Identity politics thrives on division

by Charles Davenport Jr.

Conservatives have long argued that the cornerstones of the Democratic Party’s social policy – multiculturalism, diversity, race and gender consciousness – are inherently divisive, contrary to the national interest and potentially dangerous. The contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton has illustrated quite vividly the destructive, faction-making function of race and gender politics.

Many of us cringe, for instance, every time Barack Obama is described as an “African American.” Obviously, there is nothing wrong with being proud of one’s heritage, but most American citizens (including many blacks) consider themselves simply that: Americans. We need not advertise our ancestry by identifying ourselves as Irish-American, German-American and the like.

Conservatives are uncomfortable with the politics of race and gender, not because we are racist or misogynist, but because the principles and ideals to which we adhere are oblivious to such superficialities. Race and gender are not paramount concerns. In our view, Sen. Obama is an American who happens to be black – not an “African American.” Likewise, the fact that Sen. Clinton is a female is irrelevant. We oppose her because, like Obama, she is a liberal. In fact, we oppose every candidate that endorses socialist policies, regardless of gender and ethnicity.

Regarding his identity as African American, Sen. Obama told The New York Times that he is “comfortable with that description” because it is a “hybrid term. African-Americans are a hybrid people. We’re mingled with African culture and Native American culture and European culture.” We can only wonder if the senator would take offense at simply being called an American, a term that disregards ethnic minutiae and suggests (contrary to the ideology of identity politics) that Americans share a common culture.

The divisiveness of identity politics is not a myth fabricated by the vast right-wing conspiracy. Bella English described the squabbling of factions within the Democratic Party last month in The Boston Globe, hardly a bastion of traditionalist opinion: “Women have been called traitors if they don’t support Clinton. Black women have been called traitors if they don’t support Obama. The opposite is also true,” English writes: “White women say they’ve been made to feel racist for not supporting Obama, while black women have been made to feel disloyal for not supporting the female candidate.”

Call us old fashioned, but conservatives vote for the best candidate, regardless of race and gender.

Speaking at the Democratic National Convention four years ago, Barack Obama said, “I stand here today grateful for the diversity of my heritage.” Why, then, was there such outrage last month over a photo of Obama clad in Kenyan tribal garb? The image depicts the very diversity and (oxymoronic) multiculturalism that, ordinarily, Democrats insist that we “celebrate.” Inexplicably, however, the Obama campaign not only accused the Clinton camp of digging up and releasing the photo, but also called the tactic “shameful, offensive fear-mongering.”

The Democrats cannot simultaneously deliver sanctimonious lectures on their embrace of diversity and then take offense when someone dares to illustrate a candidate’s multicultural background. Such is the quicksand of identity politics.

Charles Davenport Jr. is a freelance writer in Greensboro. He writes a twice-monthly column for the News & Record. E-mail him at