Thursday, December 14, 2017

Group identity

From an essay, The age of white guilt: and the disappearance of the black individual (Harper's, November 1999), by Shelby Steele:
The greatest problem in coming from an oppressed group is the power the oppressor has over your group. The second greatest problem is the power your group has over you. Group identity in oppressed groups is always very strategic, always a calculation of advantage. The humble black identity of the Booker T. Washington era–“a little education spoiled many a good plow hand”–allowed blacks to function as tradesmen, laborers, and farmers during the rise of Jim Crow, when hundreds of blacks were being lynched yearly. Likewise, the black militancy of the late sixties strategically aimed for advantage in an America suddenly contrite over its long indulgence in racism.

One’s group identity is always a mask–a mask replete with a politics. When a teenager in East Los Angeles says he is Hispanic, he is thinking of himself within a group strategy pitched at larger America. His identity is related far more to America than to Mexico or Guatemala, where he would not often think of himself as Hispanic. In fact, “Hispanic” is much more a political concept than a cultural one, and its first purpose is to win power within the fray of American identity politics. So this teenager must wear the mask that serves his group’s ambitions in these politics.
H/t Nina Paley.

Identity in this sense is differential, not intrinsic.


  1. "One’s group identity is always a mask–a mask replete with a politics."

    Translating the article into British political terms it clearly seems to say conservative values are the answer.

    It uses a lot of the same reference frames that right wing politicians here use to dismiss critics.

    Seems to be a strong political motivation lurking within and framing the article.

    Not so familiar with American politics and the rhetoric deployed but it looks to be a very conservative take on the subject.

    Not a fan of its British manifestations, it likes to dress itself as the undisputed truth and never questions its assumptions or motives.

    Articles like this make that processes an easy sell.

    1. Oh, yes, Steele is a conservative. And I'm not. But race in America is, well, I can't use the word I'd really like to use, which in one sense means a female dog, but not in the sense I want to use it, which is highly metaphorical. The person who hipped me to the article, Nina Paley, is not conservative either. Sometimes conservatives have a valid point.

  2. I don't disagree. I don't care if a writer is right -wing or left- wing. Both can make valid points and both are more than capable of presenting and making the argument problematic.

    Deprive someone of food and say the word cheese before presenting them with a list of words, they will recall more cheese related words than anything else. Give a passage on the joy of pumpkin pie, they will still remember more cheese related terms.

    I get a lot of cheese related terms here. Its as related to my internal state as it is the result of stimulus from an external source.

    Its not simply a case of wearing a mask which fits.

    I get the feeling I am in the presence of what is termed in math's the bandit problem. An issue of limited exploration.