I don’t mean to come off as suggesting we ignore individual or group identities. Or that it would even possible to do so if we wanted to. I do suggest we subsume our individual and collective identities under the banner of humanity/human rights. I think the error identity politics makes is it prioritizes the identity over the humanity. It also often assumes that potential allies from other groups can’t possibly understand or truly sympathize with the experience of the group in question. The history of slavery, for example, is a human story, not just an African-American one. It includes white supremacy and black oppression, but it also includes white abolitionists and black freedom fighters. If we make the story only about one group, we risk alienating the very people we’ll need on our side to create a more just society. So I’m not suggesting we whitewash history. I’m suggesting we expand it to include everyone involved, and that we recognize neither whites nor blacks played a simple monolithic role in the tale.

In short, by taking identity too seriously we undermine the very struggle for equality we claim to be promoting. I think Whitman is an example of both an expansive inclusive identity (identifying with as opposed to identifying as), and an example of a proportional understanding of identity. By not taking himself too seriously, he could relate with people from all walks of life in ways few people at the time could. This enabled him to include African-Americans, women, and other oppressed or overlooked groups in his poetry while other poets/authors at the time often only spoke about men, and typically only/largely from a European white perspective.

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US citizen residing in British Columbia, Canada. Degrees include anthropology and environmental studies. Activism, politics, science, nature.

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