For a few years now identity politics – lovingly coined “The School of Resentment” by the literary critic Harold Bloom – has been creeping into public life, screeching “oppression” when something upsets its followers. This disturbing movement rapidly spread its tentacles into academia and, from there, it expanded into politics. Now it’s time to stop messing about and eradicate its ugly stain before it spreads any further.
Take the curious incident of the transgender Tory politician, Zoë Kirk-Robinson, who made national headlines this week after she accused her Labour opponent, Councillor Guy Harkin, of transphobia. She alleges that he misgendered her during a council session about, and you really can’t make this up, pensions. Ms Kirk-Robinson claims that Mr Harkin did so persistently and purposefully, which would doubtless have been distressing, whilst Mr Harkin claims that this was a slip of the tongue, and was horrified when he discovered what he’d done – the day after. Naturally enough this unpleasant occurrence was, as all things that hurt our feelings are, reported to Greater Manchester Police.
At first this was being treated as a Hate Crime, but has since been classed as a ‘Hate Incident’ – technically not a crime anymore, but apparently not enough so to stop the police being involved. As a GMP spokeswoman was all too keen to point out, “Hate incidents will not be tolerated in Greater Manchester.” Think of that what you may, but you’d think that a police force facing a high degree of violent crime would not want to get involved in a petty dispute over words that “hurt a lot.”
We might like to feel that police involvement when feelings are hurt and gamey expressions are used is a one off, but it appears not. Sadiq Khan, the new Mayor of London, is determined not to let this trend die. His new venture is a ‘Crime Hub’, which will be a police task force dedicated to tackling online hate crime. Melanie Phillips and Ruth Dudley Edwards, to name but two, manage quite well in facing some truly vile online abuse without running to the police for help every two seconds, but I suppose Khan isn’t really interested in all that.
A hate crime, for those of you lucky enough to not know yet, is an act that the Home Office defines as a crime “committed against someone because of their disability, gender-identity, race, religion or belief, or sexual orientation.” Thankfully we can report such heinous incidences online, presumably for those times when we’re just too upset to talk about it face-to-face. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but allow me to say it for you: What a fantastic idea! What could possibly go wrong with that?
This legislation, all in good spirit I’m sure, carries with it a very Orwellian element. Somebody could punch me – a gay man – in the face because I really annoyed them whilst counting my change in the supermarket but, if I decide that they did this because of my sexuality, my assaulter can be prosecuted for committing a hate crime. This is even if they were completely unaware that I’m gay. In fact, somebody could be accused of a hate crime motivated by, say, homophobia when the victim isn’t even gay themselves. Don’t believe me? Just ask Kevin O’Sullivan – the television critic charged with a homophobic hate crime committed against, wait for it, a man who wasn’t even gay.
This is what a cult of personality looks like. It’s the belief that your origin or identity is so important that you need to be treated differently as a result of it. The belief that somebody can attack you and be given a higher sentence than if they’d moved to the straight person stood next to you and punched them instead. Understanding motives behind crimes – regardless of where such a path would take us – is hugely important. But there’s no reason why somebody vandalising a black person’s car should be treated more harshly than if they’d vandalised a white person’s car with the exact same ferocity.
Hate Crime Legislation has been a failed experiment and it’s time to show this bizarre piece of law the back door, where it can leave quietly and with minimal fuss. In an attempt to treat everybody equally, it has created a hierarchy under the law, where offences against those with protected characteristics are treated more harshly over plain old common ones. It’s for this reason that if we get rid of this idea of ‘Hate Crime’ we can break the vicious grip of identity politics, and the patrol of the thought police will be at an end.
One of the most concerning things about this situation is that it conditions people to value their feelings above intellectual debate and enquiry. Of course most people who report hate crimes are not egotistical individuals, but they do place an inconsequential piece of them into a privileged position within the society. This is a system destined for collapse, and has allowed for the bigotry of the alt-right to take centre stage; a previously bizarre fringe movement that vows to annihilate identity politics by – ironically – using identity politics.
We can all agree that people who intimidate, or who are violent towards, others are not worthy of our time, and deserve to be punished – but not more so because of the identity of the person that they have been cruel towards. And what about those people who hurt our feelings with their words? Well it’s not nice, it’s certainly not pleasant, but sometimes we’ve just got to suck it up. I recommend a nice warm drink and an early night. Alternatively, you could always argue right back, calling that particular person out, challenging them on their perception. Personally I favour the latter but, whichever you choose; you’ll notice that neither requires the police.