Chloe Westley is the Campaign Manager of the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
“I’m speaking for the benefit of all people.” This is how Kanye West responded to criticism last week that he wasn’t doing enough to stand up for the black community in America. The presenter came back, and pleaded with him that white people always have a head start in life. The rapper calmy paused before thoughtfully responding: “But there’s a lot of poor white people too”.
In 2018, that’s a bold acknowledgement to make. Individualism – the idea that the human individual should be emphasised over the collective – is increasingly rejected by Western institutions. Instead, we are being taught to reduce ourselves to a single characteristic, in order to be divided into groups of victims and villains, so that we may be resentful or ashamed accordingly.
Identity politics has infected political discourse in Britain. Instead of engaging with the substance of an argument being engaged with, bigotry is inferred on opponents. So it is that those concerned about Britain’s discriminatory immigration policy are branded as ‘racist’. And those who express concerns about gender-neutral toilets are merely “bigots” and “transphobes” – and their case is therefore invalid.
I’ve been guilty of indulging in identity politics myself. A few weeks ago, I was appalled by the assertion of some men that I had no right to criticise the burka. I thought: it’s all very well for you to defend the covering up of women – you’re not a woman, and you don’t have to wear it. But perhaps in retrospect that was unfair. Someone’s gender or physical characteristics shouldn’t determine their right to speak freely on a matter. I regret making that cheap shot.
But it’s not just our political discourse that is made worse by identity politics. I’m concerned that instead of teaching young people to judge each other on merit, this new collectivist mentality encourages judgements based on a single characteristic like race or gender. I don’t think it’s healthy to instill a sense of victimhood or shame on children for something they have nothing to do with – i.e: what they’re born with. Yes, there are those who are advantaged and disadvantaged in society. But can privilege simply be reduced to single characteristics?
I’m not saying that it isn’t important to discuss and confront discrimination in society. I would never seek to belittle or disregard cases of racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia – or prejudice of any kind. But I disagree with those who advocate positive discrimination as a means of balancing the scales.
Recently, the BBC advertised a job interview open only to those from a ‘non-white’ background. The corporation defended its decision by claiming that this was a move to give those from under-represented backgrounds a leg up. Not only is this patronising to those who would prefer to be judged on their merit instead of their skin colour, but it also ignores the point that Kanye made in his radio interview: there are disadvantaged white people too.
I think it’s fantastic that the Conservative Party want to get more women elected to Parliament. But I hope this can be achieved without the introduction of quotas or all-female shortlists. I don’t want to be given opportunities because of my gender, but because I’m the best person to do the job. Far from promoting equality, quotas and all-female shortlists place doubt in people’s minds that women are as capable as men. When given the opportunity to prove ourselves in a meritocratic society, we can prove that we are.
I believe that as human beings we are more complex than identitarians give us credit for. We are a combination of so many things – our parents, our place of birth, experiences out of our control, and choices along the way. No combination of characteristics, experiences and choices are the same; and there are as many combinations as there are people on the planet.
As much as identitarianism likes to split society into segments to pit against each other, people don’t fit nearly into boxes. We should strive to debate ideas without resorting to insults and ad hominem attacks about the background of our opponent. We should strive instead to live in a meritocratic society, where each of us can be judged on the content of our character.