The Telegraph published a news report by John Bingham headlined Rowan Williams: fixation with gay rights, race and feminism threatens society. A fixation with gay rights, feminism and separate racial identities is threatening to “fragment” British society, the Archbishop of Canterbury has claimed.
Subsequently, Comment is free published Is Rowan Williams right to warn about excessive identity politics? with contributions from Reni Eddo-Lodge, Sunny Hundal and Peter Tatchell.
Lambeth Palace has transcribed the comment that these articles refer to, from the audio recording, all available here.
Identity is a very slippery word, as everybody has brought out. I heard some voices raised, I think very importantly, against what people now often call ‘identity politics’: this is who I am, these are my rights, I demand that you recognise me.
Identity politics, whether it’s the politics of feminism, whether it’s the politics of ethnic minorities, or the politics of sexual minorities, has been a very important part of the last ten or twenty years. Because, before that, I think there was a sense that diversity was not really welcome. And so minorities of various kinds and – not that it’s a minority – particularly a group of women, began to say ‘well, actually we need to say who we are in our terms, not yours’. And that led to identity politics of a very strong kind and the legislation that followed it.
We’re now, I think, beginning to see the pendulum swinging back, and saying: well, identity politics is all very well but we’ve got to have some way of putting all that together again, and discovering what’s good for all of us, and, as I said at the beginning, sharing something of who we are with one another so as to discover more about who we are.
That’s just one point that struck me in listening to this excellent conversation – identity isn’t just something sealed off and finished with. Identity is something we bring to the task of building up a fuller identity all the time. It’s always a work in progress, always a project, never something done with. Once we start saying ‘This is my identity and that’s it,’ then I think we’re in danger of really fragmenting the society we belong to.