In the last edition of the Thresher, Matthew Good wrote an op-ed titled "Take individual responsibility: Identity politics are not a real solution to social issues.” In it, Good put forth the claim that identity politics are the driving force behind the divided political climate of today and that the solutions to today’s problems are rooted in self-reflection and taking responsibility for one’s own success. While this notion is clearly well-intentioned, its ignorance of the real world deserves a response. I’m not going to try to tell you how to fix society, or promote any political agenda. I’d just like to share some common sense on the topic.
Good was correct in stating that “the problem here isn’t that people aren’t ‘oppressed.’” However, I don’t think anyone could sensibly argue that point. The problem here is that people are oppressed, and as nice as it may sound, thinking hard and looking inside yourself aren’t going to change that.
A young Mexican child whose family immigrated to the U.S. illegally is going to have a difficult time growing up if their parents get deported. A black man can try his hardest to follow the law, but a criminal justice system that incarcerates 1 in 3 black men, isn’t making it any easier for him to stay out of prison. A woman born totally blind isn’t going to become a pilot or an astronaut by considering the challenges she faces due to her condition. The entire idea behind oppression is that different demographics of people face different life challenges that beyond their control, which gives them a different starting line in overcoming those challenges.
Good claimed, “Throwing your hands up, believing you’re a victim and blaming other people is the most counterproductive thing you could do.” This argument reeks of ignorance. The American Civil Liberties Union isn’t giving up, they are fighting for the rights of the underrepresented in the courtroom. Black Lives Matter protesters aren’t pouting about their problems at home, they are taking to the streets to voice their concerns. Women aren’t shying away from STEM jobs, they are studying for them in college in increasing numbers. You may not agree with how these groups go about seeking to better their lives, but you can’t say they aren’t trying.
The foundational flaw in Good’s line of thinking is also the reason he used quotes around every instance of the word “oppressed” in his article (go check). He lacks an understanding of what hardship actually is. This is why it is easy to tell people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps from the comfort of our private university’s dorms, but it is hard to tell it to their faces.
Before we tell an entire group of people that the challenges they face are the same as everyone else’s and that they just aren’t trying hard enough, we should first ask them what those challenges actually are. I’m not saying that anyone should feel bad about the good hand they were dealt or guilty about their own lack of oppression. But telling someone who is starting with less than you to “get up and go to work” is pretty insulting. If you want to worry about somebody else’s problems, at least acknowledge them first.