Calling out identity politics

06 May 2018

Asiaviews May 4, 2018

Calling out identity politics


Famed rapper Kanye West multiplied his controversy value with his tweets in support of President Trump. Then his dismissive remark that ‘ 400-year slavery is really about choice’ blew away rational reaction, The ensuing social media storm aroused fellow rapper, Chance The Rapper. But behind the visible issues, the remarkable thing is that they both went against identity politics in a big way. Chance The Rapper expressed it clearly: Black people don’t have to be democrats.

Whether or not you are a rapper fan, there is an important point here. Much of the acrimony that rules politics throughout the world from the Trump phenomenon to the Jakarta Gubernatorial Election involve identity politics. They started out with small but hard` minorities that grew into electoral majorities with the magic potion of identity politics of the racial and religious kind.


Now millennials are emerging in Indonesian politics and it is encouraging. We hope they will provide fresh voices and mew outlooks. It will be disappointing if they grow in strength only because they align themselves on the basis of group identity rather than by contributing to discourses on issues and causes.


The worldwide sweep of populism is a form of identity politics which is being challenged in important countries like France, Germany and Scandinavia, The most recent pushback against identity politics is in the Costa Rica presidential election that ended with a result against the stream of play with a stunning victory by Carlos Alvarado. He challenged a fiercely fundamentalist former gospel singer. The liberal Alvarado  won decisively. He was supported by the LGBT movement, which had good reason to cheer his victory. But while Costa Rica’s election may have been the first national election anywhere to turn on the question of gay rights, more importantly it showed that people want a president who defends the rule of law and appears capable of dealing with the country’s divisive social issues.


Now Indonesia faces the challenge not to allow the divisive Jakarta election campaign politics to spill over  from 2017 into 2019. The first incident has been provoked on a Car Free Day in Jakarta, a popular time for people to celebrate health and life on main streets closed for traffic. The normal strollers and joggers were sullied by a group wearing T-shirts emblazoned with hostile slogans ‘Change the President in 2019’, a negative position without an alternative candidate. The damage was not in the message, but in a round of bullying by the T-shirt crowd with religious chants. Their object was a young mother and her little son wearing  different T-shirts. The poison of identity politics has raised its ugly head in Indonesian politics. We hope it can be pushed back by the good citizens of the country.

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