Critiquing Identity Politics and Societal Impact

Categories: James Baldwin

Various authors and filmmakers, such as James Baldwin, John Berger, Gloria Anzaldua, and Richard E Miller, explore the impact of racial tensions, shifts in perspective, language on personal identity, and the mindset of individuals engaging in violent acts. Personally, I do not strongly identify with any specific race, gender or cultural group. While some may feel differently about their identities, I view my race and gender as inherent aspects that do not define me. Instead of participating in identity politics which focus solely on race or gender identity,I prefer to acknowledge the individual complexity of a person beyond these characteristics.

James Baldwin, in his essay “Notes of a Native Son,” asserts that every idea, no matter how great, should be criticized for potential improvement. He emphasizes the importance of constant criticism, even towards things we love, like America, in order to progress as a society. This is why identity politics, like the ones Baldwin addresses, must also be subject to critique.

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Baldwin references the Greek myth of Oedipus as a means of elucidating the root of animosity between individuals. Oedipus, unaware of the thongs that tied his feet, nonetheless bore the marks they left as evidence of the fate to which his steps were bound. Similarly, individuals may not recall the specific traumas of their past, yet those experiences remain within them, inseparable and propelling them inexorably forward. Oedipus, left to perish in infancy by his father, harbored an unconscious rage that led him to unknowingly slay his own father in a fit of anger.

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This serves as a testament to the presence of underlying motivations in individuals, shaped by their past experiences. Whether rooted in negative or positive encounters, these motivations can drive individuals towards certain actions. In cases where individuals harbor disproportionately intense animosity towards a specific group, it may stem from past negative experiences that continue to exert influence.

Cultural identity is strongly influenced by language, as emphasized by Gloria Anzaldua. Anzaldua believes that one's cultural identity is closely linked to the language they speak, stating “So, if you really want to hurt me, talk badly about my language. Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity–I am my language. Until I can take pride in my language, I cannot take pride in myself” (Anzaldua 245). This underscores the significant role that language plays in shaping cultural identity and how it impacts various aspects of individuals' lives, leading to biases related to race, gender, language, and culture. Therefore, cultural identity remains a crucial factor in determining individuals' experiences.

Richard E. Miller's essay "The Dark Night of the Soul" delves into the idea that some people commit atrocities in order to make a lasting impact on the world before they die. These individuals accept full accountability for their actions, rejecting any excuses or external influences. Whether motivated by past traumas or a craving for acknowledgment, these individuals may believe they have no reason to continue living and opt for a dramatic exit.

Miller elaborates on how many men who have been rejected by society for a long time often resort to violence as their only means of expression, much like marginalized groups turn to radical violence to resist oppression. The author contemplates the bleak lives of these unhappy men, both real and fictional, and questions if there is any hope for them or the damaged worlds they have created. The continuous cycle of violence, neglect, and deception in their lives is juxtaposed with the news reports of more angry men causing harm with guns. The weight of these stories, as they inevitably lead to death, destruction, and shame, serves to push one further into despair. If society repeatedly casts people aside, they will eventually retaliate with force.

Miller discusses the powerful impact of societal neglect on individuals, citing Eric Harris as an example. Harris, a Columbine massacre perpetrator, vented his anger towards the world in his diary before turning to violence. He was bullied and alienated at school, driving him to seek vengeance against his tormentors. Though not excusable, this demonstrates how mistreatment can provoke extreme reactions when someone is pushed to their breaking point.

The motivations of racists, bigots, and perpetrators of atrocities are not fully understood. Many factors contribute to their actions, some of which are similar to those experienced by ordinary people. A key factor for many is identity politics, which creates conflict among potential allies. Identity politicians worsen the situation by portraying one group as oppressors and the other as victims, fostering a divisive mentality centered on race, gender, sexuality, and other characteristics. It is important to evaluate individuals based on their individual qualities rather than solely focusing on their perceived experiences of oppression.

Updated: Feb 21, 2024
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Critiquing Identity Politics and Societal Impact. (2019, Aug 19). Retrieved from

Critiquing Identity Politics and Societal Impact essay
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