User Menu

Identity politics is utterly ineffective at anything other than dividing people

It is facile to equate ‘straight, white men’ with privilege

Dean Scurry, who was criticised on Twitter for the name of his podcast, Pow Wow with Dean. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

I grew up in Dublin’s inner city, an environment where poverty, violence, and addiction were normal. Given the odds I had to overcome to get where I am today, I thought I’d meet a lot of allies among those who preach equality. But instead, I was often met with open hostility, despite the fact I campaign on a variety of related issues. Why? Because I happen to be straight, white, and male.

“Straight white male” is an identity I didn’t choose. I mean it wasn’t a decision I had any say in, what sexuality, race, or gender I am. I was born this way. But also, “straight white male” was never something I chose to “identify” as. At various times if you’d asked me about my identity, I might have said “Irish”, “a Dub”, or “working class”, but never straight, white, or male – let alone the arbitrary combination of all three. But people who talk a lot about “choice” and “freedom” chose for me, and decided that’s what my identity should be reduced to.

Although he might also be straight, white and male, it would be perverse to describe Ballymun native and founder of Home Sweet Home Dean Scurry as “privileged”. A few weeks ago Scurry established a new podcast series, Pow Wow with Dean. In the first episode (featuring John Connors and Philly McMahon), Scurry discusses Home Sweet Home’s occupation of Apollo House last December. Within minutes of him releasing this debut, a woman leapt in on Twitter to admonish him for using the word Pow Wow. She confidently asserted it was “not appropriate” because the word “belongs” to “First Nations culture”.

I replied that words are not like land, or food, or water. Using them doesn’t deprive anyone else of their use. Words don’t have owners, only users. And the usage here was far from disrespectful, insulting, or “inappropriate”. She went on, as usually happens in these instances, to explain to me why I was wrong.

Patronising preachers

A recurrent theme of this ideology is patronising people. It’s a nice word, “patronise” – kind of similar to “mansplain”, except gender-neutral. And time was, people who were into equality wanted to avoid gendered stereotyping, not invent new forms of it. The further irony is the most patronising people I’ve ever encountered are the people who explain to me why it’s fine to use words and phrases such as “mansplain”, “manspreading”, “toxic masculinity”, “fragile masculinity”, and to use “straight white male” as a pejorative, while simultaneously decrying gender stereotyping and the use of negative genderd terms. The proponents of identity politics discuss these concepts as if they were talking about the second law of thermodynamics, the periodic table of elements, or the disciplinary handbook of the GAA. In actual fact, they are using an imprecise and flimsily justified shorthand jargon. One they can’t so much as agree on among themselves.

If the CIA or MI5 wanted to encourage a style of “activism” that could consume an infinite amount of energy, yet was utterly ineffective at anything other than dividing people, it would be the prominence of this very type of politics. We need politics that unites us in our shared humanity, for the 99.9 per cent to come together and fight the 0.1 per cent who are stealing the wealth of the Earth, pitting the poor against the poor and entrapping us in ignorance. We do not need politics that explicitly sets out to divide us and perfectly mirrors what it claims to oppose.

Proponents of this ideology demand:

Intellectual dishonesty

Faith over reason

Disdain for evidence

That challenges be condemned as blasphemy

Their own liturgy

Strict orthodoxy

Public displays of adherence

And most shamefully, the regular public flagellation of heretics.

New order

These people don’t want to separate church and state, they want to institute a new religion, just with themselves at the helm. And just like with Eve and the apple, they demand that individuals should be held responsible for the sins of their gender. I’m considered part of “the most powerful group in the world”, not because of my actions or experiences, but by simple virtue of how I was born. But of course, don’t even dare mention the fact that men are statistically more at risk of homelessness, addiction and suicide.

Later on that same day my mate Eric from Tallaght shared a video on Facebook of a woman assaulting a white fellow because he had dreadlocks. This woman has many defenders, who will explain at great length the evils of “cultural appropriation”. “F***in’ eejit” was Eric’s view of her, and I’m inclined to agree. I wonder if the people who spend their “activism” on these issues ever went hungry, ever worried where they were going to live or had their electricity cut off. I experienced all these things while still a child, long before anyone told me I was just a “straight white male”.

Unlike those who need an ever-expanding lexicon to express their beliefs, what I believe can be summed up in one word: equality. We should all be subject to the same laws, all have the same opportunities, all have the same rights, all have the same responsibilities and all be able to use the same language. Now that’s something worth fighting for.

Postscript? My mate Eric happens to be black and wear his hair in dreads. John Connors actually spent time with the Lakota tribe, who love this use of the term “pow wow”. Like me, both John and Eric have overcome an awful lot in their lives. And they don’t don the mantle of oppression just to belittle or exclude others.

Frankie Gaffney is a wruter. His debut novel Dublin Seven was published in 2015.