Identity Politics created Charlottesville

One of the largest displays of white supremacy and general bigotry in the 21st century was exhibited in Charlottesville, Virginia, six weeks ago. Members of various white supremacist groups under the umbrella term “alt-right” gathered to protest the removal of a statue of the Confederate General Robert E. Lee after this was voted upon by the Charlottesville City Council earlier this year. The protest tragically resulted in the death of a counter-protester when a driver ran her over with his car.

White Supremacists on the University of Virginia campus. Credit: Edu Bayer for The New York Times

As a nation, we haven’t seen such a raw, unabashed display of hatred at this magnitude since the civil rights movement. It also pulled the wool from over the eyes of millions of Americans who were fooling themselves into believing that white supremacist views were near-extinct. It is important to remember that these repugnant views belong to a miniscule minority of  white Americans, as this specific hate is taught by vengeful people desperately trying to cling to a past that no longer exists, a past that can never be allowed to exist again.

But the question many Americans are asking is not why white supremacists possess their hatred, but why they choose to express it now. The alt-right itself blames non-whites for forcing them to this point, the actual right blames the protestors themselves and the left blames President Trump. But these explanations are only skin-deep; they don’t uncover the root of the problem.

In reality, the largest enabler of these hateful expressions is the systematic division of America caused by identity politics. For nearly half a century, the left has been dividing America into dehumanized categories of skin color, gender and sexuality. More often than not, if you fall under “white,” “man” or “straight” (the alt-right’s base of support), you are labeled “bad,” “evil” or, at best, “not good” for crimes that someone who looks like you committed. What we see now is the alt-right playing the game that the mainstream Democratic Party has been playing for years – it’s just reversing the roles and taking new extreme, unacceptable measures.

The difference between the left and right’s use of identity politics is that it is institutionalized on the left and not on the right. While the Republican Party is certainly divisive and plays its own games, it hasn’t campaigned on “men’s issues,” “white issues” or “straight rights” (granted, we live in a society where those are non-issues) the way the Democratic Party has campaigned to divide people on women’s issues, non-white issues and LGBT rights.

While the vast majority of us (Americans at large, but specifically straight, white men such as myself) know that men’s, white and straight issues are in fact non-issues, there is a growing sense of stolen identity amongst these alt-righters. While the rest of us may have legitimate concerns about the application of affirmative action, alt-righters simply see any advancement and suffrage of non-whites as the taking of rights that they believe belong solely to straight, white men.

These white supremacist beliefs have been held by our society since the Arabs began exporting African slaves to Europe. These beliefs will most likely never die despite our best efforts to move forward as a society. Identity politics is not the cause of these beliefs. But, as does the process of systematically dividing people to more easily control them, identity politics has undoubtedly encouraged disenchanted alt-righters to embrace these views.

When you constantly categorize people by something which they cannot control such as race, gender or sexuality and then tell them that they are either the “right” or “wrong” kind of person based on that (which is the same mentality that enabled slavery and the suppression of women’s rights for too long in our past), you shouldn’t be surprised when they do the same to you. That’s akin to kicking a dog – an ugly, barbarous cur as it may be – and complaining that it bit you in return.