Hashtag Activism, Identity Politics, and Surrounding a Problem : (2) Identity Politics

 Intersectionality is fabulous as a political and cultural strategy. It is our only hope. So, we can’t keep each other strangers and intersect at the same time. Our traditions must be shared, mixed up, mashed up, allowed to intermingle and create new ways of being human or we will never, not ever for a minute, form the depth of human bond and assured political solidarity necessary to make a new world.

#BringBackOurGirls by any means necessary.

Identity Politics is patriarchal and divisive and ultimately violent. Stop it.

There, I said it. You can get mad at me or be disappointed in me now. I am expecting it. I know this is not the prevalent view because so, so many people practice identity politics daily.

When Boko Haram says that Western Education is the enemy of Islam (a claim that they know much about Islam) they are not being awesome post-colonial defenders of their lands and culture. They are political insurgents, seeking to undermine Nigeria’s economy and government in order to take power for themselves.

 They are devastation.

And they use Identity (their targets: Christians and Muslims who like modernity) to choose their victims to kidnap and the villages they will decimate. Much of the north of Nigeria, the south of Niger, and swathes of Chad fall under their control.

When Hutus started their genocide by machete against Tusti’s in Rwanda, they were working on the premises of identity politics: starkly defined ethnic group + privilege difference = rape and slaughter. The West stayed out of that one. No one could find a compelling national interest. The West was rightly condemned, by Africans, for that moral failure. That genocide was really only about power, which the only thing that patriarchy is ever really about — the establishment and maintenance of power/control. Identity politics makes that process much, much easier. 

 I’m not even going to talk about Somalia or ethnic tensions (synonym for identity politics) in Ethiopia, because you know.

The US military could not have a base or bases in Africa without the permission of the African Union. And, they are operating in countries that have invited them because colonialism/empire/colonizers left these nations in a bad way, and they are often caught between the extremist insurgents and the Chinese. The CIA is doing what the CIA does everywhere, and that has always been very problematic. But, they are also trying to help choke groups like Al Qaeda in the Maghreb and Boko Haram.

As I write this post, Reuters publishes this article: Boko Haram attack kills 31 Nigerian security personnel.

Nigeria will never, and didn’t try to, get these Girls back on their own. They are out-gunned.

Boko Haram has been destroying villages and especially Girl’s schools for the last FIVE YEARS. Life in northern Nigeria is a misery.

Finally, some brave families said enough of being attacked, enough of government too corrupt and kleptocratic to bother about them, and they went to Twitter to get some help. They’re on Facebook, too.

Meanwhile, in the West, we are using identity politics in another way. We dogmatically and reflexively use it to shame each other. To censor. To divide. Across the gender spectrum, among ethnic groups, between religions, between kinds of feminists, and regions of our nation we draw lines in the sand and defend them all over the media and in the streets with insult, and bullying, and very real violence. And as long as we do that to ourselves in the name of tradition and identity, THEY will stay in power. They don’t even have to try.

 Intersectionality is fabulous as a political and cultural strategy. It is our only hope. So, we can’t keep each other strangers and intersect at the same time. Our traditions must be shared, mixed up, mashed up, allowed to intermingle and create new ways of being human or we will never, not ever for a minute, form the depth of human bond and assured political solidarity necessary to make a new world.

Identity is not a thing. It’s not a commodity or a possession, it’s not a object you or I can own and lock up somewhere. It’s a thing no one can take from you by imitation or appropriation. It can only be taken from you by long programs of culture domination and erasure — which many peoples have suffered at the hands of people who look like me — like the forbidding your language or religion. We did specialize in this in Europe. You have a point.

But, that’s political history, mostly. Identity is infinite and flexible and pretty fluid. Mine is St. Patrick’s Day. Yours is belly-dancing. Mine is French baguettes. Yours is algebra. Mine is Texas style bar-b-que. Yours is gumbo. Mine is clogging. Yours is yoga. Mine is building empires. Yours is genital cutting. Mine is frat house rape culture. Yours is gangsta rap. Mine is One Direction. Yours is Gangnam Style. 

Need I go on? Lots of people who are not even a little bit French buy and eat baguettes all the time.

Dogmatic identity politics leave otherwise very smart people vulnerable to those who would maintain the status quo in Nigeria like this article recently circulated in response to #BringBackOurGirls. The author wants the West to stay out of it, to let Nigerians handle their own business, to let them work out their own democratic process. There is no genuine democratic process in Nigeria, and if we had listened to this author and folded our hands before the keyboard to pray for forgiveness at overstepping our identity border


The author of this article has no interest in those Girls or their rescue. His agenda is much less honorable than that. And he knew that he could drop this into the conversation and hopefully slow things down. It kind of worked.

The US does have an expansionist agenda in Africa, especially in nations that are not holding up so well under the pressure of the expansionist agendas of terrorist organizations and China. We are an empire. We are in denial about that, but we are. Feminist in the US do work against imperialism, but that is a longer process than a mission like this.

The better critique is here. Feminists in the West should take more interest in how our governments meddle in the business of African nations, and should pressure our governments to behave ethically.

And we do. Every single day. We work for ethical business practices and international respect wherever we can. We write to our legislators to tell them that drones in Pakistan are not flown in our names, that we do not support this warfare.

You can see what good that does. Sometimes both hashtag activism AND traditional political methods can fail abysmally when they come up against the desire of the military-industrial complex and the NSA. There are some things in the world cannot be changed by use of public opprobrium and moral shaming or even praise for good deeds– which is what the Internet is good at.

The world might do this one thing right. Just this one. And I will not fold my hands at the keyboard because I’m white, and Western, and well educated. Those are terrible reasons to refrain from any action. Especially this tiny one, which requires millions of other people to take this action too, in order to have any effect at all. It is ALL I can do in this instance.

Respect, I believe that living in an intersectional world requires respect before almost any other moral and social value. But respect and a distant silence, peering at my others from too far away to shake hands with you – those are not the same thing.

There are a total of 80 troops in Nigeria. They’re probably Special Forces. They do the subtle work. There is no danger whatsoever of thousands of US military tromping all over Nigeria (or any other precarious African nation) and taking the place over.

It is respectful of these Girls to bring them home. Their mothers called on us. We answered.

Because we identified with them. With their fear, and frustration, and pain. We don’t know it exactly, but we do know what fear, and frustration, and pain are like. Many of us know what it is lose our children to slavery, to the streets, to war, to death. And we did not want to leave these women to the disinterested devices of their own government.


For a view of what African Feminist are doing in their countries and cultures, here are a few sources of good reputation:


Be good to each other and carry on!

Dr. Simone Roberts
Web Editor/Historian

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: