I concur with the point that, sometimes, the treatment of certain groups can be so cruel and unfair that you need to confront the opponent head-on, for example, the manner in which women (and men) are confronting the patriarchal culture that does not only characterize the business and academic worlds, but also, and to a greater extent, religious societies. This point is, indeed, urgent and highly welcomed.
Still, I think that the concept of identity politics is problematic. In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari use the concept of the rhizome to illuminate the distinctiveness and connectivity of the multiple factors that constitute reality. “A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo. The tree is filiation, but the rhizome is alliance, uniquely alliance,” they write. This concept helps us view our lives as assemblages or a mixture of words, institutions, social movements, and countless other things that, while related, are also distinct.
For example, in The Trouble with Unity, the philosopher Cristina Beltrán uses Deleuze’s concept of the rhizome to address some of the problems with identity politics. Using a simple example, she mentions the conception of Latinidad, i.e., the notion that all people from Latin America share the same group identity and cultural consciousness. She notes that many commentators tend to assume that Latinos represent a collective identity. Really? Didn’t people read Edward Said’s work? (e.g. his book Orientalism)
A similar appraisal can be observed for various minority groups, which are assumed to be special or unique instead of the more accurate assertion that we are all different people. The problem with identity politics is that it is tantamount to arborescent thinking. At its worst, arborescent thinking can suppress any other identity: men versus women, white versus black, and vegetarian versus non-vegetarian. Identity politics can also create a culture of victimization—something I often witness in Catalonia, Spain. For more than a generation, schools and politicians in Catalonia have fed the people the idea that they are not part of Spain, that Spain steals from them, and that all problems are caused by Spain. The result is that very few Catalan separatists (not Catalans per se) are prepared to take responsibility or are held accountable for their own actions, as Spain is used as a scapegoat.
Critical thinking and self-reflection, therefore, are arguably rare among people who cling to certain identities as a moral refuge. This is probably related to how convenient a certain position or identity can appear, as if by being feminist, existentialist, Catalan, black, or homosexual, we are, in any way, morally better.
Personally, I believe that Deleuze’s concept of the rhizome can help us find and create value in what takes place without being placed into fixed boxes of identity. I urge for a more humble and inclusive approach. After all, all identities are prisons hindering us to think freely. Or as Michel Foucault once said: What does it matter who is speaking? It only matters because of hierarchies, domination, and a simple lack of equality and imagination.
What is needed is not more identity politics, but what Deleuze called non-communication, “circuit breakers” that may elude communicative control, whereby people blindly say and do what they do because this is what other people do. There is a scary herd mentality among people who cling onto certain identities.
In short: I can’t really identify 100 percent with any particular identity; however, I can empathize and care for all people.
Originally posted as a comment on the APA Philosophy Blog — (you may wish to check out the link for references to articles on identity politics, and other interesting stuff).