“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
-Audrey Lorde, Our Dead Behind Us: Poems
There is a troubling belief gaining traction within the various spiritual communities I am apart of. In various ways, people are claiming that so-called “identity politics” further separate us into our individual differences, that somehow they widen the divide of “us and them.” I have seen teachings of Ram Dass, MLK, and Neem Karoli Baba used to support this view. This has been almost entirely expressed by white men. Not only is this spiritual bypassing of “identity politics” problematic for the world, but we can’t actually be whole until we consider their implications.
Jordan Peterson, a psychologist and professor at the University of Toronto, has gained a following among mostly-white-and-male spiritual seekers. Due to his incorporation of Jungian Psychology, mythology, and transcendence into academic psychological thought, he is often seen as a “spiritual authority” as to why “identity politics” often oversteps its boundaries. In the video “Jordan Peterson Debunks White Privilege,” he states, “I can’t quite figure out why the postmodernists have made the canonical distinctions they’ve made. Race, ethnicity, sexual proclivity, gender identity, those are four dimensions along which people vary, but there is a very large number of dimensions along which people vary… There is an infinite number of dimensions along which people vary. So the postmodern question is, why would you privilege some of those distinctions over others?”
Here he is not making any real arguments of merit. He is simply using pseudo-intellectual lines of logic to obfuscate what should be plainly clear: these “distinctions” are four of the primary ways that we discriminate and oppress in our culture. This is not a philosophical abstraction. For people of color, women, and members of the LGBTQ community, this is a daily reality. So what he calls “identity politics” is a needed remedy to a system that unfairly privileges whiteness, maleness, middle-and-upperclassness, etc.
So-called “identity politics” don’t further ensnare us in our separate selves, they actually help free us by shining a light on our deeply embedded identities. For white, heterosexual, cisgender men, our identities are so thoroughly supported and reflected by the dominant culture that they are made invisible to us. The acknowledgment of these identities is often painful because it shows our complicity in an oppressive system. Actually taking the time to understand how white supremacy or patriarchy functions in our culture shows us the ways that they function in our own mind. This does not reify the ego, it only clearly names its underlying structure.