Bob Marley and the Folly of Identity Politics

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What would Bob Marley have thought about the identity politics of today? (wikipedia)
What would Bob Marley have thought about the identity politics of today? (wikipedia)

A few years ago, I spent two weeks in Jamaica, drawn by the food and the music, more than anything. After several days in Montego Bay and Negril, I continued on, in a counter-clockwise fashion, towards the capital Kingston. My first planned activity: the obligatory visit to the Bob Marley Museum.

After touring the mansion, which once housed the headquarters of Marley’s Tuff Gong record label, we were ushered into a small movie theater to watch a brief documentary on the life of Bob Marley.

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We learned about Marley’s obsession with health and fitness, love of football and jogging, and his insistence on a healthy and natural diet. Then, Marley said on camera something that surprised me; something that I had not known before.

“My father was white and mother was black. Then call me half-caste or what ever. I don’t dip on nobody’s side. I dip on God’s side, the one who create me and cause me to come from black and white.”

Diehard Bob Marley fans surely are familiar with this fact, but I would venture to bet that the general public is largely unaware that Bob Marley was biracial: the product of an elderly white British/Jamaican military man, and a black teenage Jamaican mother.

Bob Marley’s words should give us much food for thought today, as the post-Trump environment has seemed to engender a new age of identity politics.

We are divided as never before.

Perhaps if we listen to what Bob Marley has to say, we can change that; we can improve upon that.

Peaceful coexistence is an often repeated libertarian mantra. Typically, libertarian thinkers understand this principle in the context of the non-aggression principle. Essentially, our society should offer maximum social and economic freedom to its citizens; up to the point, of course, that those freedoms infringe upon the freedom of others.

Thus, we should be able to live together peaceably, irrespective of racial, ethnic, religious, or linguistic differences.

That is easier said than done, even in wealthy, stable, prosperous democracies. Consider Belgium, where the divide between the French-speaking Walloons, and the Dutch-speaking Flemish has proved to be a difficult challenge. Or Canada, where the sizeable French-speaking Quebecois have long advocated for political independence, nearly succeeding in an independence referendum a generation ago.

Or consider the grim news out of Burma where the Muslim Rohingya population is being slaughtered by the tens of thousands by the Burmese military, in what human rights groups are deeming the most serious refugee problem threatening the world today.

Despite the fantasy world in which many of today’s idealists live, recent history has repeatedly demonstrated that sadly human beings are unable to “just get along.”

In the United States, we are faced with a situation where, politically, we are highly divided along racial lines, with blacks and Latinos heavily favoring the Democratic Party, and aligning with largely coastal, urban whites in a regular political matchup against suburban and rural whites. The classic Red State/Blue State divide.

It is a sad state of affairs.

Identity politics has exacerbated our differences, and the animosity that we feel along racial and geographic lines.

So what can be done about this?

The law is supposed to be color-blind; progressive groups routinely argue, however, that it is not. They likely have many reasonable enough points.

Yet, is a nationwide lurch towards identity politics really the path forward for progress in America?

Advocating for the interests of one’s own group, whatever that group may be, is hardly the height of idealism and virtue. It is time that Americans stop dividing themselves politically into groups and subgroups. This disturbing phenomenon will only divide us further, and exacerbate our differences.

American politicians of both parties should be saying, “What can we do, right now, that is good for America as a whole. For all Americans”…not dreaming up ways to offer political bargains to various identity politics groups in order to reach 51%.

Good public policy, good fiscal policy, good monetary policy, well-written evenly-enforced law, is good for all Americans, regardless of race, class, ethnicity, language, religion, geography, or sexual orientation.

It is time that we, as a nation, move beyond identity politics, and start thinking of ourselves as Americans.

Entrepreneurship, individuality, and social and economic freedom have always been at the heart of the impressive American success story. It is for that reason that millions of immigrants have sought a better live here. It is for that reason that hundreds of thousands still brave perilous sea crossings or hazardous desert treks to reach American soil, regardless of their immigration status.

A free market economy does not inherently discriminate based upon these identity categories. The market doesn’t care about your sexual orientation, or your skin color, or your religion, or your language: it cares about the cost and quality of the good and service you provide.

America is far from perfect, but we have tried, over the course of our 227 year experiment with Constitutional representative democracy, to offer that precious social and economic freedom to all…some of this came incrementally, of course. Some of it had to be fought for. There is no denying that.

We can not change the past. What we can do now, is try to make public policy that will truly afford the greatest opportunities to all American citizens, regardless of their race or class, gender or ethnicity,

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