A while ago, I was accused (or, more accurately, diagnosed) by one of my friends of subscribing to identity politics because I like Hillary Clinton. My indignation of such an accusation has not yet entirely dissipated, and that is partially because I like Hillary Clinton for a variety of reasons wholly separate from her gender and partially because claiming someone has engaged or is engaging in identity politics is a way of diminishing their opinion. Claiming that I engage in identity politics is a way of silencing me, and my experience. It is a way of dismissing my view and my concerns and my point, because if all of those things are intrinsically linked to my being a woman and my politician being a woman, obviously I have very little of substance. That angers me, as a feminist, as a political junkie, as a voter, and as a citizen of the United States. I know why I like Hillary; I know why I like Barack Obama. And to claim that someone knows better than I strikes deeply of paternalism and signifies a deep lack of respect for me as not only a woman but as an informed individual. Why do I bring this up now? Well, because Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama has opened up a shitstorm of controversy, much of it aimed at the idea that of course Powell endorsed Obama. After all, they are both black. Colin Powell has been hit with the same diminishing stick I have been hit with previously. And what offends me more than being treated as something of a brainless wonder who merely follows her ovaries to a woman politician is how the people who dare label others with the identity politics stick never seem to check their own privilege.
White men have the luxury of rarely having their reason for voting one way or the other be determined by the fact that they share testicles and skin color with the politician of their choice, both because white male politicians are ubiquitous in politics but also because being a white male is the default. It is a position of power whose biases have gained a certain amount of invisibility. If a white man is voting for John McCain, there is not a media-wide *wink-wink, nudge-nudge* about it. We do not quibble over whether or not Joe Lieberman endorsed John McCain out of racial solidarity, even though Lieberman has a liberal domestic policy record, even though he supports abortion rights and the rights of homosexuals to adopt and to be protected from hate crimes. We accept that Joe Lieberman and John McCain are friends; we accept that Joe Lieberman has chosen to support McCain because he honestly and genuinely believes a McCain presidency would be the best thing for our nation. That is a privilege Colin Powell, another isle crosser, has not been afforded. That is something women for Hillary were not afforded. That is something African-Americans supporting Obama have not been afforded. It has seemingly been forgotten that African-Americans have long been a solid base for Democrats; it has also seemingly been forgotten, what with all the accusations flying around about PUMAs, that if Barack Obama loses this election (though that is becoming more and more a faint possibility), it won't be the women voters' fault but the white men who support Barack Obama to the tune of 33-37%. Obama is roughly splitting white women's votes, like Al Gore before him. But it will not be the white men who are blamed. The meme has been set for white women to take the fall; white men's negative impact very rarely enters into the media's consciousness, let alone the general public's consciousness, when it comes time to discuss the polling. White men are afforded that; white men are deemed to concentrate on more important things than gender or race. They have a leg up on women and African-Americans in that for every election until this one, both of the major parties have had white men at the top of the ticket. White men do not have to question whether or not they are playing identity politics, because even if they are it is indistinguishable due to that fact.
I often wonder if men may play the identity politics game more often than not; it seems that women and African-Americans would be more used to looking beyond who we look like, or who we share procreative organs with. We often have to find some other reason to vote for the candidate, even if it is as simple as figuring out which of the two white men we would most want to have a beer with. When Pat Robertson accuses Colin Powell of engaging in identity politics and only endorsing Obama because of the shared color of their skin, I wonder if Robertson will vote for McCain in this election because of the shared color of their skin. I wonder if the reason some white men are so quick to cry identity politics is because they suspect they see something reflecting in others they recognize in themselves. That is actually the same question I have with some conservatives, who talk about the Democrats being corrupt while they shove military contracts toward Haliburton. I have the same question about Democrats and gun restrictions, and whether they want to keep guns out of people's hands because they recognize what they could potentially do if they owned one.
Mostly, though, my view of the identity politics cry is that it is a simple and easy way to discredit someone else's argument, opinion, and experience. It is like a weird game of chicken; whoever cries "identity politics" first wins. A professor I had used to comment that once something became a moral argument, there was no use arguing it any more, because a line had been irreparably drawn in the sand; once someone says something is morally right - or morally wrong - the argument is stymied. Same too in this way. The clarion cry of identity politics is often not a genuine and analytical assessment, no matter what those trumpeting it will claim. It reveals an inherent bias, and a will to shut down discussion; it undermines the conversation, and allows the crier to reign on top, his credentials unquestioned and his motives found pure from such dastardly motive.