The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, spoke in Wales recently. On March 26th, 2012, the Archbishop visited the National Assembly of Wales and delivered a keynote address on the subject “For the common good: what is it that turns a society into a community?”. Earlier in the day, the Archbishop joined a debate with a group of 14-18 year olds who were l
looking at the theme of identity. He summed up what he heard after a number of the young people gave speeches and presentations of their experiences and thoughts.
Below are a few paragraphs from his comments that deal with “identity politics.” I particularly like his idea that the pendulum is swinging back to where we need to refocus on what we all have in common and how that shapes our identities and how it helps us live together in common concern…
“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.”