There is nothing progressive about identity politics
When did supporting colour-blindness, gay rights and women’s liberation become a right-wing position?
We need to stop saying identity politics, wokeness, or whatever else we want to call it, is progressive. We need to stop referring to the people who are actively reviving racial, misogynistic and homophobic thinking – under the guide of being ‘racially aware’ and ‘trans inclusive’ – as left-wing radicals. They are anything but. These people are reactionaries and bigots. And it’s high time we started naming them as such.
All this was brought into sharp relief this past week or so. First, with the monumental US Supreme Court ruling striking down affirmative action in university admissions.
Everyone sane knew it had to go. This system, set up to boost the prospects of the descendents of American slaves, disadvantaged by generations of oppression, had become utterly dysfunctional – benefitting only a sliver of well-to-do black Americans, many of them first- or second-generation immigrants, who therefore had no familial connection to the evils of US slavery and segregation.
Worse than that, it was justifying the most grotesque racial discrimination. The biggest victims of this were Asian Americans. Too many of them were getting the grades to get into the Ivy League, they were way above their allotted quotas, and so the racial bean-counters at top colleges cooked up increasingly crude and racist measures in order to push the numbers down.
This led to the most perverse trade-offs, which no one could reasonably defend. As Wilfred Reilly put it pointedly on spiked this week, ‘affirmative action in practice often involved the well-fed son of a Jamaican American or Colombian American dentist being given a 300-point test-score advantage over the daughter of a Vietnamese immigrant shopkeeper’.
It had become abundantly clear that these race-based policies were distracting attention away from the class inequalities that blight Americans of all skin pigmentations – inequalities that are left completely untouched by shuffling the deck a bit at elite colleges. What’s more, they were giving a leg-up to wealthy black and Hispanic kids at the cost of the truly disadvantaged.
And yet, the response to the striking down of this dysfunctional and discriminatory system has been one of hysteria among the cultural elites. The Supreme Court ruling has been mourned by self-identified liberals, progressives and even socialists as a win for ‘racism’ and ‘white supremacy’ – even though its most immediate beneficiaries will be Asians.
Affirmative action wasn’t the brainchild of woke activists, of course. As Kevin Yuill points out, it was introduced by one Richard Nixon as a ‘technocratic solution to racial tensions’. But it has certainly become a sacred policy for a woke American left that now openly insists, in the words of Ibram X Kendi, that ‘the only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination’ – and that Kingian colour-blindness is actually a bigots’ charter.
These people have disappeared so far up the fundament of racial identity politics that they now see discrimination as equality and colour-blindness as racism – and a ruling that insists students be judged by the content of their character rather than the colour of their skin as a victory for white supremacy.
If you needed any more proof that contemporary anti-racism has utterly lost its way, drink this in. These people are now the primary political force that is promoting racial thinking, racial consciousness, racial discrimination even, in Western public life today. And yet somehow they still get away with posing as the inheritors of the civil-rights movement.
If you’re a gender-critical feminist, this may all sound faintly familiar – for an almost identical con trick is now being pulled off by ‘LGBT+’ activists. For years now, women’s rights and spaces have been violated in the name of trans inclusion. Plus, a vicious homophobia has been unleashed against those who dare to insist that being gay means being attracted to someone of the same sex rather than the same ‘gender identity’.
This brings us away from America and affirmative action and to another – much less historic, but no less revealing – legal battle that has just concluded in the UK.
On Thursday, the LGB Alliance – the only UK charity focussed solely on same-sex-attracted people – successfully defended its charity status at a tribunal. Mermaids, a controversial trans-youth charity, had launched a legal challenge aimed at stripping the LGB Alliance of its charitable privileges on the grounds that it was ‘impeding the work of registered charities that work for the benefit of transgender people’.
In truth, this was a thinly veiled attempt to silence a formidable opponent. The leaders of the LGB Alliance, themselves veterans of the gay-liberation movement, are trenchant critics of gender ideology. They have bravely exposed the homophobia underpinning much of today’s trans activism, from the pressure it heaps on gay and gender-nonconforming kids to ‘transition’ to the pressure it heaps on lesbians to sleep with biological, be-penised males who ‘identify’ as women and lesbians.
Thankfully, the judges on the tribunal panel saw right through it. The LGB Alliance has been vindicated. And Mermaids has left itself exposed to more than just charges of hypocrisy, complaining about being ‘silenced’ by a charity that it was actively trying to close down. The tribunal led to a harsh light being shone on its own practices. In December, a statutory inquiry was opened into Mermaids, amid allegations it had sent breast-binders to girls behind their parents’ backs.
But this victory came at some cost. The LGB Alliance had to raise and spend £250,000 to fight for its very existence – money it could have spent on campaigning. It was also emotionally gruelling at times. At one of the hearings, LGB Alliance co-founder Kate Harris broke down when she was asked to define what a lesbian is. This veteran of gay-rights politics was essentially being asked to defend the notion that lesbians – that is, biological females who are attracted exclusively to biological females – actually exist. This is how much trans ideology has deranged us.
Shamefully, this campaign to shut down a gay-rights organisation – indeed one of the few organisations that is still devoted to gay rights – was cheered on every step of the way by ‘LGBT+’ activists, those who see themselves as the successors to the Stonewall rebels and the Gay Liberation Front. That Bev Jackson, another LGB Alliance co-founder, was also a co-founder of the Gay Liberation Front never seemed to phase her haters.
There is this idea among sections of the anti-woke, ‘post-liberal’ right of political commentary that gender ideology is the logical endpoint of progressivism. That casually sterilising kids and putting male rapists in women’s prisons is just left-wingers doing what left-wingers have always done – throwing off the old, in quest of liberation, regardless of the consequences.
This has always struck me as bullshit. Being left-wing doesn’t mean welcoming almost any radical change to how society is organised, no matter how demented it is. There is also nothing progressive about believing that up is down and 2 + 2 = 5. Nor is there anything liberatory about gender ideology – a movement that has essentially been built on censoring dissenters. It is a campaign not for liberation, but for validation and recognition.
The truth is much simpler. Namely, that this thing we call wokeness, while it might present itself as progressive and left-wing, is really just bigoted, reactionary ideas about race, gender and sexuality, dolled up for the 21st century. All those accusations of racism, homophobia and misogyny, flung by identitarians with increasing abandon over recent years, were just one big, wailing act of projection.
The wokesters may not realise it, but in the fight for a truly anti-racist, egalitarian society they are firmly on the wrong side. The side that mourns the demise of racial discrimination in universities and campaigns tooth and nail to get gay-rights groups shut down. Whatever we might want to call these people, ‘progressive’ really isn’t it.
Tom Slater is editor of spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Slater_
Picture by: Getty.
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