And I think the greatest achievements of “Identity Liberalism” were, first, the Emancipation Proclamation, and then the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments. These are all the root documents of ‘identity liberalism.’ They are there not because good men decided to identify someone. They are there because bad men based their oppression upon identity. That we are, still, 150 years on from all that fighting the same battles is our very great shame.
But the very fact that the party of Lincoln — the man who appealed to the ‘better angels of our nature’ and pledged ‘with malice towards’ none — is now led by a lesser demon who trades in nothing but malice is all the demonstration we need that the corruption is real and vigilance is necessary. You’re not immune. I’m not immune.
Well over a hundred years ago Fredrick Douglass stood up and said that when you enslave another man you find the other end of the chain around your own neck. This is a remarkable statement, full of compassion for both the slave and the slaver. John Brown is mostly forgotten, indeed forsaken, because all he wanted to do was to punish the slaver with death, and then hellfire, without understanding. Fredrick Douglass is remembered and revered because he wanted to end slavery for the slaver, not just for the slave. “Identity Liberalism” confronts identity based oppression, for the oppressed and for the oppressor.
Ullysses S. Grant identified Robert E. Lee and the army of Northern Virginia as ‘brothers’ after their surrender at Appomatox. This was a surprise to Lee who had feared, and not without some justification, that he and his officers would be tried, and hanged, for treason after their surrender.
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
Grant had every justification to hang General Lee, and all his officers, for treason. Indeed, that’s what Lee expected him to do. Grant didn’t do that: following Lincoln’s lead of the ‘better angels of our nature’ and ‘with malice towards none’ — and Lincoln would be dead less than a week later at the hands of a cowardly assassin — Grant deliberately and forcefully stopped the Union army from cheering the surrender and only took the Rolls of Confederate Officers and told them to take their horses back home and that they were on parole. It was, in fact, Robert E. Lee, at the beginning of hostilities who chose the identity of ‘Virginian’ over that of ‘American’, declining the proffered job later to be held by Grant. One wonders if a lot of bloodshed could have been avoided if Lee had made a different choice… a choice not based upon identity…
There once was a term, ‘white slavery,’ used to distinguish the enslavement of a white person rather than the slavery we knew: that slavery we knew was wholly identity based. Lincoln didn’t choose it. Fredrick Douglass certainly didn’t choose it. Grant didn’t choose it. They only chose to fight it. The term ‘white slavery’ is a bygone slice of ridiculousness — as though you have to qualify slavery — echo’d today in the equally noxious retort ‘all lives matter.’ Yeah, all lives should matter, but some lives don’t have that affirmed for them on a daily, even hourly basis. And when that situation obtains, when one group is secure and secured in the fact that their lives matter and an other group is not, then it sure doesn’t look like “all lives matter.”
So, yeah, BLACK LIVES MATTER. That’s what I think of when I think of “identity liberalism:” That liberalism that confronts oppression based upon identity. It is a silly thing to identify someone for oppression, and yet it is done. It never ceases to be absurd, but when people pay the price for it with their lives, it must be confronted. As long as Donald Trump wants to identify Muslims as the focus of oppression, I’ll stand against it. As long as Donald Trump wants to identify Mexicans as the enemy, I’ll stand against it. The fear that Donald Trump peddles is the fear that he feels. I would rather he not feel that fear. So long as he doesn’t listen to me, he’ll have to deal with me in other ways. But I didn’t choose the terms of the debate, he did. As long as the instruments of the state, the POLICE, harass, incarcerate and kill black men indiscriminately, there will be identity liberalism. As long as white america feels to proud and stubborn to vote for a capable and generous person like Hillary Clinton and, instead, chooses as the form of their own destruction, a man who would slice our America into separate identities at war with each other, I’ll call it what it is. That’s what identity liberalism means to me.