As a Unitarian Universalist and a Puerto Rican I am often faced with Identity Politics. On May 5th I received well wishes from colleagues and friends on the celebration of “Cinco de Mayo.” And as in the past I gently informed them that this is a Mexican holiday and that I am not Mexican.
When Barack Obama became the Democratic Party nominee for president of the United States. The pundits were quick to declare this as a historical moment where a major U.S. political party had nominated an African American for this office. Next they underscored how Obama was the son of an African Immigrant and an American mother. They stumbled over each other trying to reduce Obama’s identity to something historic and identifiable (Black, African American, Person of Color). Then the issue turned to the fact that his mother was white, so there were more identity questions (biracial, multiracial, mixed race). Thankfully no one has used the old term mulato but the campaign is still young.
In a recent report from a Unitarian Universalist Association committee the phrase “…people of color; Latino, Latina, Hispanic, multiracial, from a historically marginalized community…” was used several times. While I have been a strong proponent of more inclusive language even I stumble on these long phrases. This is not to say that group identity and self-identity are not important, it is a criticism on the inadequacy of our language and labels. At one time we used the phrase “minority groups” but some people complained that the term “minority” was somewhat derogatory and it has largely fallen out of favor.
In the 1990s American Reductionism assigned people to essentially two groups: People of Color and those who were not people of color, often called White and sometimes Euro-Americans. However this compromise formula has not been completely accepted as it is often an identity imposed on people and not necessarily a self-identity of individuals or ethnic groups.
In our Unitarian Universalist faith, reductionism has caused misunderstanding, conflict and disenfranchisement.