“I Am an American, Too”
There’s been a lot of ink and pixels spent on the results of the election, what really is to blame for why Hillary won, what really helped Trump win, etc. That autopsy is still ongoing, and as we dig further and further into the corpse, one phrase keeps coming up with derision and scorn, as to hang it around the necks of Dems as a millstone, a reminder of how detached they were from “Real America”. That phrase?
We’ve been told that we’ve driven away the “White Working Class” (who continue to have hagiographies written and sung in their praise, many by fellow Dems in laying the blame inward), and how so much was spent on dumb social issues that didn’t affect “Real Americans”. Times of London had an article which they tweeted out with a quote:
“TV Networks devote more time to issues such as transgender bathrooms than unemployment in rustbelt states.”
This leaves the impression that Hillary steered the conversation that way, in trying to lay the blame on her miscues and “debunk” her complaint against Dir. Comey. Now, that’s neither here nor there, because this isn’t about the emails. This is about the root of the whole ‘identity politics’ complaint.
So let me tell you about identity politics. I know that’s a loaded way to start a paragraph, but this is a loaded subject and there’s no way to get around that.
Identity Politics are older than dirt. Identity Politics have been around since the very conception of this country, before even the colonization. Remember those Pilgrims we’re set to celebrate in a couple of weeks here? They were self-styled religious refugees looking for a place to practice their Puritanism. They split away from the state-sanctioned Church of England in order to do their own thing in protest. Now, that’s a gross simplification of the whole situation, but at the same time, it’s still under the point that they did what they did because of belief and, more to the point, identity.
Let’s jump over to the founding of our great United States of America. When our Constitution was drafted, our founders saw to it that elections would be decided by those who they felt were best able to handle their foundling democracy: White, Land Owning Gentleman. Of course, they didn’t quite specify the ‘White’ part, but considering who owned the land at the time, and what else was ‘owned’ at the time, the message was rather clear. What they saw was a sensible solution, to ensure those who they felt were the most responsible parts of the population would handle things best.
Now, let’s jump ahead a little bit more to a more contentious time: The Civil War. No matter how many people complain, no matter how many people try to insist it was really about “states’ rights”, the fact of the matter is, this was a war based upon slavery. It was those who wanted to enshrine slavery as an eternal, intrinsic right, to those who didn’t. Now, we know President Lincoln wasn’t the completely enlightened mind that he’s sometimes mythologized as. But he knew hard and well that the Union would not last under what the Confederacy demanded. So a decision was made. Rather, a Proclamation. You know the one, if you were lucky enough to live in a time when schools still had civics classes. Promising the citizenship and livelihood of blacks in America without fear of being treated like property is a tall order, but it was done, in order to marshal support not just from those would-be slaves, but from abolitionists and folks in the north who just didn’t like slavery for more…selfish reasons. Politics, on the basis of identity, appealing to identity.
This wouldn’t be the end of course, because Jim Crow would rear its ugly head, with its own brand of ‘identity politics’, known as ‘Separate But Equal’. Law after law to segregate the races and prevent intermingling, miscegenation, and all that nasty stuff the Bible pooh-poohed at. Politicians ran on the promises of such further segregation, on ensuring that god-fearing Whites would be saved and separated from those ‘others’. Civil groups and institutions rose up on this exact basis, including a little thing we happen to know as the KKK.
Mind, it wasn’t just blacks who were under the sights in those promises. It was the Irish and the Italians, the ‘immigrant menace’ of those early days, before they were allowed to be considered ‘white’. It was the Jews, those of them who weren’t sent back after seeking refuge from the various pogroms the suffered under in Europe, including one rather…infamous one that should not have to bear repeating.
This doesn’t even go into the various other groups who have had trouble being treated properly in America. You know, Hispanics, many whose families have untold generations on the land known as the United States before Manifest Destiny reached them. The Native Americans, scattered and gathered and a depleted population of numerous proud peoples. The Chinese, Middle Easterners, Eastern Europeans, African Immigrants, etc., etc. most of all who came here in the search for a better life, with the promise of what America and the American Dream could offer them. And let’s not forget women. You know, the ‘fairer’ sex, the one that couldn’t get to vote until the 1920s, that still regularly gets dismissed as weaker, stupider, etc. The kind that still sees violent language and action toward them, and gets told their autonomy matters less once they get pregnant, otherwise they’re a dirty murderer.
You know what all of this, since the founding of our country, has in common? One thing, one simple thing: The Identity of the ‘American’.
Far too often, many of these groups have been labeled as simply ‘not American’, and had their concerns, their persons, their very existences dismissed. If not dismissed, they were often held as the very antithesis of what ‘America’ should be. They have been told their heritage, their race, their creed, their culture, all of that is not only not American, but it should be shamed, erased, hidden because it is so offensive to the common sensibilities of ‘Real’ Americans.
That’s where the response of calling oneself an Irish-American, Italian-American, African American, and such comes from, not from trying to supplant the American identity but to share it. It is to say ‘I come from this background, but I am American too’. It’s where the concept of pride in one’s being comes from, a response to being told so often that it’s not only a source of shame but a black mark toward one’s civil citizenship. It’s where feminism sprouted from, saying that a women’s concern is just as valid as a man’s, no matter how many people screamed the opposite.
Identity Politics are Politics. They are the politics of saying ‘we get a seat at the table too’. It’s the politics of ‘our concerns cannot be ignored’. You know what that sounds an awful lot like?
It sounds an awful lot like those who claim that they’re being shut out by ‘identity politics’.