Identity politics

Catching up on Hitchens’ publications, I came across an article by him in the Washington Times called The Perils of Identity Politics. It was published in January, so I’m rather behind in responding to it (a trend in my life these days). In the article he writes,

Here again, the problem is that Sen. Obama wants us to transcend something at the same time he implicitly asks us to give that same something as a reason to vote for him. I must say that the lyricism with which he does this has double and triple the charm of Mrs. Clinton’s heavily-scripted trudge through the landscape, but the irony is still the same.

What are we trying to “get over” here? We are trying to get over the hideous legacy of slavery and segregation. But Mr. Obama is not a part of this legacy. His father was a citizen of Kenya, an independent African country, and his mother was a “white” American. He is as distant from the real “plantation” as I am. How — unless one thinks obsessively about color while affecting not to do so — does this make him “black”?

Well, his history does not make him “black,” but the people’s perception of his skin color does. I mean, this seems pretty obvious. It’d be great if people stopped making assumptions about people based on such things, and much of Hitchens’ article argues the reason why race and skin color shouldn’t matter, but that doesn’t change the fact that it does matter for many people. People may not go out in the world with the intention of making assumptions about others based on skin color, but it happens (dare I say it happens all the time?). [My mother is convinced that people see her and hear her speak and assume she is an illegal alien. I doubt this very much, but who knows?]

Of course, all this leads Hitchens to say he will not be voting for Obama or Clinton, and that his not voting for them has nothing to do with race or gender. I believe him when he says this, but it hurts to know he’ll be voting for the Republican nominee (though I’m far from surprised)

O, Hitch! Why? Why must ye torment me in this way?

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