Identity politics

I’m a straight cis white male but it’s only relatively recently that I’ve begun to think about myself using these labels. One of the surest signs of privilege is not having to think about your identity, to be sure you’re an individual and judged like that by those around you, not having to have to construct labels to explain yourself to others.

Which is why something like “cis”, a seemingly innocent counterpart to “trans” in the context of gender identities, similar to how it’s used in frex biological chemistry or when talking about cisalpine and transalpine Gaul, has been greeted with so much venom and outrage even in supposedly liberal environments. It rubs the noses of everybody who thinks of themselves as normal and trans people as the outliers in the fact that their gender identity is just one possibily, not as matter of fact as they’d want to.

In leftwing circles there’s long been a tendency to bewail this sort of identity politics, the endless parsing of possible gender or sexual identities, the splintering of groups into finer and finer subgroups, but I more and more think this is as much a good thing as a bad. First of course, for any oppressed or invisible group getting that identity established is a way to become visible, but second, it also shows up the unnaturalness of the default assumptions about people’s identities. The more we all realise you can be homosexual, bisexual, asexual, etc, the less “normal” being heterosexual becomes.

The myth of rescuing sex workers

Molly Crabapple on how New York’s special prostitution courts still peddle the same tired myth of needing to “rescue” sex workers and hence put them more at risk:

Police are violent in general, and violent specifically to women they think are sex workers. According to a 2012 study by the Young Women’s Empowerment Project for young people who have sold sex, a third of all reported abuse came at the hands of the police. Sources told me officers had called women “sluts,” groped them during arrests, even made jerking-off motions with their batons in court. In the Brooklyn HTIC, RedUP saw a black woman who claimed to have been beaten so savagely by police that she landed in the hospital.

[…]

According to Kluger, the HTICs are decriminalizing prostitution in the court system, despite the arrests and incarcerations that underpin the courts. Her perception of sex workers comes from the women who have stood before her bench. To her, they seem “comatose,” emotionless, controlled by traffickers and pimps. To validate their emotions, Lee and Kluger both rely on long-discredited statistics that are mantras in the anti-trafficking world: “70 percent of trafficking is sex trafficking”; “the average age of entry into prostitution is 12 to 14 years old.”

And of course it’s mostly white middle class men and women who have the power to decide how to treat the largely black, latina, trans, working class women who the police pick up for their arrest quotas, their agency denied by those who seek to rescue them.

Ferguson is not an incident

But something that happens on a twice weekly basis:

The statistics: White officers kill black suspects twice a week in the United States, or an average of 96 times a year.

Those are the findings of a USA Today analysis of seven years of FBI data, which claims around a quarter of the 400 annual deaths reported to federal authorities by local police departments were white-on-black shootings. What’s more, the analysis indicates that 18% of the black suspects were under the age of 21 when killed by the police, as opposed to just 8.7% of white suspects.

The culture of poverty does not exist

The importance of the culture-of-poverty approach is that it allows for recognition of the accumulated history of racism and inequality, but posits the ongoing effects of these as mediated through black cultural pathologies. It therefore permits American liberals to identify with opposition to racism while pushing them towards policy solutions geared towards the transformation of black people, and not American society.

With every crisis in Black America the same pathologies the Black community supposedly suffers from — veneration of the criminal lifestyle, lack of proper family structures, abhorrence of education as acting white — are trotted out as an explanation, by conservative commentators as that’s just how those people are, by supposed liberals as the unfortunate end product of Black history in America. There’s just one problem: they’re lies. The culture of poverty does not exist.

Driving while black is real

The Washington Post has confirmed that driving while black is real:

The Justice Department statistics, based on the Police-Public Contact Survey, show that “relatively more black drivers (12.8%) than white (9.8%) and Hispanic (10.4%) drivers were pulled over in a traffic stop during their most recent contact with police.” Or, to frame it another way: A black driver is about 31 percent more likely to be pulled over than a white driver, or about 23 percent more likely than a Hispanic driver. “Driving while black” is, indeed, a measurable phenomenon.

Cue collective “well, duh” from the black community.