I was raised in a pretty average Mexican-American family in East San Jose, California, which has a large Mexican-American population. Until college, I mostly went to schools whose students were mostly Mexican-American.
And yet, I never truly fit in.
I had friends and didn’t experience much bullying.
But making acquaintances was always tinged with awkwardness. Everyone thought I was white, and noticing others’ change in behavior towards me when they learned my real identity was uncomfortable.
It’s a feeling I’ve gotten used to in my wiser, more tolerant and more experienced adulthood. I’ve learned to laugh off the instantaneous cognitive dissonance people display when they discover that my physical identity doesn’t perfectly match up with the stereotype. And because most people I interact with are adults, they’re more likely to shake off the feeling and see me for me than younger people are.
I understand why people are often shocked to learn about my actual ethnicity.
Humans are highly visual creatures, so it only makes sense that we’re going to make snap decisions on something or someone based on their appearances. It can certainly lead to some incorrect assumptions, but keeping that in mind made it easier for me to let people’s bewildered reactions roll off my back. I’m definitely guilty of judging books by their covers, so why should I criticize others of my own social sins?
But just when it seemed like I had developed the poise to deal with the occasional startled response, identity politics leaps into action and takes a bite out of whatever self-assurance I had about my relationship to my ethnicity.
Mexicans occupy a weird spot on the intersectional hierarchy: because of our complicated history, some of us have a more dominant European ancestry while others have a more dominant indigenous ancestry, which results in a population whose skin colors cover a pretty wide spectrum, so our variety of physical appearances can lead to a just as wide a range of life experiences.
It also means that, like all groups, we are not a monolith. There’s no singular definition that can adequately capture the entirety of the “Chicano Experience”, if there even is such a thing, nor should there be.
However, that doesn’t prevent some of my critics from judging me on basically nothing, and lumping me into some group simply because it’s convenient.
As some of you know, I’m no friend of wokeness, and have devoted quite a bit of ink to my hatred of that rotten creed. Because my views don’t fit perfectly into woke orthodoxy, I’ve been slammed with a bunch of disgusting labels, including “right wing grifter”, “Nazi”, “fascist”. But one of the more confounding accusations that’s been hurled at me is “white privilege”.
Simply because I think that a person’s immutable characteristics are NOT their most important aspects, I’m judged as “white” and “privileged”.
I have a couple of problems with this accusation (and make no mistake, it IS an accusation — how many times have you heard “white privilege” used as a term of endearment?):
Problem #1: Am I White Or A Person Of Color?
Identity politics is wildly inconsistent in terms of how it differentiates those who are in power and those who are “marginalized”. If I highlight the difficulties I’ve faced and the unique responsibilities that have resulted from my identity, then I’m a person of color. But if I criticize wokeness, then I’m white.
Today’s iteration of identity politics is based on a radically illogical set of precepts, and yet its adherents are too intellectually blind to see them.
Problem #2: Identity Politics Is Prejudice Parading As Fairness
Up until now, I’ve shared almost nothing about my identity, my background, my personal history, my upbringing. And yet, a few supposedly wrong opinions is enough for my critics to brand me as “white” and “privileged”. These people know nothing about the challenges and benefits that I had while growing up. They know nothing about my experience of being picked on by whites for being Mexican, and picked on by Mexicans for looking white.
Nor do they need to know that to bar me from their hateful little club that I incidentally want no part of.
There’s no room in a cult for people who can think for themselves. For people who can’t be molded into perfect soldiers for The Cause.
I share the painful, private shards of my past not because I want sympathy, but because I want to demonstrate just how complex humans are, and to shine a spotlight on identity politics’ fool’s errand of splitting all of us into cookie cutter groups.
Each of us is the result of a unique set of experiences and values and perspectives that any attempt to categorize us on our immutable characteristics, no matter how well-intentioned, will never be sufficient.
One of the most important lessons that my frustrating childhood taught me was that no single group owns the copyright on Mistreating Those Who Are Different From Us. We’re ALL capable of it.
What Woke Folk don’t understand is that by viewing people as merely vehicles for their surface identities and not as individuals undoes so much of what the Civil Rights movement fought for. This approach has little in common with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s line from his famous “I have a dream” speech:
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
Identity politics is a lazy ideology; it doesn’t want to put in the work to dig any deeper below the surface of the image of a person, and is perfectly content with establishing a Code of Conduct on a flimsy foundation of prejudice and easy inferences.
Have the right skin color and you’re in. Have the wrong view and you’re out.
But as it’s true for cults, it’s also true for identity politics: heretics are worse than infidels.