Equal, Not the Same: Identity Politics Is Toxic to Our Republic

I had an engineering professor in college who once horrified an entire class with a single word. A student asked him if he believed women and men were equal.

“No,” he replied. Eyes widened. Jaws dropped. Gasps could be heard in the next county. He explained.

“What does it mean to be equal?  Women and men are clearly not the same. Men are – on average – taller, heavier, and stronger.  Women can, on average, withstand pain longer than men. Men have more natural tendencies to focus on one thing while women more naturally multitask.”

He went on to reference some very fascinating statistics about the statistical differences between men and women in everything from alcoholism to depression, and performance in math and verbal tests.  I remember one statistic in particular… that boys were nearly ten times more likely to be diagnosed as ADD or dyslexic. I remember because of my own experience with ADD. He ended with, “does that sounds equal to you?”

Leave it to an engineer to give a scientific answer to a political question.

This wasn’t a diversity lecture. It was a statement of reality. Equality does not mean “sameness.” Difference, we once believed, was the spice of life. Some have lost this in the recent drive to make everyone across the country think and say the exact same things, adopt the same beliefs, or vote the same way.  If they don’t, they face de-platforming from social media and banishment from polite society.

Together with this push to make everyone think the same things is a push to forbid criticizing anyone who doesn’t look like you. President Trump recently came under fire from Rep. Elijah Cummings over the border crisis. The president responded with a series of tweets strongly questioning Cummings’ record serving the people of his own district, Baltimore, Maryland. Baltimore has long been one of the most dangerous cities in America. Baltimore is just two-thirds the size of Austin, Texas, for instance, yet suffers about nine times more murders per year. Baltimore, a historic American city with enormous potential, is losing population while violent crime, boarded up buildings, trash – and yes, rats – render it in heartbreaking condition. This is awful for the people of Baltimore. Rep. Cummings has held that seat since 1996. It’s not out of bounds to point any of this out. The process of identifying the problems can help find solutions and address them. Identity politics prevents us from finding real solutions.

Those who are the first to claim that criticism of someone who is of another race is somehow racist immediately slammed the president and accused him of hate and racism. As if it is somehow racist to critique someone if you are not the same as they are.

Since when is it hate or racism to want what’s best for our fellow Americans? Since when is it hateful to question the public record of anyone elected to public office?

It’s not, of course. Just as we’re all free to criticize Republicans of color like Sen. Ted Cruz, Housing Secretary Dr. Ben Carson, Candace Owens, and others on the right, it’s fair game to criticize Rep. Cummings. And by the way, a 20-year-old video has recently come to light of Rep. Cummings describing Baltimore as “drug-infested.” He has known of his city’s problems for decades. What has he done to solve them?

By trying to make criticism of his record out of bounds based on race, they’re really saying, “What you say reflects badly on us, therefore shut up!”

Well, no. That’s not how our republic works.

Identity politics is toxic for our country. It’s divisive, it prevents us openly discussing issues so we may find solutions to them, and it’s morally repugnant. Identity politics is based on the assumption that you can only understand or represent me if you are the same race, gender, nationality, or sexual orientation as I am. This is either racist, classist, bigoted or all three. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamt of a day we would all be judged not by the color of our skin, but by our character. Have some, who claim to revere King, abandoned this dream?

If we’re all equal – and we are – we’re all equally subject to fair criticism.

Ryan Sitton was elected to the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas production, in 2014. He built his thriving reliability company, PinnacleART, in his garage in 2006 – today it ensures engineering safety around the world. He is Texas A&M’s youngest ever Distinguished Graduate of its College of Engineering and is the first engineer to serve on the RRC in over 50 years.