The Moulinex Reflex: Why Identity Politics Is Not the Answer

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The Moulinex Reflex: Why Identity Politics Is Not the Answer

Since childhood, I have known that belonging takes some bending. As an adult, I have learned that power lies with those who decide how much you must bend before you are allowed to belong. You can bend until you are blue in the face, but without recognition of your efforts - without the right to belong - you will continue being a label; "Muslim Lesbian Feminist," as I am repeatedly tagged.

In contemporary parlance, reducing individuals to aspects of their physical portfolios is called "identity politics." It is the belief that any one of our biological dimensions - sex, colour, ethnicity, (dis)ability, sexual orientation, age and, by extension, class and religion, provide a sufficiently solid foundation on which to form a community. More than fostering community, identity politicians often attempt to secure a political advantage for that trait which distinguishes their community. Beware the implications for democracy.

In its benign stage, identity politics can help us see through the platitude that ours is a meritocracy which rewards individuals for who they are and what they have achieved, not for who they know and what they have inherited, be it money, genitals or pigmentation. But being double-edged, identity politics too readily sweeps the unique truths about each of us under racial, sexual, economic and other generalizations. when that occurs, our individual dispositions and contradictions are obliterated for the sake of collective coherence. Ethnic cleansing anyone? Much of the world wades in the blood sucked by those who decree that individuals can have only one.

Although Canada is nowhere near Croatia (geographically or politically), our identity politicians sometimes raise the specter of the balkan minefield. Queubec sovereigntists paint their nationalism as strictly territorial, but by denying Aboriginal people own hopes for territorial independence - by insisting that First Nations be part of the same political state as the French - speaking nation Quebec sovereigntists are actually asserting the dominance of one ethnicity over another. Whether practiced by Quebec sovereigntists or by advocates of Aboriginal self government, whether it happens murderously or just militantly, when the externalities of our nations masquerade as windows into our individual soul, we are simplified. We are run through a strainer of assumptions and reduced to a bland pure. In that context, identity politics might be better termed the "Moulinex Reflex". This near - mechanical impulse to dice, slice and chop human beings into easily digestible quarters, or blend them into a uniform pulp, removes the choices to refine our perceptions of ourselves and others, which is the crux of belonging. At its democratic best, the Moulinex Reflex lets us choose which label we would prefer to be preserved in - not whether we would prefer to be bottled into one at all.

Thus, I sympathize when cultural studies scholar John Fekete assails identity politics as a "new primitivism." The Trent University professor, a former social activist, has no time for women - of - colour caucuses and Aboriginal assemblies because, he argues, identity politics "has no time for humankind". But Fejete should frown as fiercely on the no-so-new primitivism to which women of colour and Aboriginal people are responding: racism and sexism.

Throughout his searing 1994 polemic, Moral Panic, Fekete presumes that the only folks who play identity politics are the self-confessed oppressed - women, natives, people of colour, gays and lesbians, the poor, the disabled; in short, the captives of an overt group think. He fails to see that those who enforce common sense can be equally big on group bonds and biological one-upmanship.

In their 1996 bestseller Boom, Bust & Echo, demographer David Foot and journalist Daniel Stoffman insist that age and population trends can explain two-thirds of everything. …