For definition’s sake, identity politics activists are those people who have been misled by political opportunists to self-Balkanize. They have sectioned themselves off from national community by race, religion, gender, etc. and identify, first and foremost, with that tunnel-visioned caricature of themselves.
Because they identify with a pigeon-holed view of their own identity, they ignore the fact that they have more in common with people outside their perceived demographic than not. Everyone wants a safe place to live, opportunity, a better life for their children, prosperity and a sense that their lives mean something; have purpose. We, as Americans (as all human being, really) share those desires. That makes us simpatico; symbiotic with each other. But for our national community to reap the benefits of this symbiosis, we must first recognize and accept it, identifying it as part of our culture instead of the other way around.
That said, when a person accepts the symbiotic relationship of a national community, they accept that they will not necessarily see everything in the same light. One person’s prairie path is another person’s patch of weeds. But because we take ownership in that symbiotic national community we realize that our right to “throw a punch” ends before our fist touches someone else’s nose. This is where accepting – or acknowledging – things we may not agree with become teachable moments. And this is where the identity politics activist goes off the rails.
The people who are aggressively protesting the existence of Confederate memorials, toppling statues and even insisting on the rewording of memorials dedicated to our Founding Fathers are missing a gigantic teachable moment opportunity. The ironic thing here is that these are the same people who have been insisting we need a national conversation, a national dialog, about race in this country. The opportunity is here, presenting itself, but by their totalitarian and indignant actions – fueled by their identity politics, they are fomenting a greater divide amongst the people, and just when the opportunity for greater understanding and unity presents.
Citizens who reject identity politics and embrace symbiotic national community, regardless of whether someone is proud of their race, religion, gender, what have you – and regardless of their opinion of said object in question, should be able to point to that object and expound on its meaning to them -- favorable or not -- without feeling the need to expunge it; destroy it; erase it from history.
A proud Black American should be able to look honestly at a Confederate monument and explain – to anyone – the history surrounding that monument and what it means to them. The Jewish people keep the horrific memory of the Holocaust alive in the phrase “never again” – and through the preservation of sites like Auschwitz and Birkenau, so that the atrocity of mass genocide might never be perpetrated on their people again. So, too, should Black Americans see the worth – the teachable moment – in keeping Confederate monuments in place as reminders of the atrocities of the past; so that the memory of the slave era is never expunged from the American lexicon.
Identity politics activists who force the expulsion of these monuments from the public square, simply because they “feel” offended by their existence – and weak-kneed politicians who cave to their pressure solely for political longevity, run the very real risk of society rendering the knowledge of the slave era to obscurity. This is especially true in a day and age where zero importance is placed on US History and Civics in our schools. That relegation to historical obscurity cheats the national community – and the future members of that national community – out of growing intellectually and striving to evolve from past social status quos.
Did Thomas Jefferson own slaves? Yes, he did. But he also authored the most important document affecting freedom and liberty for all humanity; a document that allows for today’s protests to even take place. An examination of that paradox is warranted over the demonization of the man and his memory for his acquiescence to the norms of the day, no matter how atrocious they may seem through today’s identity politics ideological lens. The same can be said of Robert E. Lee, George Washington, John Adams, and the overwhelming majority of the Founders and Framers who all existed as abolitionists but advanced today’s freedoms to reality within the abilities of their day.
So too, then, should we embrace the opportunity to remember and examine all notable figures throughout history, reminded of them – good or bad – through the existence of memorials and monuments. To remove these opportunities of teachable moments is, necessarily, to condemn the future to the possibility of making the same mistakes of the past, and that makes the whole of the national community slaves to ignorance.