So identity politics is something that has come up frequently via Waypoint editors. It was the subject of one of the first articles Austin wrote on GB (Witcher 3 related), it’s a topic Danielle frequently discusses on Idle Weekend (and in her discussions of Prey), and one Patrick has also frequently addressed (especially in conversations with Gita Jackson on his previous podcast Match 3). The topic is coming up again in relation recently on my twitter feed regarding Far Cry 5, so it has been on my mind recently.
Personally, have a very complicated view on the issue of identity politics. I think sometimes it is a helpful way to approach and issue and to understand perspectives, but also I think sometimes it really harms discourse and relations within and between groups. I want to discuss the positives and the negatives (from my perspective) and then move this into a conversation on Far Cry 5.
First to discuss the importance of identity politics I want to talk about a meme that unfortunately populated my Facebook feed more than once a few weeks ago. It was this:
I am white, but I found this meme pretty horrific. And I reposted it with my response to it to start a discussion on my feed. My response read as follows:
This ceremony is not segregation. By this logic, everything from Irish pubs and women’s marches to the Special Olympics and LGBT districts and gay bars are “segregation.” White guests are welcome to this ceremony (as non-minorities are welcome as guests in most minority-centered environments). This event is about recognizing the unique struggles and accomplishments of black students at an elite institution. In other words, it isn’t about you or excluding you, fellow white people: it is about recognizing black accomplishment.
I sometimes find identity politics problematic, but one thing is for certain: if you are not a minority, you simply don’t understand the value of being around and celebrating with people like you. But this isn’t about exclusion. Straight people can go to a gay bar. Men can go to a women’s march. And non-blacks can attend a black graduation ceremony. In fact, I highly recommend doing so. For once in your life, you’ll be an environment where you are a minority and perhaps you’ll get a small glimpse into how they feel on a daily basis.
It sparked fairly interesting conversation on my feed, but one thing I found most interesting is that the thing two of my friends (who are both black) responded to and took issue with most about the meme was the last part–that it was referring to “blacks” as a whole group as racist. They actually expressed a bit of ambivalence about what they thought about the ceremony. The thing that they were most offended by was the generalization about all black people and roping them into a political allignment and a particular perspective.
As a gay man, I know how they feel. I remember when I first read queer theory in grad school, I frequently found myself arguing with writer who were assuming something about shared perspectives simply on the basis of sexual orientation. As Danielle actually recently brought up on a podcast, no one aspect of someone’s identity is all encompassing (I believe the way she worded it was people are “many things, not just one”).
Here is the central problem: Identity politics are useful sometimes in trying to communicate to outsiders something that is experiential. But at the same time, it often flattens people into a single identity and takes away their individual voice by speaking for them. Though I am liberal and very pro-choice, I find myself often very sympathetic to republican women (40% of women in the country), who are frequently “flattened” and dismissed simply because they have multiple priorities or different values than liberal women. They are accused of being part of a party that “hates women” or betraying women’s rights or expected to fall in line just because they are women. When in reality, being a woman is just one part of their identity. And it may well be that there are other parts of their identity that also informs why they vote the way they do. Maybe they identify heavily with being Catholic or as small business (or large) business owners. I likely don’t agree with them politically on any of these issues, but I completely understand why it would be frustrating for them to be pigeonholed into identity politics because they are women and are therefore expected to have the same shared values, perspectives, and priorities as other women.
Now that’s all a set up to talk about Far Cry 5.
Patrick tweeted this today regarding Far Cry 5:
I don’t know anything about Far Cry 5, but a game about white identity and extreme nationalism would be awfully appropriate in 2017.
Then later he retweeted someone who expressed concern that Far Cry 5’s portrayal may “other” this kind of white national extremism “letting white people off the hook.”
These two tweets really bothered me. A lot. Because they essentially did the same thing that the Facebook meme about “blacks being the real racist” did in reverse. They flatten white people to a single identity as a way of generalizing an association. I am a gay white agnostic liberal man. I find it offensive that 1. whiteness is immediately being collapsed into a discussion of radical fundamentalist nationalism/facism and that 2. the idea that I/other white people shouldn’t be allowed to distance/“other” ourselves from this kind of ugly politic simply because white is one aspect of our identity.
Don’t get me wrong. White people have been and are responsible for a lot of horrific shit and the repercussions are profound and wide-reaching. But nobody with a conscious should ever associate Islamic terrorism with all Muslims. And nobody should be attempting to brand the white counterpart with white identity. Not just because it is painting with a very broad brush, but also ironically, that kind of thinking only further promotes tribalism. By breaking the world simplistically into what “this group” and what “that group” is like, even if you are doing so with good intentions as a way of critiquing power structure, you are essentially furthering tribalistic perspectives on the world.
On the other side of voiced concerns, Jeff Cannata (2N1T) expressed concerns on the DLC podcast that Far Cry 5 might offer a flat stereotyped view of rural America. I find this interesting because in some ways he is concerned about the opposite of what Patrick is concerned about: Patrick wants the white identity to be front and foremost and representative of a problematic white identity politic. Jeff is concerned that they will flatten identity and make it one note representations rather than displaying complex three-dimensional individuals.
I actually disagree with both of these perspectives specifically because both are concerned so heavily with identity politics (just in different ways). When I look at the Far Cry images, I first and foremost don’t think about identity, white or rural. I think of representations of political and religious belief (fundamentalism / nationalism). And somewhat ironically, I think I immediately kick back against discussions of identity representations specifically because I know what it is liked to be pigeonholed based on my identity (being both gay and rural). It is not that I think issues of identity (racial, sexual orientation, or regional) are not important. But I think sometimes “our wills and fates do so contrary run” in such efforts that the attempt to give voice to marginalized perspectives can itself sometimes lead to feelings of marginalization. Identity politicization can sometimes lead to binary identity polarization. Until provided strong evidence that I should, I’m hesitant to jump too quickly to heavily into the game as representative of identity. Such a lens can become a self-fulfilling prophecy and a rather claustrophobic one at that.