I’m reposting this article I first published 4 years ago today, about identity politics and the hijack of the political left by privileged-people-who-think-they’re-oppressed. Sadly, the problem is worse today than when I wrote the piece.
When I were a lad (yes, even Londoners had northern accents back then), and a left-wing activist, we were greatly concerned about oppression; and in the 1980s, there was no shortage of examples. The South African police had shot dead schoolchildren in Soweto in 1976, and continued to gun down innocents on a regular basis. In Latin America, US-backed dictatorships kidnapped, tortured and murdered thousands of activists. In Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, US-backed terrorists attacked civilians on a wide scale, with a special love of atrocity. In Africa, civilians were slaughtered in proxy wars between the US and USSR. Asia saw brutality on an unimaginable scale.
The left stood for the rights of oppressed peoples, but understood clearly that oppression is primarily a function of economic means, not of race, sex or sexuality. While we also opposed prejudice on these grounds, and supported women’s rights, gay rights and anti-racism causes, we knew that ultimately, oppression and poverty were inextricably linked.
But the left slowly died as the Cold War came to an end, and capitalism (coupled with social democracy) proved itself more resilient than Marx had predicted. The death of the progressive British left can probably be best located to a particular date: 3rd March 1985, when the miners walked sadly back to work after being defeated in their long strike. For me, and many of my friends, this marked the point when our intense activism ended and we drifted away to live our lives.
But the organs of the left remained, and were rapidly taken over by a new breed: overwhelmingly middle-class and rooted in academia rather than trade unionism. This new left failed to understand the economics of poverty and oppression (never having witnessed these things themselves), so set about writing themselves a new ideology. So we found ourselves thrust into the era of identity politics.
The new left lacked the intellect of the old, and found itself making the most fundamental of all mistakes: confusing correlation with causation. So the left now sought out new groups that appeared to oppressed. Because white people held the most economic power, the identity-left reasoned that skin colour was a cause of oppression, and labelled all non-whites as victims. And since laws had in the past been rigged against women, the left decided that mere possession of a vagina was equivalent to oppression.
While paying lip service to the oppression of the poor, the overwhelmingly white, academia-based, middle-class left no longer had any links with the working class, and so they focused on rescuing the oppressed groups they knew best: themselves. Largely, this meant that the individuals with the most “oppressions” (yes, I’ve really seen it used in the plural) were fast-tracked to the top. Those who screamed their self-pity the loudest became the most powerful, fast-tracked into political power.
But the rise of gay and black (often both) individuals was orchestrated by the white people who kept a firm hand on the reins. Black people would only be allowed into the hierarchy if they accepted that they were oppressed. Gay and non-white people who didn’t see themselves as oppressed by their colour or sexuality were labelled self-haters, and side-tracked. Non-white activists like Linda Bellos, Lee Jasper and Diane Abbott were only acceptable because they echoed the view of the white, middle-class establishment that they were oppressed.
In the intervening years, the self-pitying rhetoric of “oppression” and “privilege” has only gained further ground, to the extent that the meaning of these two words has been twisted almost beyond recognition. Almost comically, white, middle-class women appear to have decided that they are the most oppressed of all. Now, oppression isn’t something that happens to you. It’s something that you are. Now, oppression isn’t having your children shot dead, or a daily struggle to feed one’s family. No, oppression is a white middle-class woman, with a good job, having to endure the fact that men like looking at pictures of breasts. The following is a genuine tweet from just such an oppressed woman:
On tube sat next to a man reading The Sun and thus I start my day feeling a continuing sense of oppression
One wonders if Prozac might be the solution to this sort of oppression… or perhaps just a nice spliff. But I digress.
The old left tried to overturn oppression, but to the new left, this is pointless. Rather than fix inequalities, the left has decided to cement inequality into place permanently. Now, anybody labelled Oppressed must be given special privileges as compensation. In a deeply Orwellian twist, the more oppressed one is deemed to be, the more privilege they must be given in return.
Thus, the woman who finds Page 3 imagery objectionable need not merely boycott the Sun (as I’ve done my whole life). Now she has the right to demand that Page 3 is removed from the Sun. As an oppressed woman, she has won the privilege of censorship. Don’t Page 3 models also have a right to work? Apparently not – the rights of the oppressed middle-class woman are far greater than those of the working class one.
The “black community” (an almost meaningless phrase) is also deemed to be oppressed. Those black individuals who accept their oppression (and scream loudly about it) are welcomed by the left. Black individuals who doubt their own oppression, or who see the dangers in teaching black children that they’re automatically oppressed, are screamed down as self-haters.
This was most clearly shown by the recent London art exhibition, Exhibit B, which was forced to close after the “black community” (or rather, a mob of 200 people) blockaded it. Thus, black people are SO oppressed that they too are granted the right of censorship of anything that offends them. Never mind that the exhibition had been critically acclaimed in multiple cities before reaching London, or that black people were far from united in hating it, or that those who protested against it had never seen it.
The irony of Exhibit B is that the mob was enabled by the white elite. Their oppression (and thus, their privilege) was granted to them by white people. Their language of “oppression” and “privilege” was forged by the white middle-classes in universities around the country. Far from being “conscious” or liberated, this black minority is determined to follow a white agenda to the bitter end. The left is determined to tell black people that they are doomed to fail; and give them a handy excuse for failure – their skin colour.
So now, the left doesn’t expect black people to conform to the rules affecting whites. And so, politics has turned full circle. In accepting that black people, women, and other groups, are oppressed, the left has attempted to destroy the very thing it used to fight for: equality. Now, groups deemed oppressed by the white elite are granted special allowances. And the fight for equality takes a huge step backwards.
So is it any surprise that groups have sprung up on the right to declare men and white people oppressed? Sure, these people are laughable – but no more laughable than the claims of oppression by the left. Self-pity is the new black.
If you’re born into a middle-class existence in the UK, you aren’t oppressed. This is true regardless of your skin colour, who you choose to fuck, or the shape of your genitals. It’s genuinely sickening to watch the pity-fest that has replaced left-wing politics in the 21st century. Get over yourselves.
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