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Letters Last Updated: Jun 28th, 2012 - 11:06:31


On 'Identity Politics'
By The All-African People's Revolutionary Unification Party
May 3, 2012, 22:12

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Artwork from the book Identity Before Identity Politics by Linda Nicholson
Some people, usually Whites, have used this term “identity politics.” It is usually used after someone else has made a comment about their people’s history, culture, or gender. The term “identity politics” is always used in a negative way as if the person who bought up their history, culture or gender has made some kind of error or violation.


In 1884-1885, at the Berlin Conference, when Europeans divided up Africa and other parts of the world among themselves, they decided that the first people that would be sent to the places to be colonized were the missionaries. One of the first requirements the missionaries made of the indigenous people when they came to Africa was that the natives must give up their African name for a Christian name such as Joseph, John, etc. The first thing that the oppressor demanded of the oppressed was that they give up their identity.

In his book, The Wretched of the Earth Frantz Fanon writes: “When we consider the efforts made to carry out the cultural estrangement so characteristic of the colonial epoch, we realize that nothing has been left to chance and that the total result looked for by colonial domination was indeed to convince the natives that colonialism came to lighten their darkness. The effect consciously sought by colonialism was to drive into the natives’ heads the idea that if the settlers were to leave, they would at once fall back into barbarism, degradation, and bestiality…Colonialism has never ceased to maintain that the Negro is a savage...


“Perhaps unconsciously, the native intellectuals, since they could not stand wonderstruck before the history of today’s barbarity, decided to back further and to delve deeper down; and, let us make no mistake, it was with the greatest delight that they discovered that there was nothing to be ashamed of in the past, but rather dignity, glory, and solemnity. The claim to a national culture in the past does not only rehabilitate that nation and serve as a justification for the hope of a future national culture…Colonialism by a kind of perverted logic, it turns to the past of the oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures, and destroys it. This work of devaluing pre-colonial history takes on a dialectical significance today…


“The example of the Arab world might equally well be quoted here. We know that the majority of Arab territories have been under colonial domination. Colonialism has made the same effort in these regions to plant deep in the minds of the native population the idea that before the advent of colonialism their history was one which was dominated by barbarism. The struggle for national liberty has been accompanied by a cultural phenomenon known by the name of the awakening of Islam. The passion with which contemporary Arab writers remind their people of the great pages of their history is a reply to the lies told by the occupying power. The great names of Arabic literature and the great past of Arab civilization have been brandished about with the same ardor as those of the African civilizations.”


This definition of identity from the Random House Webster’s College Dictionary: 1) the condition of being or remaining the same one, as under varying aspects or conditions 2) the condition of being oneself or itself 3) the condition or character as to who a person or what a thing is.


Some of the words under identity in Roget’s 21st century thesaurus: sameness, exactness, equality, unity, resemblance, similarity, self, name, personality, duplicate, replica, copy, reproduction.


It may be just a coincidence but whenever the term “identity politics” is used, it is usually from someone from the dominant culture talking about someone who was from the oppressed culture. Fanon reminds us that “the passion with which native intellectuals defend the existence of their national culture may be a source of amazement; but those who condemn this exaggerated passion are strangely apt to forget that their own psyche and their own selves are conveniently sheltered behind a French or German culture which has given full proof of its existence and which is uncontested.”


In terms of the definition of identity where does the violation occur in “identity politics”? 1) The condition of being or remaining the same one, as under varying aspects or conditions. Why would your politics, in regard to the condition of being or remaining the same one, as under varying aspects or conditions, be a violation? 2) The condition of being oneself or itself. Why would politics, under the condition of being oneself or itself, be a violation? 3) The condition or character as to who a person or what a thing is. Why would politics, under the condition or character as to who a person or what a thing is, be a violation?


The words under identity in a thesaurus are: sameness, exactness, equality, unity, resemblance, similarity, self, name, personality, duplicate, replica, copy, reproduction. Where are the violations with these words?



It is through the people’s culture, history and "identity" that they learn to fight colonialism and oppression. One must have an identity to understand one’s history and culture. Otherwise, one will be dominated by the culture of colonialism and oppression. Again, Fanon says that "to fight for national culture means in the first place to fight for the liberation of the nation, that material keystone which makes the building of a culture possible. There is no other fight for culture which can develop apart from the popular struggle. To take an example: all those men and women who are fighting with their bare hands against French colonialism in Algeria are not by any means strangers to the national culture of Algeria . The national Algerian culture is taking on form and content as the battles are being fought our, in prisons, under the guillotine, and in every French outpost which is captured or destroyed.”



In the book, An African Revolutionary, Samora Machel writes “It was they who inspired us, these elders from here. We did not grow from nothing. A constant spirit of struggle, struggle, struggle…it was these elders who taught us. They spoke with us and said: ‘It’s necessary to fight these Portuguese, they are foreigners’…No book by Marx ever arrived here, nor any other book that spoke against colonialism. Our books were these elders. It was they who taught us what colonialism is, the evils of colonialism and what the colonialists did when they came here. They were our source of inspiration.”


We can only conclude that the people who are criticizing us about “identity politics” are doing it for the same reason that the missionaries did when they came to colonize us and steal our land. They knew that if we depended on our history and culture that we would fight them for our land and liberation. It is no coincidence that these same people now jawing about "identity politics" in a derogatory way are on stolen land inside the United States. They never say a word about the theft of this land from the indigenous people and that is because they are settler colonialists, thieves, and oppressors. This is why they denigrate “identity politics.”

Written by the The All-African People's Revolutionary Unification Party. Sent to SeeingBlack.com by the African Women's Charity Organization

© Copyright 2006 SeeingBlack.com

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