Today, those who condemned essentializing not two decades past are content to whittle all the elements of our identity down to two: race and gender. The historian Benjamin Zachariah comments:
“Once upon a time… essentializing people was considered offensive, somewhat stupid, anti-liberal, anti-progressive, but now this is only so when it is done by other people. Self-essentializing and self-stereotyping are not only allowed, but considered empowering.”
The reduction of the multiple identities we all possess to race and gender is not, at core, a question of looks. The focus on these two dimensions of human experience is a focus on those dimensions that have experienced the most trauma. While this focus begins in compassion, it not only reduces a wealth of identities to a fraction but also essentializes those over which we have the least control. The reduction thus embodies a major shift that began in the mid-twentieth century: the subject of history was no longer the hero but the victims. It’s that shift that led to a very different set of values around personal identity on the left.
I’m more of a centrist or moderate than I am a leftist, but I’m as far from the woke left as I am from the authoritarian right. Both are anti-democratic, anti-individual liberty philosophies I abhor.