Friday, April 01, 2005

The identititarian logic of multiculturalism

Writing in the Jewish World Review on the tragic high school shooting spree last week perpetrated by teenage Indian Jeff Weise, Leonard Pitts reflects on the time the boy spent on Nazi websites and far right chatrooms. At the face, it seems paradoxical that a Native American should be drawn to white supremacist views. But what Pitts notes is that "Weise's complaint wasn't that he hated Indians but, rather, that too many of his people were not 'Indian' enough, that their culture was diluted by exposure to others."

This is an example of the strange afterlife of the politics of recognition and identity central to multiculturalism. As Les Back has written:
I think we may be moving into an era in which the narcissism of identity and loathing are entering into a ever more tragic relationship... Under the leadership of their new chairman – Nick Griffin – the British National Party have attempted to repackage themselves as a ‘respectable’ electoral organisation along the lines of the Front Nationale in France. In many respects the nature of the BNP’s political message has shifted. The racial nationalists of today deny that they hate anyone, but rather that they merely love themselves and want to preserve whiteness as an essentialised social identity which they say is under threat. The house publication of the British National Party has been re-named as - you guessed it - ‘Identity.’ Their dominant motif is that whites are now the victims...
In a postmodern twist racial nationalists have also assimilated a kind of brummagem multiculturalism. They claim that white identity is being lost, their cultural rights violated and whites are invoked as a beleaguered minority.
I think Back hits the nail on the head here. The identitarian logic - the idea of cultural identity, purity and authenticity - that underlies certain forms of multiculturalism fits perfectly with the racial nationalist politics of the websites Jeff Weise browsed.

[JWR essay reached via Dissecting Rightism.]

Previous: the lessons for multiculturalism, Geertz on The Uses of Diversity

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