As I’m mixed race, I feel very uncomfortable when people call me white. (It also doesn’t sit well with my mum, either, who I’m to thank for needing less suncream than most.) And yet, it happens. A lot. A lot more than it should, given that most people at St Andrews retain the gift of sight. The amount of times other students have demanded that I justify my beliefs in spite of the colour of my skin borders on the absurd, and many have resorted to dismissing me, my beliefs, or both, as “white”.
I remember very clearly the first time it happened: it was at a Raisin house party, and in the middle of an (admittedly very drunken political argument) my opponent histrionically exclaimed that I was “such a white male”. Despite finding it funny and ridiculous at the time, this is a more dangerous statement than it seems, as the clear and undeniable implication is that certain views and beliefs can be ascribed to white people. This also means that certain beliefs can therefore be solely ascribed to Asian, Black, or even mixed-race people.
Given that I’d never been reduced to the colour of my skin before university (at least, not knowingly) I had to actually think about why people would talk to me like this, because I refused to believe that they were as racist as they sounded. The best I could come up with is that this was a manifestation of “identity politics”, which describes political views shaped by the interests of a particular group.
This seems innocuous enough. I think it’s fairly uncontroversial, for example, for working class individuals to advocate and campaign for the interests of other working class people; in fact, it’s been necessary in this country. But what separates campaigns like this from my recent experiences in St Andrews is that they were not exclusive. Should a white man have wanted to march during the 1960s civil rights movement in America, he could have. He would’ve been welcomed. The whole idea was to be inclusive – the entire movement was based upon the fact that as long as a Black American was not free, her fellow white American was not free.
But now the it’s swung the other way. Supporters of identity politics, in advocating for equal treatment, have (rather ironically) started to treat people differently and unequally. There is no reason why I or anyone else should be admonished for believing “white” things; in fact, I think the whole notion of a certain belief being “white” is plainly wrong. (And, not to mention, just a teeny bit racist.) And yet, this pernicious ideology is spreading further and further.
Identity politics is contentious, and I welcome debate on it, but what really makes it objectionable to me is that it steals agency from individuals. I had this a lot during the Referendum campaign; most hardcore Remainers I met simply could not (or maybe refused to) understand why someone with an Indian heritage would possibly vote to leave the European Union. I had it all- I was a racist, a xenophobe, and idiot, even a “race traitor”. (The last of which understandably made me very angry.)
It was almost as if these people expected those with darker skin to vote in a block, like we all get together every month to discuss how we can best stick it to “Whitey”. They could not understand that I was capable of examining the benefits and consequences of voting a certain way on my own, and that I was able to exercise my own free will without being bound by certain, arbitrary features about myself that should not dictate how I live my life, or how people treat me. I think you’ll find that most people, whatever their skin colour, don’t like being treated as if they should act a certain way. I think they’d much rather be treated as what they are; an individual.
I don’t understand what is so special about race, especially when they’re self-evidently equal and deserve to be treated as such. And, if it is different, why? Do races need to be treated differently? I wonder what Martin Luther King Jr would think about that. I’d put money on him calling it wrong, or maybe racist.
It genuinely is confusing to me, and I hope it’s just as confusing to everyone else. Identity politics looks innocent, but I honestly think that it’s not constructive or helpful. If you’re concerned about fair and equal treatment, I wouldn’t look to identity politics for an answer.