Tuesday, November 22, 2016

We are not all 'struggling with the same problems', and the Labour Party must acknowledge that

MP Stephen Kinnock has declared that the Labour Party should stop engaging in 'identity politics' and start including the white working class.

“The huge mistake we’ve made, we have played the game of identity politics and identified groups, whether it is by ethnicity or sexuality or whatever you might want to call it, rather than say, ‘we stand up for everyone in this country and that includes you, the white working class’, says Kinnock according to the Huffington Post.

“Every group is actually struggling with the same problems of social mobility, the same problems of disempowerment, the same problems of feeling that they are being left behind. It doesn’t matter what the color of your skin is or what your background is.

Apart from the fact he seems to have overlooked the glaringly obvious, which is that 'white working class' is an identity, Kinnock's statements are fundamentally wrong. Women are disproportionately affected by austerity: it hits us twice as hard. Cuts in funding for childcare, social housing and services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault all attack women specifically. UN report concluded that Tory policies have “systematically violated” the rights of disabled people. The gender pay gap presses on, as does the lesser-known ethnic gap.

Although KimberlĂ© Crenshaw's concept of intersectionality has been watered down (largely by label-obsessed millennials who brand themselves 'intersectional feminists' without really knowing what that means), the Black theorist's study into interlocking oppressions is more relevant than ever as an analytical framework. 

We don't all struggle with the same problems. I will forever be unpacking the innumerable ways in which sex-based oppression has affected my life, but I will never experience the systemic disadvantages built into society that affect BAME people or disabled people. 

This is not to say we should ever fall into relying on the additive approach that Patricia Hill Collins warned against in Black Feminist Thought, which leads to Oppression Olympics. (Think 'How Privileged Are You?' Buzzfeed quizzes. Oppression isn't fun, don't make it cool in a race to the bottom.)

Instead, let's acknowledge that we are not all "left behind" to the same extent or in the same way, and that the Tory government uses different weapons for different groups. The NHS funding crisis, public sector job cuts and racist anti-immigrant rhetoric do not affect us all equally. 

Recognising 'identity', most usefully taken to mean the collection of immutable characteristics that determines our social groupings, does not stop us standing up for everyone in this country. In fact, it actually helps.