Everyone is talking about identity politics. Identity politics can give some a sense of belonging, a place to call home. It also can make someone look beyond themselves to see the needs of others. Identity politics enables you to join with others to get things done. We all start with a semblance of identity politics when we proclaim, we belong to a certain family or align ourselves with a religious institution. Others will identify with ethnic groups or race.
For many years I identify myself as a Freeman. We were Baptists not Methodists as the Hayes my mother’s side of the family. We were called to serve our country and God. We were encouraged to learn and receive an education. Later we were to identify as a Southerner but must never use denigrative terms about other races. We were also Baptist. So we took seriously one’s faith was between them and God. Politics and religion were not to rule over the other. And we were polite and good hosts to anyone we encountered. We were also FDR Democrats because we were always on the side of the poor and the average man. We saw ourselves as role models for our country, city, and neighborhood. This was my identity for many years.
Growing up this was a good identity. But along the way I had to broaden my identity or get stuck. I moved from being a Baptist who thought Catholics were not Christian and Episcopalians were suspect. I became ecumenical in my thinking. Later I included other faiths in my identity, my group. And even later atheists and agnostics became included in my identity. My views on sexuality and gender had to be expanded. I even grew away from viewing myself not only as an American but as a world citizen too. My world citizenship also had to grow to include other animals, plants, and ecosystems. This was my new definition of what it meant to be a world citizen. And now as the world has become smaller and we look to the universe I may have to expand to a cosmic citizenship.
And this is the rub of identity politics it makes you feel responsibility for others in your group. It makes you feel empathy and solidarity for those in your group. The problem becomes if your identity never grows. Your heart does not continue to grow. Your vision is stifled. And instead of identity politics growing you to accept the other, you become harden to those outside your group. I know that oppressed groups stick together to cope and defend themselves against the oppressor. For them identity politics is a matter of survival. And sometimes even if they wish they are not allowed to include the oppressor’s in their identity (ie, forced segregation, red districting, country clubs, private schools etc).
But the goal of life is to expand, to grow, and where we can broaden our group identity the closer we become to who we were meant to be. At least this is what the mystics have always claimed. We are to expand ourselves to the end of the universe and thus become diffused or at one with God, the cosmos, or the One. Our identity spreads so far that we no longer speak of I but always as we. I will always have little bit of the South, Baptists, and Freeman in me. But more than likely as I grow I will only keep the parts that speak of the individual who is able to be inclusive of all.