The Trouble With Identity Politics


To the Editor:

Andrew Solomon’s review of Thomas Chatterton Williams’s insightful “Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race” (Oct. 20) demonstrates how much of current identity politics is missing the point of who we are. As President Obama remarked, we are all “mutts like me.” We all have hybrid identities because we carry in us the full richness of our ancestors, wherever they came from.

One of my friends has a black father from Mississippi and a white mother from Germany. Most of his cousins are German. He spent the first eight years of his life in Germany. The world sees him as a black man, but that is only part of how he defines himself: as African-German-American. He would love it if the world were to acknowledge that.

If we were to identify the New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi as Maori, we would ignore the fact that he is as much Russian-Jewish. When today’s identity politics insists on “either-oring” who we are, it impoverishes and divides us.

Martin Gillo
Dresden, Germany

Defending ‘Mrs. Dalloway’

To the Editor:

How extraordinary that André Aciman, in By the Book (Nov. 3), should pronounce “Mrs. Dalloway” “overrated” after praising James Joyce and Djuna Barnes and lauding a novel by Fernando Pessoa, whose narrator is presented through “just day-to-day glimmers of insight that cross his mind.” Who does Aciman think forced a new kind of novel 11 years before “Nightwood,” eschewing conventional narrative technique in favor of creating a character through glimmers of insight crossing the mind of a middle-aged woman in post-World War I London on an ordinary day?

Virginia Woolf’s novel, as notable for its humanity as for its technique, sought (as she wrote in her essay “Modern Fiction”) to present life as “a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end.” Exclude “Mrs. Dalloway” from the canon? Aciman must have merely been trying to be provocative.

Michael D. Byrne
Media, Pa.


To the Editor:

While I agree with the criticism of Philip Zelikow and Condoleezza Rice in James Traub’s review of their book, “To Build a Better World: Choices to End the Cold War and Create a Global Commonwealth” (Nov. 3), I am startled by the description of the “elder President Bush” as a rational, worldly, pragmatic head of state who envisioned a “new world order.”

Traub must have missed the “Operation Just Cause” invasion of Panama launched by Bush almost simultaneously with the collapse of the Soviet Union or the Desert Storm attack on Iraq and the callous destruction of Iraqi forces as they retreated from Kuwait. So much for Bush’s “optimistic vision of American global engagement.”

Marshall Carter-Tripp
El Paso

Fashionable Irony

To the Editor:

As a 70-plus woman from Brooklyn, I was taken aback by Sandra Tsing Loh’s remark in her review of Meghan Daum’s “The Problem With Everything” (Nov. 3) about her “70-plus” friend “who wears Native American jewelry without irony (she’s from Pennsylvania).” Why do I need irony to wear my Native American jewelry? What does Loh think I’m entitled to wear without irony? A Brooklyn Dodgers baseball cap?

Felicia Nimue Ackerman
Providence, R.I.

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