There’s Always been Identity Politics

There is so much of the last four years that could be written about. Every day it seemed like there was another event that was, at the very least, unethical by what had been our standards. I swore off the news to keep my anxiety level down, but I heard most of the repulsive stories anyway.

On Tuesday, during his last 24 hours as Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo condemned “multiculturalism,” saying “that it was not who America is.” (See: On his way out, Pompeo denounces multiculturalism in the U.S.)

Of course, most of us know what that is code for. It has to do with black and brown people being proud of their culture and celebrating it.

There has never been a problem with white people celebrating their culture. I grew up knowing I was of Irish and German descent. I had dolls celebrating my Irish heritage and my German heritage. I would always talk about being German and Irish. I had friends who talked about being Italian. We never prefaced it by saying we were “Americans” first; we always talked about our ancestry with pride.

My parents grew up in a section of Queens, NY known as Ridgewood. When my mother was young, there were some stores you couldn’t go into unless you spoke German. Those who came from Germany didn’t all learn the new language, but their children did. My father knew a bit of German despite never having been to Germany. My grandmother cooked German food; her sauerbraten is still the standard by which I measure German cooking. We went to two different German restaurants when I was young, Koenig’s and New Hyde Park Inn.

No one ever blinked an eye at any of this.

Suddenly, though, we’ve been hearing how wrong we are to treat this country as a melting pot and celebrate multiculturalism. I’ve read the same people say “identity politics is wrong” when at the same time in the 1980s Ronald Reagan asked “Are you better off than you were four years ago” not “Is the country better off than it was four years ago” or even “Is your community better off than it was four years ago.”

Because in the eyes of these old racist white men, it’s only wrong to have identity politics when it’s a black or brown identity. Multiculturalism is only wrong when it’s about black or brown culture. Indeed, you’ll never see them denounce a St. Patrick’s Day parade celebrating Irish heritage. You’ll see them standing against changing it from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day which has more to do with Italian heritage. They’re totally fine with all of that.

In their eyes, it’s okay for me to identify as a German-Irish-American or “half German, half-Irish.” It’s not okay for us to celebrate the first African-American and Asian Female Vice-President. “Why do we have to talk about all of that?” is all across social media saying that Kamala Harris identifying like that is divisive. These same people wouldn’t blink an eye at a white candidate saying their family went back to the Mayflower or an ancestor fought in the Revolutionary War.

Mike Pompeo can go suck an egg and become as irrelevant as all of these old white men are becoming. I’ll join with the others celebrating the melting pot of American multiculturalism with a lot of pride.

3 replies »

  1. As the daughter and niece of immigrants, it’s never occurred to me that there was one American culture. Even if there were, it sure wouldn’t be dictated by the likes of Mike Pompeo.

    Yes, Christopher Columbus opened up contact with the Western Hemisphere. He also set in motion a centuries-long effort to enslave and destroy peoples. One cannot be separated from the other.