Identity Politics Ripping US Apart
The present troubles in the US have been growing for some time. And it is widely recognised that internal divisions are exacerbated by so-called “identity politics”.
Identity politics normally signifies a form of politics that aims to secure the political freedom of specific groups of people, like minority races and marginalised factions that are not represented by dominant elites. It has been claimed to be important in raising issues of discrimination or inequality felt by particular “identities” in society, which would not ordinarily be addressed by political parties.
Recently—and certainly since the 2016 election of Donald Trump—identity politics has been associated with the extremes of the liberal versus conservative divide. Writing in The Guardian in the UK, columnist Kenan Malik balances the blame on both sides. He points out that in Europe the right is obsessed with immigration while the left is blind to the consequences of the politics of identity. Author David French, in an article in America’s National Review sums up the situation when he says identity politics are ripping us apart.
Given the growing disrespect that opposing sides have for each other, it is important to pause and reflect more deeply on how the West might move forward in a way that brings stability to social relationships. The present pandemic has given us an opportunity to break from the frenetic pace of life that has plagued our societies. Let us take advantage of the forced intermission.
“Identity politics” is a composite catchphrase. Most of us have no difficulty understanding the “politics” side of the term. “Identity” is a different matter. This word has lost its meaning because it is indefinable (at least it was until recently). And, if “identity” cannot be defined, the composite expression is also obscure. A term like “marginal politics” would be more suitable.
The purpose of this article is to show that the new paradigm of identity here has the potential to align thinking in a way that overcomes the confusion that society has with the term “identity” and can thereby make an enormous contribution to the debate on the issues that currently divide our world—particularly racism.
New Identity Classifier
The disassociation between our underlying genetic structures and our understanding of human differences, question most diagnostic tools we use to classify ourselves. And if our outward systems of classification are suspect, then it is imperative to disband them in favour of the one method that provides the most fundamental understanding of who we are: namely DNA. Human genetics is the new classifier.
We often categorize humans on appearances, which can be deceptive. This is especially relevant regarding questions about “race”. A case in point is skin colour. Over long periods of time certain genes were turned on or off in the peoples who wandered north across upper latitudes after mankind exited from Africa. Certain pigments disappeared in those who travelled farthest from the sun as selection forces tended to grade our hue according to distance from the equator.
For this reason, as Stephen Oppenheimer—author of Out of Eden— surmises, our colour has probably more to do with where our ancestors lived over the past 10 or 20 millennia than anything to do with genetic divergence over the previous 60,000 years. Colour is, therefore, not a good guide to our underlying DNA patterns.
The unique hub, to which all subsequent human characteristics trace their origin, was mankind’s “ancestral singularity” that came about in Africa some 150,000 to 200,000 years ago. This common point was a bottleneck in which the numbers of survivors had dwindled to near extinction. As a result, our genetic diversity is relatively narrow. Since then, every living human has arisen from the same protoplasmic flow over the surface of the globe.
Further changes may have come about, like the introduction of small amounts of DNA from non-modern humans (e.g. Neanderthals and Denisovans) who shared many of our attributes but didn’t survive along the evolutionary trajectory.
However, the sum of modifications within modern humans over space and time were never enough to remove genetic compatibility; they were never enough to create barriers to reproduction; they were never enough to make any of us into a separate species. Nothing severed the bond of our “communal identity”. Like it or not; we are one human family.
Origins of Racism
After modern humans spread out across and beyond their African homeland in amoeba-like flows around the globe, inevitable reencounters took place. The groups that split away from the beachcomber shore on the Arabian Sea, round 40,000 years ago, and made their way up the Indus River—in time arriving north of the Himalayas—encountered other groups that had come north on the far side of the same mountain mass. It is anyone’s guess how the meetings turned out. After such a long period of segregation, strangers would not recognise that they were distant cousins.
Relative advantages and disadvantages quickly became apparent among different groups. As a general principal, a society which had to overcome more obstacles in the course of their survival gained the upper hand over societies which existed without the same number of social, technological, biological and environmental challenges. For example, groups that had to face new threats on a continual basis while moving into cooler climates gained a range of advantages compared to those that remained in relatively static ecological environments.
Furthermore, societies that were closer to centres of technological developments gained over those that were more isolated. Historically, parts of Europe progressed at a faster pace than the rest of the world or outlying regions of the Continent. For example, the Roman Empire evolved more rapidly than isolated regions like Ireland.
Centres of innovation shifted towards northern Europe in post-Roman times and in modern history (e.g. the industrial revolution in Britain) giving the elites who were part of that advancement certainty that they belonged to a “superior race”. The corollary of this form of thinking was the view that the “other” who was comparative backward was fundamentally inferior.
In cases where appearances happened to be distinct (e.g. white versus those of colour) the attitude of superiority became based on skin colour. But other reasons had to be given to explain the presence of “racially inferior” whites. The obvious answer, as in the case of Nazi Germany, was to explain differences on the basis of substandard genetics. However, the Third Reich’s understanding of human genetics on the eve of the discovery of DNA by Francis Crick and James Watson was totally erroneous.
The Future of “Race”
Modern transportation has ensured that human cultures are overlapping with unprecedented speed. And although intersecting groups give rise to underlying “genetic flows” these streams tend to remain separate for a time because of cultural barriers and racial attitudes. However, intermixing is occurring at an accelerating pace and will continue to do so.
What is actually happening at a more fundamental level is the reunification and re-blending of the entire human genome as genetic appendages that have been long divided begin to interbreed with each other. Fresh blends of people are appearing on the planet’s surface within which the future shape of mankind is slowly becoming visible.
This process is set to continue until a fully blended society becomes the norm. It may take several hundred years to be achieved because deep-seated prejudices take time to break down. But, eventually, our current notions of “race” will appear nonsensical.
The New Identity
The current problems in the West represent—on a macro level—resistance to the re-blending of the human genome and the cultural upheavals that accompany it. Forces are aligning themselves in favour or against this trend and these forces have little sympathy for each other. Indeed, both camps tend to face one another with ever increasing intolerance that can only lead to further social unrest.
It is here that the new paradigm of objective or universal identity has a major contribution to make. It may not be able to defuse the social ills of the West in the short run, but it does change, in fundamental terms, the meaning of human identity. And this change, which overrides our mainly convoluted contemporary understandings of “identity”, shows that intrinsic divisions within humanity are untenable in scientific terms. In other words, the notion of racism, which is a mental perspective, is undermined by our knowledge that the human genome is a single entity.
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-  Malik, K. 2020. Beware the politics of identity. They help legitimise the toxic far right. The Guardian. here
-  French, D. 2016. Identity Politics Are Ripping Us Apart. National Review. here
-  Oppenheimer, S. 2004. Out of Eden. The peopling of the world. Robinson. London; p. 199.
-  Keogh, R. M. 2016. Shelter and Shadows. Our Own Identity; p. 155.