Identity politics is characterized by the belief that one's membership in a particular demographic group -- whether defined by race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or some other criterion -- determines the political views and agendas that one is morally obliged to embrace. Moreover, identity politics typically casts the group in question as a victim of myriad societal injustices -- a victim that must, for its own survival, present a unified, combative front which stands in opposition to those perceived inequities. In the calculus of identity-politics advocates, ideological non-conformity is tantamount to treachery against the entire group and its welfare.
For instance, black leftists -- who, for decades, have depicted African Americans as the perpetual victims of intransigent societal racism -- are particularly galled by the non-conformity of black conservatives, branding the latter as sell-outs, "Uncle Toms," "Oreos," and race-traitors. As the black conservative author and Hoover Institution fellow Shelby Steele puts it, a black conservative "is a black who dissents from the victimization explanation of black fate ... when it is made the main theme of group identity and the raison d’être of a group politics." "Today," Steele adds, "a public 'black conservative' will surely meet a stunning amount of animus, demonization, misunderstanding, and flat-out, undifferentiated contempt."
The mindset of racial pigeon-holing is typical also of white leftists, who likewise categorize conservative African Americans as either willfully inauthentic blacks or the unwitting dupes of conservative white racists. In August 2011, for instance, white actress Janeane Garofalo disparaged the black conservative (and Republican presidential candidate) Herman Cain as someone who “is being paid by somebody to be involved and to run for president so that you [Republicans] go, like, ‘I love that, that can’t be racist.’” "There may be a touch of Stockholm syndrome in there," added Garafolo, "because anytime I see a person of color or a female in the Republican party or the conservative movement or the Tea Party, I wonder how they could be trying to curry favor with the oppressors."
The groupthink phenomenon that characterizes identity politics is rooted in the leftist notion that the United States and other non-socialist societies are composed largely of dominators and the dominated, oppressors and the oppressed. Allegedly, the principal cause of this social arrangement is the economic system of free-market capitalism, which is viewed by the left as the root of all manner of social ills and vices -- racism, sexism, alienation, homophobia, imperialism. By the left's reckoning, capitalism is an agent of tyranny and exploitation that presses its boot upon the proverbial necks of a wide array of victim groups -- blacks and other minorities, women, homosexuals, immigrants, and the poor, to name but a few. As an outgrowth of this view, an entire industry of identity-politics activism has arisen around each of these demographics.
To eliminate America’s inherent injustices, the champions of leftist identity politics seek to invert the power hierarchy, so that the groups now said to be oppressed become the privileged races and classes (and gender) of the new social order. This quest to transform the “dominated” into dominators, and vice versa, draws its inspiration from the Communist Manifesto, which asserts that “[t]he history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle.” The struggle identified by the Manifesto was that of the proletarians and their intellectual vanguard, who, armed with the radical utopian vision of socialism, were expected to launch a series of civil wars in their respective countries -- battles that would topple the “ruling classes” and the illegitimate societies they had established.
The contemporary left has broadened this struggle by extending it also to a host of demographic groups that are allegedly victimized by American capitalism and its related injustices. Each of these groups -- minorities, homosexuals, women, immigrants, the poor -- promotes its own brand of identity politics by which it seeks to differentiate itself from the larger, supposedly oppressive, society. Because of its animus toward the status quo, identity politics typically promotes a revolutionary or transformative political agenda.