This phenomenon of label obsession can happen within political groups on either side of the spectrum. This fanatical devotion to broad labels is a product of identity politics, which in it of itself isn't necessarily a bad thing. Forming politically cultural alliances can be a useful tool in empowering historically vulnerable groups of people. Strength in numbers is an age-old tactic; thus, people who look, act, or believe alike tend to stick together under one banner.
I respect the need for an identity too. All humans crave it, even though self-awareness does come easier for some people than it does others. I was always jealous of my childhood friends who knew exactly what they wanted to be when they grew up at age five. Comparatively speaking, what I want to do for the rest of my life changes every week. Having a robust meaningful identity is a journey, and, as an individual and as a group, that progression is a blessing and an integral part of thriving in the societal world.
I would even view identity as one of the bases of culture. People have historically coalesced around other people who look, act, and speak similar to them. This fact begins to inform a similar but distinct group identity. I would also argue that this then becomes a positive feedback loop. All of these people, who have informed this group identity and share commonalities in their external selves with other members of the group, then begin to change as a result of this group identity. Ideally, this change is constant with new members of the group being added and old members of the group leaving regularly. This process of cultural change should result in a kind of amalgam of thoughts and ideas that have specific relevance to this group of people, and should endow within each member of that group a visceral sense of progress. This is the structure of a politically cultural group.
Now, these groups are numerous in number and varied in makeup, but membership within these groups essentially boils down to three questions:
- How does a member of any given politically cultural group see the world?
- How does the world see any member of the aforementioned group?
- What is the group identity progressing towards?
A politically cultural group becomes perverted with when the answers to the above questions are the basis for the questions themselves. This is what leads to oppression of other groups.
The reason being is that change is essential to any group based in both culture and politics. Change is what initially attracts members to join and, in this sense, change equals progress. The human experience is built around progress. Progress is what empowers a group and inhibiting the progress of a group of people is oppression.
Many of these types of groups, though not always, are born under and out of oppression perpetrated by other similar groups. To give obvious examples, the black civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s was born under white oppression in America. Christianity was born out of persecution in Europe. Black empowerment was born out of Apartheid in South Africa. Jewish empowerment in the United States was born out of persecution of Israel. Women empowerment was born out of a lifetime living as second-class citizens. LGBT empowerment was born out of a lifetime of persecution perpetrated by religious groups.
There are many more examples, but these illustrate this idea that people rally around closely-held characteristics especially during times of immense struggle. This is the birth of such a group.
If we were to ask an average young white male of the 50s and 60s the three questions I have posed above, how would he respond? My guess is he would say something along the lines of that he sees the world as not white enough. The world sees him as too white, and he says his goal is to make the world a whiter place.
This mindset inevitably leads to a filter being put in front of this person's worldview, so that every person, thing, and piece of information is examined through the lens of being white, which in turn, creates this insane paranoia and obsession with the idea of whiteness.
The side effects of this filter can be devastating. This path naturally leads to the persecution of others for not being white enough, the empowerment of arbitrary genetic characteristics and dangerous stereotypes, and the crusade of reforming the world in the image of these unimportant qualities.
This type of perversion can occur all across the spectrum of belief systems, phenotypes, and genetics.
It all boils down to people who use their membership to a group as an excuse for their actions as well as anything negative that happens to them. Rarely does label obsession occur on a large scale. It's most commonly seen on a smaller scale in the form of extremism and fundamentalism though there are exceptions and what qualifies can be the subject of vigorous debate based on your point of view.
If I had my way, these groups would disappear entirely. Most if not all of them are irrelevant, and a lot of the banners these groups rally behind are unimportant. It shouldn't matter whether your gay, straight, black, white, brown, green, male, female, Democrat, Republican, French, American, Muslim, Christian, etc.
Now, I realize that type of thinking is idealistic, but even if it's not possible, It's a valid goal to strive towards. When you meet people, I implore you to take a step back and examine the things you notice about this person. Examine the things you assume about this person. People are far more nuanced than you might think. That's something I'm still learning.
In the end, you are you, whatever that looks like, and I am me, whatever that looks like. Ascribing labels to these things is like trying to wear a shirt that's too small.