Harvard student: Identity politics hurts Black Lives Matter

A Harvard University student recently criticized identity politics for “making people feel better about themselves at the expense of productive discourse.”

In an op-ed for The Harvard Crimson, titled “Why I Don’t Support Identity Politics Anymore,” Editorial Editor Michelle Gao writes that the idea “failed” her after she realized that being Asian American didn’t make her any more correct on racial issues than her parents.

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“Under the rules of identity politics, arguing with my parents about race became essentially impossible,” she writes, discussing her efforts of trying to convince her parents to support movements like Black Lives Matter.

“They didn’t have any reason to oppose whiteness and support black-led movements,” she said of her parents who immigrated to America in the 1980’s, explaining that “white people weren’t any more racist to them than black people.”

Soon after urging her parents to support Black Lives Matter, Gao realized she had “lowered the standard” of conversation by hedging her arguments solely on her personal identity as an Asian American and overlooking her parents’ different perspectives.

Ultimately, Gao learned that eschewing identity politics can lend itself to better conversations on racial issues.

“I could never make progress if I kept staking my correctness on being Asian and my experiences living with that identity. My parents, who had the same marginalized identity, could do the same thing. We’d be at a standstill,” she argues, before discussing the issue of police brutality, which she believes is wrong because it is directed towards “another human.”

“I wanted to make them care about what I saw as unjust killings of innocent people and unjust verdicts freeing culpable cops. But police brutality, at its core, is not about race,” she continues, asserting that “those acts are wrong because the victim is another citizen, another human.”

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Focusing on common humanity instead of race would be a stronger strategy for activist movements like Black Lives Matter, Gao predicts.

“It’s tragic that, though the statement ‘black lives matter’ is so obviously valid, after several years, most Americans still don’t support the movement,” Gao claims. “But that’s because its most vocal members have made everything about race.”

Black Lives Matter activists “make as many sweeping generalizations about race… as they accuse others of making,” she concludes. “So, they shouldn’t be surprised when, instead of effecting change, they are now mired in cultural wars—the product of dissenters turning identity politics against them.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen