home Must Reads Must reads: Identity politics, remembering the truth, cultural shifts

Must reads: Identity politics, remembering the truth, cultural shifts

This week, we’re exploring a set of reads that may at first appear unrelated, but are actually deeply connected, as we wander from Hillary Clinton selfies to the normalisation of far-right culture in the United States, stopping at school shooters and identity politics and how abuse becomes part of the landscape. You can read these pieces in any order, but we encourage you to read them all — and to find the common thread that runs through them.

The Hillary Clinton Selfie as Political Salve, or Weapon‘ (Amanda Hess for the New York Times)

Post-election Hillary Clinton sightings have abounded, complete with photographic evidence. The proliferation of Hillary selfies — both during and after the election — speak to fascinating cultural trends in American society. Amanda Hess explores the inner meaning of what some might dismiss as a facile millennial phenomenon.

There is a larger Democratic fantasy being enacted here. The smiley sightings project an idea of enclaves — perhaps deep in the woods of Chappaqua, or in the stacks of an indie bookstore — where the fear and depression felt by many after the election does not loom. The Huffington Post called it a “peaceful alternate universe.” If the woman who bested Mr. Trump as a debater, and in the popular vote, can put on a brave face and head out on a brisk hike, these selfies say, then perhaps there is hope for her supporters, too. One woman who encountered Mrs. Clinton in the woods tagged her selfie with the hashtag #lightfollowsdarkness.

‘Don’t play identity politics!’ The primal scream of the straight white male‘ (Hadley Freeman for The Guardian)

As people have raced about casting blame for election results, ‘identity politics’ has practically reached meme status. Those doing so, of course, tend to be ignoring the fact that even as they scream about identity politics, they are themselves engaging in a game of identity politics — for straight white men have convinced themselves that they are an oppressed and endangered minority, and that is why Trump won the election.

Discussions about identity politics are the new arguments about political correctness, which, as Moira Weigel detailed at length in this paper this week, have long been a means for the male, white and right mainstream to shut down any suggestion that others are worthy of a voice. For Clinton even to acknowledge that she was the first female candidate of a major political party – which is very different from saying people should vote for her because she is a woman – was, according to the sceptics, to play the identity game.

The eroticization of abusers: from jizz in the face feminism to dapper white supremacists‘ (Flavia Dzodan for This Political Woman)

Flavia Dzodan’s thoughtful, theory-based, meticulously researched explorations of white feminism and culture are consistently some of the best of the world, and we’re quite excited about her return to the internet. In this piece, she explores the fetishisation and normalisation of abusive personalities, and how they rise to prominence and stay there. Dzodan traces the origins of a white supremacist movement that took white people in the US by surprise, but was really just the natural end-point of decades of cultural shifts.

Donald Trump was elected President of the United States and journalists, analysts and media outlets wonder how 53% of white women could vote for him. How could all these white women vote for a man that openly bragged about violently grabbing women by the pussy? How could they vote for a man that openly admits to being misogynist and sexist? How could they ignore the sexual violence and anti woman politics that him and his Vice President candidate, Mike Pence were advocating? My counter question is, how could they not when the same kind of sexual violence and anti woman politics have been pushed as “empowering” for half a decade?

Socially Isolated Kids Are Not Weapons: They Need Help, Not To Be Labeled As Threats‘ (Lesley Kinzel)

The epidemic of gun violence persists in the US unchecked and will continue to do so without action, but as Lesley Kinzel notes, the wrong kind of action can be damaging as well. Stereotyping children as ‘isolated loners who will become school shooters’ dismiss the complex factors that surround children who experience isolation; the question shouldn’t be whether they will become school shooters, but how we can reach out to help them. Compounding isolation certainly won’t make children feel any more socially accepted.

My problem with this ad is that looking at ALL of these kids as ‘potential school shooters’ and treating them as dangerous weapons themselves further distances them from their peers and from the adults who might help them. It positions children as ticking bombs and erases the responsibility of adults and peers to intervene and help before that kid is even close to a point where he or she (and yes, all of this stuff happens to girls too) feels so desperate and disconnected from reality as to do the unthinkable, be that mass murder or suicide, or both.

‘Now Is the Time to Talk About What We Are Actually Talking About’ (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for The New Yorker)

Adichie is a searingly superb writer and this is a stark, striking piece illustrating the imperative of holding on to truth and speaking in the face of power. Quickly, she argues, before the lines blur and people become complacent, the United States must commit to refusing to forget, to resisting erasure and fudged facts.

Now is the time to resist the slightest extension in the boundaries of what is right and just. Now is the time to speak up and to wear as a badge of honor the opprobrium of bigots. Now is the time to confront the weak core at the heart of America’s addiction to optimism; it allows too little room for resilience, and too much for fragility. Hazy visions of ‘healing’ and ‘not becoming the hate we hate’ sound dangerously like appeasement. The responsibility to forge unity belongs not to the denigrated but to the denigrators. The premise for empathy has to be equal humanity; it is an injustice to demand that the maligned identify with those who question their humanity.

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Photo: Han Cheng Yeh/Creative Commons