Response to 'Identity Politics' : Opportunity and power lie in social context, not a vacuum of individual responsibility
The opinion piece “Take individual responsibility: Identity politics are not a real solution to social issues” contains a perspective that some Rice students share, but ignores the historical context of the social issues to which the author refers. The author interprets “identity politics” as a buzzword meant to divide. However, the term was meant to bring attention to groups historically ignored in major sociopolitical movements, in particular black women and other women of color.
The op-ed is a reflection on taking advantage of opportunity and working hard, values that we can all agree are important. It’s true that everyone carries their own baggage, and the author is right in that there’s no accurate way to compare hardships. But the piece conveniently omits the fact that opportunity does not exist equally for everyone in this country, and there are certain groups of people who have been and still are systematically denied opportunities to succeed.
It is necessary to differentiate between enduring personal hardships in one’s life and experiencing systemic disadvantage based on factors like race and social class, i.e., residential segregation, mass incarceration, differential access to healthcare and education, and gerrymandering and voting policies that continue to disenfranchise certain groups. Putting quotations around the word oppressed to imply that it’s trivial does not mean that it is.
The author’s idea that “the more ‘oppressed’ you are, the more your voice and interests matter” shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to have a voice. If you are from a group that is systematically oppressed and you are speaking about the injustice you experience, then yes, your voice should matter because you are directly impacted by the issue. No one should be able to say that your experience of oppression is invalid, as the author suggests in his piece.
However, if you’re a member of a disadvantaged group and you’re addressing people who can actually combat the injustices you face, oftentimes your voice isn’t heard or is viewed as threatening to those in power. Just look at what happened at Standing Rock with the Dakota Access Pipeline. If the views of the people most impacted had actually been considered, construction wouldn’t have even begun.
We agree with the author that no one should buy into a victim mentality, but calling out oppression doesn’t necessarily mean victimizing oneself. Arguing that individuals ought to take more responsibility for their success is largely unproductive; this idea has been reinforced in all of us again and again. Perhaps a more constructive question we should be asking is, how do we provide the same opportunities for all members of our society? How do we create a true meritocracy, the world that the author describes? How do we turn what we consider privilege for some into a right for all? We probably won’t agree on the best way to get there, but we can start by talking about where we should be heading. Progress begins by listening to those who are trying to speak up instead of dismissing them as divisive.
More from The Rice Thresher
Beware of dissenters, reinvestigate the real Israel
Israel is a special place and arguably the most misunderstood in the world. We will be celebrating Israel’s 75th birthday at Rice, commemorating the occasion with a conference hosted by the Baker Institute on April 27, 2023. It is important to understand that the Jewish connection to the land of Israel goes back thousands of years. Jews were always in this land before Israel was created. As I prepare to graduate, having founded a Students Supporting Israel chapter at Rice, I want students to be informed about Israel and Palestine. There are many people who spew misinformation and will not want to listen to facts because of the false narrative they love to believe.
Thank you for letting me tell your stories
If there is anything I will miss about college, it is the Thresher. No matter how many long nights or years of my life I have given to this paper, I have never grown tired of the Thresher. Maybe because of a superb staff that impresses me every day with their talent and dedication to good journalism or the unwavering support and friendship (and fist bumps) from my co-editor Ben Baker-Katz, but, I think most of all, it is the work I was able to do here.
Thresher holds the memories of a campus
For the last two years, whenever someone has tried to make plans with me on a Tuesday, I’ve responded with some version of “I can’t, I’ve got Thresher.” The natural next question, after I explain that putting together a weekly paper takes up the vast majority of every Tuesday, is “Why do you spend so much time on it?” And silly as it may seem, I’ve never really come up with a good answer to that question.
Please note All comments are eligible for publication by The Rice Thresher.