A leading national authority warns that identity politics is “fanning the flames of tribalism, accelerating Balkanization by creating big factions—the oppressed and the non-oppressed—pitting them against one another, and it does all of this under the cover of invoking American ideals and ‘we’re all going to get along one day.’”
David Azerrad, director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics at the Heritage Foundation, said citizens concerned about such trends who want to create a true civil society must push back against the growing wave of identity politics-fueled intolerance, and one major emphasis should be on defunding such extremism on college campuses.
“The universities are the R&D department for the left,” Azerrad said. “They are madrasas of higher indoctrination. If you wanted to train someone to hate this country and to be infused, have a blood transfusion of identity politics, you could do no better than the American higher education system. So much of that money comes from state governments. We need state legislators—and pardon my French—to grow a pair, do their homework, and start cutting off the funds.”
Azerrad made his comments during an appearance this week at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs’ Advance Center for Free Enterprise.
While identity politics is rhetorically sold as a way to foster inclusion, in practice it does the polar opposite, Azerrad noted.
“It’s not a politics of identity,” Azerrad said. “It’s a politics of oppression.”
In the world of identity politics, he pointed out, only certain people are allowed to have an identity they can tout.
“If you’re not so privileged as to belong to an oppressed identity group—if you’re white, if you’re a male, if you’re a Christian, if you’re straight—you cannot be proud of your identity,” Azerrad said. “You must flagellate yourself in public all the time.”
The same week Azerrad made his comments, evidence arose at the University of Oklahoma that bolstered his argument. Members of the Undergraduate Student Congress passed a bill requiring that many OU events begin with a statement recognizing that OU students are “visitors on this land” and thanking any indigenous people present for allowing them to gather.
Azerrad noted humanity has a poor track record when it comes to getting along when people don’t look alike or share the same religion, and said the only thing that allows disparate groups to peacefully coexist is to “accentuate the commonalities” and “preach civic friendship, brotherhood.”
Identity politics, he said, does the opposite.
“I think we’re really playing not with fire, but with dynamite,” Azerrad said, “because we’re encouraging the tribalism.”
Proponents of identity politics rhetorically link their cause to the 1960s civil rights movement and leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. But Azerrad said leaders in the identity-politics movement have little in common with King and his colleagues.
“They love to invoke MLK, and MLK is one of the most admired figures in American history,” Azerrad said. “And they claim his mantle when the truth of the matter is they are not disciples of MLK. We call MLK Dr. King, but to me—and I’m Jewish—he was first and foremost American King. And he preached forgiveness and reconciliation. And if there is one thing that the identitarians today on the left are not preaching is reconciliation and forgiveness.”
He noted there are other significant differences.
“MLK and the civil rights activists were beaten up and went to jail,” Azerrad said. “They took real risks. These people take no risks. If there is one thing I guarantee it’s that if you want to champion gay rights today or even 10 years ago, there is a zero-percent chance that you will be locked up. So they like the mythology of the ‘60s that has left a deep imprint on the national consciousness. But they don’t want to do it in a risk-taking courageous way. MLK had courage. These people have no courage. I mean, it takes no courage to flatter the elites in the media to tell them that America is racist or sexist or homophobic.”
Ironically, many of those who champion identity politics do not have the racial/sexual identities they claim to represent, Azerrad pointed out.
“One of the fundamental claims of identity politics is ‘we speak for all blacks, all Hispanics, all Asians, all gays, all women,’” Azerrad said. “That’s nonsense. Polling reveals that progressive white liberals—that basically make up 6 percent of the population—are to the left on race, sex, sexual-orientation issues, are to the left of blacks, Hispanics, women, LGBTQs, you name it. And then there are many more sensible people whose views are not being represented.”
Because colleges and universities have become the operational center for identity politics and associated intolerance, Azerrad said state policymakers should ensure that taxpayer funds are not subsidizing identity politics, either directly or indirectly.
“Stop subsidizing the chief diversity officer, all of these people who are looking to create ‘scandals’ on campus, to teach, to preach this poison to the students,” Azerrad said.
He concedes that will be a tough political fight that requires fortitude from state leaders, but added, “You don’t go into politics or into activism to deal with easy issues.”