Identity politics: still a deadend
|Photo by Luke Thomas for Fog City Journal|
There's been a lot of talk lately about the political emergence of something called the "Asian-American" community in San Francisco, but it's already clear that the political and policy effects of that emergence will be minimal. Yes, Ed Lee is the first ethnic Chinese to hold the office, but, since he's continuing every single policy---the good, the bad, and the dumb---initiated by the very white Gavin Newsom, his ethnicity effectively means nothing on policy. Like every group in American history, Asian-Americans now have a place at the table where they will engage in the same free-for-all process of politics, policy, and power struggles that every other group in the country engages in. That's the way it ought to be.
I don't give a damn that Ed Lee's ancestors were Chinese. I just think some of the city policies he supports are wrong and bad for the city, opinions that were formed during the Brown and Newsom adiministrations.
Besides, it's silly to look on Asians as essentially the same just like it's silly to look on all "white" people as if we are the same.
From a front-page article in yesterday's Chronicle:
"There's a huge amount of excitement in the [Asian]community," said David Lee, who also teaches political science at San Francisco State University. "Not only do the candidates look like them, but they care for the culture."
Which culture is that? Korean (Jane Kim), Chinese (Ed lee, David Chiu), or Japanese (Jeff Adachi)? The reality: all these city politicians only have one significant thing in common: they are all Americans. All of them grew up in the United States, which means they are "Asian" the same way I'm "European," which is not at all. Ed Lee and Rose Pak may make frequent trips to China, but Aaron Peskin's notion that there's something sinister---even disloyal---about that seems wide of the mark.
It's the fallacy of identity politics in general. There's no distinctive gay, feminist, black, white, or Asian policy on, say, development in San Francisco or on Muni. Every group, regardless of its identity, has to struggle with the same policy issues.
Contrary to the statements by Rose Pak, there's not even an "Asian" or Chinese consensus on the Central Subway, since Howard Wong, Jeff Adachi, and Wilma Pang think it's a questionable project.