In his new book, Who Are We — And Should It Matter in the 21st Century?, author Gary Younge examines the enduring legacy and obsession with identity in politics and everyday life, explaining how the way we define ourselves informs every aspect of our social, political and personal experience. And he doesn't anticipate that changing anytime soon.
Salon talked to Younge (a black male of Caribbean descent living in New York, who speaks three languages) about the findings that made him conclude that the dream of a "uniform human race" isn't plausible, or even ideal. Here are some highlights:
On the inspiration for the book: The idea became acute in my mind after Sept. 11, when identity became crudely constructed into two camps: pro-American/anti-American or pro-Islamic/anti-Islamic … people were talking in ways that were verifiably ridiculous … So, I thought there was a contribution I could make to talk about this stuff more intelligently.
On electoral politics: Bangladesh recently had a presidential campaign between two women, but no one would suggest that means women in Bangladesh are doing really well. The world is full of examples of individuals from underrepresented groups gaining more power without the status of the whole group increasing. One of the paradoxes of Obama’s presidency is that African-Americans have never felt better about their place in American politics, yet they’ve rarely fared worse economically and socially.
On whether identities are becoming fluid: To some extent identities are becoming blurrier, but to a larger extent we’re just starting to recognize them as having always been blurry. "Black" was never really a singular category, and within it there were gradations of mulatto, quadroon, octaroon and so forth. But the nature of identity may also shift.
On hierarchies of identities: Being gay and black doesn't mean that person has it twice as bad as a straight white woman. That's the kind of mess some white feminists got into with the 2008 presidential debates between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. They suggested that somehow a black male candidate had it easy, and that it was much worse to be a white woman candidate, which is just crazy.
Read more at Salon.