Identity Politics

I’ve recently learned I’m aprivileged, cisgendered, white male.”

This feels somewhat alien to me still – but it’s new so I’m willing to try it on and figure out what it means in today’s definitional taxonomy of “identity politics.”

Like the few obese kids I knew growing up in Vermont or later at prep school, the only imposed identity I’ve ever known in my seventy-three years has been as a fat person. I was often isolated, teased, or “baited,” as they said at Exeter, where I was known as “Dumbo.” It was painful and gave me a sense of what it meant to be “other.” I believed in my “otherness” until I lost weight – for a time – and realized I was still myself.

I’ve listened with interest and empathy to the discussion around identity politics but I find it difficult to see myself in that frame – maybe itself a function of privilege, whether earned or inherited.

During the turmoil of the sixties, I thought much of this through for myself and it was clear to me that I wanted to be part of “us.” Like many of my peers, I yearned to be a member of not one but many of the communities radiating out from my own insignificance into a larger world: a Burlingtonian, a Vermonter, a New Englander, an American, and eventually a global citizen. I worked hard to retire the implicit biases with which we’re all born. I made friends across every divisive boundary I discovered and retain many of those friendships today.

So I worry that identity politics may lead us to ghettoize ourselves within our chosen identities and lose a common sense of purpose and connectedness – that we’ll focus on the “me” rather than the “us.” And I’m old enough to know how destructive that can be. But I’ll keep an open mind about identity politics, and trust the next generation to better educate me on the concept.

For now, I’ll continue to describe the world as I see it, with the humility to understand that truth, like beauty, may lie only in the eyes of the beholder. And I’ll work to beat my implicit biases into a shared humanity.

I’ll do my best to contribute to the creation of a diverse community and won’t judge those who belong to identity communities that are – perhaps forever – beyond my experience or understanding.

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