Identity Politics? What the hell does it actually mean.

It’s been dubbed the “most urgent issue of our time” because it’s shaping what we say, who we vote for and what our future will look like.

All the “big issues” and the “smaller issues” of our time such as – climate change, race, sex and gender equality, democracy, the global economy, immigration, job security, whether or not your child studies religion at a state school – are, according to critics and defenders – being first shaped, stalled or moved by the framework of identity politics.

So what do these two words mean when they sit side-by-side?

The Oxford Dictionary defines Identity Politics as: A tendency for people of a particular religion, race, social background, etc., to form exclusive political alliances, moving away from traditional broad-based party politics.

What that means is that political and social positions are taken due to your identity. For example your ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual identity. And usually these groups are minority groups – they are not what is considered the dominate, privileged identity in society: the white straight male.

Feminism, civil rights movement, gay rights are all about identity informing political positions and activism. In a practice that means, for example, feminists who subscribe to identity politics will more likely vote for female candidates and those who are campaigning on issues concerning gender equality.

As Vox explains: “All the social issues you may have heard of in the past several years — same-sex marriage, police shootings of unarmed black men, trans people in bathrooms, the fluidity of gender, discussions about rape culture,  campus battles about safe spaces and trigger warnings — are typically the kinds of issues people mean when they refer to identity politics.”


Social activism is not the only reason you would have heard of identity politics. It has been widely discussed in the media, politics and bandied about in opinion pieces because, largely, the left and right have opposing views on what it means and what it is doing to society.

Listen to Mia Freedman talk to conservative columnist Miranda Devine about Identity Politics.

Conservatives believe it is political correctness gone too far, promotes false grievances and divides people rather than unites them. That issues like racism in the justice system and same sex marriage are distractions from the main game: for example the threat of global recession, the widening income gap and job security. That “you can’t say anything about anything if you are a white straight male. The most marginalised group wins.”

The left argue, we are our identity and until we address the inherent discrimination and hierarchy in these identities, getting on the same page is impossible. The personal is the political, even if the political is about saving jobs for everybody. Just “who is the everybody?”

Identity politics maybe two medium sized words, but getting your head around what it really means can be complicated.