The term identity politics has been thrown in political discussions many times. However, it’s mostly used on a negative context and this is not right. People who want to argue against this concept paint it as a bad thing. As a matter of fact, Tim Farron, former leader of the UK’s Liberal Democrats, for instance, called identity politics a “poison.” He is not the only one in the current political class around the world to speak about identity politics with disgust. There are even some politicians who have equated identity politics to fascism. Some have called it the new centrism, populism, neoliberalism, and even Blairism.
But it’s important to understand the specific dimensions of identity politics. For instance, there’s no way identity politics can be viewed as fascism because these are two totally different things. Let’s first start with a basic definition. First, an identity is simply how someone sees themselves. The image is a social construct and is made up of many things. It could be your religion, the sports you love, the kind of job you do. All these factors contribute to how you view yourself or your identity.
Identity politics based on this is, therefore, a brand of politics that simply focuses on our image or who we are. But isn’t politics about who we are? If that’s the case, it’s easy to declare all forms of identity politics simply because of the fact that they are about people and the way they see themselves. Some scholars have even argued that all forms of politics involve some form of identity.
People will also react if their identity is threatened. Let’s take the issue of Brexit, for example. On face value, Brexit has largely been driven by economic issues. Some in the UK feel that they are not getting from the EU as much as they are giving. But the underlying factor in all these economic arguments comes down to identity. Issues of open borders and the idea of morphing your country into one large block have raised fears of identity loss. Many in the UK have even felt the disruptive nature of this loss as their country has become more entangled in the EU. Their reaction to this kind of disruption is therefore Brexit.
Even as the political class tarnishes identity politics, it is clear that this is something that a lot of voters and other average citizens care about. Despite this, some scholars have also argued that there’s a good and a bad way of doing identity politics. Instead of focusing on aspects of our identity that make us different from others, perhaps a better way would be to look at the attributes that make us similar. In fact, the politics of identity right now tend to focus more on exclusivity. This is the reason why identity politics have been termed divisive and even hateful at times.
Besides, there’s also a need to explore more on what this concept means and its implications on modern politics. But sadly, it seems many mainstream politicians and the media are more focused on putting this down than understanding it.