Jonathan Derbyshire’s review of two books on “identity politics” and postmodernism is fair as far as it goes (“Universities challenged”, Books Essay, Life & Arts, FT Weekend, December 5).

Much of the discussion on the subject of identity politics ignores its history. The most damaging form is racism and we do not have to focus on the US for this to be clear, as indigenous forms, predating European colonialism, exist aplenty, as in the Indian caste system.

My first experience of European racism was on my first trip to England in 1976 when I tried to order a meal in a pub. I could not understand the Scottish waiter. I asked him to repeat himself several times. At that point other customers waded in with a torrent of racist slurs against Scots.

I grew up in an area divided between Protestants and Catholics and one’s identity was clearly a brand and a weight. Critics of today’s identity politics largely ignore this history and generally dismiss such comparisons as irrelevant, as if racism appeared only once and only associated with colonialism.

The central fault of both the books and Mr Derbyshire’s review is the problem of who identity politics is addressing. This is a major failure thus far with the “movement”, if it can be so called.

Researching and interviewing white supremacists, I found they continually made their lines of inclusion vague. When talking about “white people” they are general in public, but in private, and in many online sites, it is clear to be white is white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant and maybe Nordic.

The amnesia of race relations, discrimination and violence against immigrants did not begin in the 1960s, 1900 or indeed in 1492. It is a disease, as Ashley Montagu, the British-American anthropologist, argued, that eats at social life and poisons productivity and progress.

Niccolo Caldararo
Department of Anthropology,
San Francisco State University,
San Francisco, CA, US

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