What is your hierarchy of identity?

What does that phrase mean? Here’s a personal example, from my deepest and most important identification to the lesser identifications: I am a son of Jesus Christ, I am husband to my wife, I am father to my children, I am a citizen of the United States of America, and I am a resident of Spokane, Washington. That’s it, I need no other group identifications. If we were to measure the importance of a level in this hierarchy by our willingness to die for it or them, then I would say I am most willing to die for the honor of Jesus Christ. Next I am willing to die for the sake of my wife or my children and if necessary, for my country. I am not willing to die for Spokane, Washington but I do have real financial bonds connecting me to the community in which I reside.

My thesis is, grouping individuals into “black people” or “white people” is invalid, because those groups are not held together by a real bond. The amount of melanin in the skin does not create a bond. Yet there are plenty of people who identify with their skin color, so we need to discuss why that is. There are generally three main reasons why people group others and themselves by the amount of melanin in their skins. In my opinion, the reasons are, in likely order of importance: 1. There is a commercial or emotional advantage conferred by the grouping; 2. It represents a simple way of grouping people, requiring no thought or discernment; 3. It provides fodder for news people, politicians, and demagogues.

What I mean by #1, the commercial advantages conferred by grouping people into white or black is this, there is money to be made in some way: creating jobs that have to do with agitating their own group against another group; burnishing the reputation of the people doing the accusing (self-appointed spokesmen), so that they can seek political office, fame and/or fortune; getting victim compensation–from free Starbucks to settlements of millions of dollars–from labeling the sinful or misinformed actions of individuals as “racist”. Emotional advantage comes from either identifying with being oppressed so as to generate self-pity or outrage, or feeling you are superior merely by being a member of that group.

What could be easier than #2, grouping people according to race or skin color? It’s visible, and requires no thought or research about whether you have anything else in common with members of the group; you get to belong to something without entrance requirements! But if you insist, at least be accurate: “African-American” is an ignorant construct. What if they are from Jamaica, or have been born here–they aren’t African! So what if many generations ago their lineage was brought to these shores from Africa? How many of those being called African-America even know which countries their forebears came from? And, if they are not now citizens of the USA, they aren’t Americans. Black isn’t accurate either: they can be various shades of brown, from the darkest Nubian to the lightest Somali. What is accurate, at least racially and scientifically, is Negro. I am not white, I try to be tan, but it is accurate to say that am Caucasian. It seems like the more politically-correct or overly sensitive we get, the less accurate we become.

Fodder for news, politicians and demagogues, #3, could just as easily be considered a commercial advantage, especially because people in those groups get paid–directly or indirectly–by “keeping the pot boiling” and making sure the boiling pot doesn’t become a melting pot. How? The ingredients that keep the boiling pot from becoming the melting pot are outrage, arrogance, ignorance and hatred. Are those attitudes and emotions group characteristics or individual characteristics? Shame on you if you said group. Only individuals can manifest those. Aren’t there plenty of people of both “black” and “white” races who do not harbor animus towards those of other races? There are blacks who have died defending whites–think Tuskegee Airmen–and whites who have died defending blacks–think Freedom Riders. What would those (valid) groups think of the “identity politics” of today, wherein everyone is assigned to a group based on race, religion or history of oppression, and individuals are judged on the supposed history of the group to which the accusers have assigned them?

The validity of group identification

There are valid groupings. When I say “valid” I mean that all or most of the members of the group have relationships and emotional bonds with each other, due to shared beliefs or ideals, and the voluntary nature of the inclusion. The strongest of these bonds is love,  the willingness to sacrifice self-interest for each other, putting someone else first. I am not taking bout feelings, but actions. The group with the strongest bonds of love is the nuclear family, after which is the extended family, the tribe and, extending that further, the clan. Citizenship in a nation, especially one like the U.S.A., and membership in organizations that have clear entrance requirements, are also valid groups because there are relationships and shared beliefs or ideals, and inclusion is chosen and voluntary.

Other valid groups are teams, military units and employees of a given company, because they all participate in, benefit from, defend and promote the welfare of the groupThe crux of the matter as to whether I consider a group valid is that very last clause. Grouping by race or melanin or past history fails my test. You might ask, “Who are you to question the motives or validity of  group politics and labeling?” Well, who are you to have herded individuals into arbitrary groups and then set them against each other?