Friday, February 1, 2008

Conservative Identity Politics- Weapons of Mass Projection

Some of you may have noticed that a new blog label has appeared on the righthand list of Fannie's Room blog labels: Weapons of Mass Projection. This series arose after I became fed up with conservative/Christian/anti-gay mass projection. Projection is a pretty common psychological defense mechanism- one that all of us probably use to some extent. But, I must say that I've really noticed that vocal conservatives of the far-right variety tend to use this mechanism to a disturbingly high degree. (Take a walk through my Hypocrisy Hall of Shame for several examples).

For purposes of this series, I am using the word "projection" in this sense: The conservative's act of attributing his or her own thoughts or actions onto others while being blind to the fact the thoughts or actions are his or her own.

The examples of conservative projection are abundant, and you are probably aware of many of them. We've all seen fundamentalist Christians claim that non-Christians are seeking to oppress them (even though some of these Christians are seeking to oppress non-Christians). We see evangelical Christians claim that that gay people are seeking to recruit children (even though evangelical Christians are the ones seeking to recruit children).

I should also note that me pointing out these examples of projection isn't simply a case of me saying "I know you are, but what am I?" For, even if what conservatives say about "us" is true (as it is in my example below), projection is troubling because it indicates an extreme lack of self-awareness and an abundance of self-righteousness. While they moralize about the behavior of others they, hypocritically, see no internal conflict with the fact that they engage in exactly the same behavior- precisely because they do not see their behavior for what it is.

Today, I want to talk about one timely and prominent Conservative Weapon of Mass Projection:

"Black people/Women/LGBT people/[insert minority group] are playing an identity politics game by joining together on the basis of their shared identity and demanding rights."

The term "identity politics" has, these days, taken on a pejorative connotation. When people invoke the term in the context of elections, it is usually done by White people, men, and/or heterosexuals and usually means "[Minority candidate] is unfairly using his or her race/gender/sexual orientation to gain an advantage."

Why is the conservative claim that minorities unfairly band together to play identity politics problematic?

For the same reason that claims that Hillary Clinton has unfairly "played the gender card" are problematic.

Both claims are Weapons of Mass Projection.

Even if minoritiess band together on the basis of a shared identity, so do conservatives- including Whites, Christians, men, and/or heterosexuals. Yet, when white, conservative, anti-gay, and/or religious persons band together and form a voting bloc on the basis of their shared identities and beliefs, it's considered politics as usual. When LGBT persons, women, or racial minorities do it, the opposition labels it "identity politics." Yet, to use one recent example, the political organizing of fundamentalist Christians and anti-gay advocates meets the very definition of identity politics.

For, although these groups are larger than most "minority" groups, they claim to be oppressed. Some Christians claim that the "state," "secularists," and/or "non-Christians" are oppressing (fundamentalist) Christians. Some anti-gay bigots claim that LGBT people, even though LGBT people are in the minority, are oppressing heterosexuals and "families." Such persons view themselves as groups of oppressed people who shared certain beliefs and experiences. In the case of fundamentalist Christians, they form a large and powerful voting bloc on the very basis of their Christian identities! How is that anything other than identity politics? (And no, I generally don't really believe that Christians and anti-gay advocates are oppressed.)

Do these groups, who so eagerly label minority organizing as "identity politics," not label their actions as "identity politics" because they see their identities as The Authentic and Standard Human Experience? (Much like Hillary Clinton is accused of "playing the gender card" for daring to allude to the fact that she could be the first ever woman President in the US, even though male candidates play up their manly-man-ness all the time and have always done so, yet their doing so is just politics as usual.)

Social conservatives recognize their "oppression," and form groups, advocate for change, and garner support all on the basis of being "American" (Which some groups have changed the definition of to mean only social conservatives), "Pro-Family" (Which is a code word for married heterosexual two-parent families)" or Christian" (Which some groups have the changed the definition of to mean only Evangelical Christians).

This phenomenon is similar to the way in which some conservatives believe that their values are "American" values and any value that is not conservative is un-American. They see their identities and experience as The Human Experience around which all "other" human experiences revolve. In essence, the white, conservative, anti-gay, heterosexual, Christian see themselves as "without" identity- as the norm. And what follows from this "lack" of identity, of course, is that the organizing of those without identity could never be considered "identity" politics.

To end, I am admittedly and immediately suspicious of anyone who invokes the phrase "identity politics" to imply unfairness in debate, organizing, or politics. To see one group's way of politics as the norm, and any "other" group's exact same way of organizing as unfair identity politics is an exercise in privilege and narcissism.

Ultimately, the "identity politics" cry is about fear. It's about one group having real power, and another group trying to silence minority groups and keep them from demanding their rights based on their very real and shared group oppression. Is there a better way to keep minorities from demanding their rights as a group than to say it is unfair for them to demand their rights as a group?

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