It’s not an academic critique or even more anodyne call for melting-pot solidarity. It’s racist coding, plain and simple. Even if “identity politics” is open for interpretation, there is no mistaking the meaning of Dog-whistle politics:
Dog-whistle politics is political messaging employing coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has an additional, different or more specific resonance for a targeted subgroup. The phrase is used only as a pejorative, because of the inherently deceptive nature of the practice and because the dog-whistle messages are frequently themselves distasteful, for example by empathising with racist or revolutionary attitudes. The analogy is to a dog whistle, whose high-frequency whistle is heard by dogs but inaudible to humans.
That conservatives use “identity politics” as a dogwhistle is not well understood by the mainstream media. Or, if they do understand it, they ignore it.
read on ...