Race, Gender and Class: The Identity Politics of Postmodernity or the Socialist Project?

Many people – including academics - tend to think in binary opposites. Big-little, up-down, black-white, good-bad, etc. The problem is, the world doesn’t exactly work this way. The result is that our interpretation of events gets sliced and diced to ‘ fit’ the binary narrative. In other words, our evaluation of personal and social experiences doesn’t always match the reality.

What’s this problem of ‘mismatch’ got to do with race, gender and class?

It means that even when we do talk honestly about this triumvirate of identities (and how they stratify us) we often do so in a manner that portrays ourselves as ‘victims’ or ‘guilty parties’. For example this makes it difficult for white people to discuss race/gender/class without guilt, and it makes women, visible minorities and working-class people wear their ‘otherness’ injuries like a badge of honour.

Ultimately this makes discussing race/gender/class issues a matter of one-upmanship, rather than getting at what’s really important.

And what’s important is unifying people, rather than dividing them.

There used to be something called ‘the movement’, which was actually a series of social movements stretching back to the mid-nineteenth century (and earlier to the Enlightenment) when a variety of socialist and related movements really took off.

Today, university faculty and students are immersed in the postmodernist paradigm, which often views and labels the ‘socialist project’ and ‘academic Marxism’ quite critically as a "meta-narrative." Many academic postmodernists spend a lot of time ‘deconstructing’ without providing any solutions – you see, that’s the job of those nasty meta-narratives.

As a result identity politics now reigns supreme in the halls of academia. This work tends to feed liberalism because there’s no ‘change project’ at the end of the research and writing. That’s really too bad, because postmodernists reject binary oppositions and they should be the first to simultaneously balance the notions of race, gender and class.

What to do? I suggest we keep this triumvirate in our heads without any hierarchy. Class doesn’t have to either subsume, or tower above, race and gender as some used to wrongly suggest. Nor does race necessarily eclipse the injuries suffered as a result of gender or class oppression. Although I acknowledge that race and racism tend to be the most oppressive offense of the three. The economic realities of being a visible minority are both tangible and quite obvious when contrasted against white wages.

But, frankly there was more collective, social good done under the unifying banner of broad social -- and socialist movements of the past. Ultimately socialism and social movements are about putting more power in the hands of ordinary (powerless) peopl e. Identity politics doesn’t only provide NO solution, it adds to the problem of a unifying goal.

If you return to my homepage and scroll down to "Links" you'll find a link to author Peggy McIntosh’s 4-page piece "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" it’s a great tool that helps make racism and privilege visible to those who may not see it. It’s an effective piece of thinking and writing and is a great kickoff to a classroom discussion on race. It's at an appropriate level for upper high school grades, adult education or university courses.