Politics & the New Racism

Politicians who subscribe to identity politics see little problem with pigeon-holing individuals into belief patterns based on their group identity, on the assumption that someone's skin color, ethnic origin, sex, or sexual proclivities ought to determine his or her political beliefs. For example, last year Democratic Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts went on television and announced,

We don't need any more brown faces that don't want to be a brown voice. We don't need black faces that don't want to be a black voice. We don't need Muslims that don't want to be a Muslim voice. We don't need queers that don't want to be a queer voice.

Responding to these comments in Tablet magazine, journalist James Kirchick observed that Pressley's identity politics differed little from classic racism: "Insisting that someone with a 'brown' or 'black' face must endorse a set of ideological precepts (presumably dictated by Ayanna Pressley)—in other words, that one's skin color ought to determine how one thinks and acts—is textbook racism."

And Pressley is hardly an isolated case. Pigeon-holing people's viewpoints and politics based on their race is now the routine practice in most American institutions, from government to academia to the corporate world and beyond, thanks to so-called equity policies. The rationale behind such policies is basically this: The different races all have their own perspectives; therefore, in order to have access to all these perspectives, we need to put policies in place that ensure that all racial groups are represented in our agency/university/corporation and that each group's perspective is respected and accommodated.

This theory might make some sense if the members of each racial group, absent any force or influence exerted from outside, actually did incline to think and act uniformly, but this is far from the case. As Jordan Peterson observed in an interview, the idea that there is such a thing as a "black voice" or a "brown voice" is "a pernicious philosophy because it's predicated on the idea that the way someone thinks is inextricably tied with their group identity." In another interview, he warned that dividing people up into such groups leads to "an enhancement of our tribal proclivities."

Conditions for Tribalism

Peterson's point about tribes is crucial. Human societies have always struggled against sliding toward either of two equally bad poles: the tendency to break up into competing tribes, on the one hand, and the tendency to succumb to totalitarianism for maintaining social cohesion, on the other. Historically, nations have been able to avoid these extremes because their common memories, customs, symbols, myths, legends, and social institutions have held them together and acted as a hedge against both tribalism and the rigid conformity of totalitarianism.

In its most rigorous and consistent form, classical liberalism de-emphasizes or ignores the cultural-symbolic underpinnings of civil society while attempting to secularize public life. This often results in a materialism in which the sense of transcendence comes to rest with the state. But this creates a dangerous vacuum, because the state itself cannot embody the basic building blocks necessary for national cohesion. A secular society offers little fertile ground for the type of roots that humans innately long for, while materialism creates the kind of isolated individualism that leaves men and women without a healthy sense of community.

To fill this vacuum, people inevitably fall back on their most basic and primitive bonds. As they start looking at race and ethnicity to fulfill their need for identity and cohesion, it becomes easy to revert to a raw tribalism, with all its undesirable effects—including racism.

is the author of Saints and Scoundrels (Canon Press) and has a Ph.M. in history from King’s College, London. He is currently working on a Master’s in library science through the University of Oklahoma. He works as a freelance writer and researcher for a variety of publications and operates a blog at www.robinmarkphillips.com.

This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #52, Spring 2020 Copyright © 2020 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/article/salvo52/tribal-forces