By insisting on pushing a grievance culture,
identity warriors negate any good they might do.
The Good Girl (2002) is a thoughtful film about a young married woman in a small town in the US South who has an affair with a fellow employee at the local discount store. The couple seeks comfort with each other as a distraction from their boring and meaningless lives.
Unhappy with his circumstances, he nevertheless has done nothing to improve his lot in life. Well into adulthood he still lives with his parents, has few interests, little education and no hope for a better life. Like many young people of our era he reflexively blames others for his dreary situation. As described by the young woman, he is “put upon.” He satisfies his craving for betterment by robbing the safe in the discount store and losing his life in the process.
For a man who is “put upon” by the world, taking from others seems like justice, rather than crime.
In recent years, we have seen a new social movement some have called identity politics. This movement has spawned a grievance culture among “traditionally oppressed groups.” The grievances of these disaffected and angry groups remind me of the complaints of the misguided young man in The Good Girl. In both cases, their selfish and misguided narratives inevitably lead to disaster.
Three of the most prominent themes in the identity politics movement are cultural appropriation, black lives matter, and LGBTQ identity.
Cultural Misappropriation Blues
One of the sources of contemporary grievance culture are academics. Some of these academics teach in Ethnic Studies, Gender and Culture, and other liberal arts departments of colleges and universities. These academics have come up with a Cultural Appropriation Grievance industry. Although this industry originated in the academy, it has now spread to the corporate world, the media and government.
The central idea of Cultural Appropriation—-or more properly, Cultural Misappropriation—- is that certain members of society have been unfairly exploited by a majority culture. The narrative is based on group identity. According to proponents of Cultural Misappropriation, white men, heterosexuals, Christians, Americans and white Europeans (largely men) have taken unfair advantage of people of color, third world peoples, indigenous peoples, non-heterosexuals, women and transgender people. By means of their reprehensible actions the exploiters have profited from others and must now be stopped.
The odd thing about Cultural Misappropriation warriors is that they often focus on actions that most sane people would consider unimportant. So for example, these warriors condemn white people who emulate the clothing and hairstyles of oppressed groups—say a white man who wears his hair in dreadlocks, which today are associated with black people.1 Recently a young white woman was pilloried for posting a photo of herself on social media wearing a traditional Asian dress. In the face of threats, she was forced to delete the photo.
Recently I attended a so-called Cultural Appropriation workshop in which a presenter, an Asian woman, recounted, “When I learned that my child’s elementary school class was going to have a Hawaiian Shirt Day I was of course, outraged. I called the principal immediately to object.” The Hawaiian Shirt Day was part of a celebration of Hawaiian culture. Why was this woman enraged by an event that sought to congratulate and honor a non-white culture? In short, why was she “put upon?”
The answer: She was smitten by the same resentment portrayed in The Good Girl and now promoted by Identity Politics warriors.
Black Lives Matter
The Black Lives Matter movement was begun in response to police shootings of black people. Although it began with the laudable goal of preserving black lives, the movement has gone astray by promoting a false narrative based on identity politics.
The false narrative is that black people are routinely targeted by police for the sole reason that they are black. This applies to police stops, automobile violations, arrests and police shootings.
According to this narrative, police target blacks because they are racist. Black Lives Matter rails against institutional racism, a racist society, and complicit and uncaring white people.
The strangest accusation is that police “killers” are often motivated by implicit bias. The implicit bias claim is that white people discriminate against minorities, even though they do not intend to do so and are, in fact, unaware of their prejudice. But the very notion of implicit bias is nonsense. Is such discrimination and prejudice possible?
The Black Lives Matter narrative has a life of its own, impervious to facts. At least two large national research studies have shown that white police are not more likely than black police to shoot black suspects. That logically rules out racism as a motivation for shootings of black suspects.
A study of traffic stops on New Jersey highways showed that blacks are indeed stopped more frequently than whites. But contrary to the claims of the identity warriors, that is because blacks are more likely than whites to exceed the speed limit.
Black crime rates are consistently and dramatically higher than comparable rates among whites. The racial divergence is so large that biased policing cannot account for the difference. To a rational observer, higher crime rates in a community logically lead to higher rates of police stops and other police interventions, even in the absence of biased cops.
And yet, Black Lives Matter has supported a “put upon” culture among blacks.
The Alphabet Soup Warriors
Recently a group of Democratic Party presidential candidates appeared at an Equality Town Hall. Contrary to the implication of equality in the title of the meeting, the forum was actually about drilling the candidates to see if they have the “correct” policy views toward LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) people as demanded by the identity warriors.
In the spirit of “inclusion” the identity warriors insist that the acronym must be expanded to include an ever-widening list of those who are put upon—-for example, non-binaries, gender-nonconforming, and questioning. Just coming up with a list—-any list—-carries with it the danger that a mandatory initial will be omitted, subjecting the presenter to social disapproval and negative consequences.
No one can deny that sexual minorities have suffered marginalization, discrimination and violence at the hands of the wider society. Thus, this first-ever national Town Hall for LGBTQ concerns is a good thing.
On the other hand, the Town Hall was an example of “put upon” culture. Some of the discourse was downright mean spirited. For example, one participant, a black transgender woman, grabbed the microphone from the hands of an audience member who was asking a question of one of the candidates. She yelled, “Black trans women are dying….our lives matter. I am an extraordinary black trans woman, and I deserve to be here.”
Had anyone suggested she had no right to be there? Did her oppressed status justify grabbing the microphone and preventing another person from speaking? What will happen if every person who feels aggrieved decides that the rules of decorum do not apply to him or her?
A news story describing the Town Hall noted that in 2018 there were 26 deaths (presumably murders) of transgender people in the US, most of whom were black. But does this figure justify the claim that black transgenders are disproportionately targeted? Although accurate statistics are hard to come by, data suggest that 0.6% of the US population identify as transgender. That works out to almost two million transgender persons in the US. If 26 have been killed in 2018, that represents 0.000013 of the total transgender population, hardly an indication of mass killings.
It is troubling that the preponderance of murdered transgenders are black. But that also reflects the preponderance of black victims among all murders. For example, in the US in 2016, the homicide rate among black victims was 20.44 per 100,000 people in the population. The comparable figure for whites was 2.96. In other words, blacks are murdered at a rate almost seven times that of whites.
None of these facts matter when identity groups compete for the most deserving identity status—-that is, the most “put upon”.
In the Town Hall, the Democratic presidential candidates committed themselves to the following policies: to appoint transgender and gender-nonconforming people to the courts and to the national cabinet; withhold foreign aid to countries that condone discrimination against LGBTQ people; withhold federal money from non-profit groups and schools that do not recognize same-sex couples; rescind the policy that prevents military veterans from receiving insurance coverage for sex reassignment surgeries; and overturn current “overly broad” religious exemptions to policies that prohibit discrimination against LGBTQs.
These policies pander to the demands of the identity warriors. Many are unrealistic, divisive and harmful to the country. They raise troubling questions.
Can a gender-nonconforming Secretary of State effectively represent US interests to conservative Muslim countries? Should the US abandon military aid to conservative countries like Egypt that fight radical Muslim extremists? Will conservative churches be forced to perform same-sex marriages even though this violates their religious freedom? Is sex reassignment surgery medical care or a lifestyle choice? Will taxpayers agree to pay for this?
The demands of “put upon” culture lead to policies that don’t make sense.
Toward Fairness to All
All people should be treated fairly. Government, business and civil society should respect the rights of people regardless of race, gender, personal identity and other factors that define who people are.
Racial minorities, women, sexual minorities and others should enjoy the same advantages and benefits as everyone else. Great advances have been achieved toward this goal as western democracies have become more fair to these groups.
But identity warriors aim to go beyond these advances in order to promote an agenda of special rights for the groups they favor.
The insistence of identity warriors on pushing a grievance culture negates any good they might do. By generating an ever growing list of aggrieved identities they have created a destructive social movement, one that sets group against group. They encourage group selfishness instead of cooperation. They promote false narratives that increase resentments and conflict among competing groups. They support a “put upon” culture that always causes conflict and never resolution.
It is time to rethink identity politics.
- Far from being associated solely with contemporary black people, dreadlocks have their origins in the ancient world. Some of the earliest depictions of dreadlocks are from ancient European civilizations. Other depictions come from the Near East, Asia Minor, Caucasus and North Africa.
See “Dreadlocks,” Wikipedia, Retrieved October 14, 2019 from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreadlocks#Origins