Background and politics… unfusable?

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Words: Eva Mustapha (she/her)

I was recently complaining to my flatmate that the English language does not have a singular word which encompasses the essence of lived experiences, one’s background and the like. 

In Italian there is a word; vissuto, which manages to compartmentalise and describe the core of a person due to their background and lived experiences in one word. If you are unable to diverge from your upbringing and diversify your vissuto, whether that be physically being in a context outside of your own or having the privilege of certain types of education, it will be difficult to inhibit your background from heavily informing your political outlook. 

I find it  difficult to make assertive conclusions regarding identity politics. This is because identity is simultaneously a factor that unites people but not applicable universally. A claim, even like the one I made above, can be only relevant to certain groups of people. The term identity politics evolved from marginalised groups seeking representation in the political arena and forming a type of political activism. However, I maintain my belief that if you do not physically leave the environment you have inhabited your whole life it is difficult to move away from your upbringing which informs at least some of your political beliefs. 

At face value, it seems inevitable that one’s background will inform their political outlook – it quite literally constitutes it. For this reason, I do not think it is likely that you can easily disconnect your politics from your background. Humans do not function on a black-and-white basis but rather pick and choose what to apply to their rationale. So, when thinking about how our backgrounds fuse to politics, we need to ask ourselves what parameters we believe politics to cover and if people have a unilateral view which informs all their political decisions and views (clearly, not the case). This is where class consciousness becomes an essential factor to consider. 

Class often transcends racial and cultural solidarity. People of colour in the UK are often disappointed by current PM Rishi Sunak as he gives the illusion of advancing the right direction towards a cohesive society. However, Sunak has often been rightly accused of not creating policies that benefit marginalised communities in the UK constituted by POC. Indeed, he furthers their marginalisation and perpetrates a drop in living standards. Sunak’s class identity and background, notwithstanding that he works within a problematic system, surpassed his solidarity of any racial/cultural ties. Seemingly, any potential microaggressions or racism, even cultural recognition, Sunak may have experienced in life do not inform his governing.

On the opposite spectrum, white working class people in the US who vote for Trump exhibit minimal, if any, care for class solidarity. Playing on pre-existing beliefs or racist groundings, dissatisfaction with the economy and taxes was pinpointed in the direction of immigrants and external factors (nice one Trump) rather than President Trump and the Republican party. Considering the lack of general, and policy, care towards the working class (not to mention other groups of people) there is difficulty in understanding this voting behaviour. It is explained, however, through the manipulation and exploitation of emotions: fear of immigrants, of science, of the expanding Chinese economy and so on. There is no definitive answer I can confidently give as to why people choose specific aspects of their identity they resound with the most. However, after recently watching the documentary-film Freedom to Run, I still feel confident in asserting that exposure is the way to disconnect grounded beliefs from politics. 

Freedom to Run is about a running group called Right to Movement who wishes to exercise their right to move in occupied Palestine. This documentary follows when a group of Scottish counterparts who run visit Palestine to run a marathon in Bethlehem. Prior to their trip, one runner, Ped, jumps around the question of being pro-Israel or pro-Palestine, stating the situation is too complex to have teams but if he had to choose he would be pro-Israel as he understands their side and need for security. Upon arrival and touring, Ped stepped out of his environment and usual context. He saw the difficulties Palestinians endured everyday, from the restrictions to move and the horrific harassment and dehumanising humiliation from police, officials and settlers. By physically being in Palestine and seeing the vissuto of the Palestinians he witnesses hardships. The change in understanding and perceptions which occurred with Ped thereafter is because he was placed both physically and mentally outside of his own background.

We need people to have their identity and background inform their politics. We need people to use those characteristics to fight for justice and to protest violations of rights. But, it is equally, if not more important, to have people move into different contexts and shatter their beliefs. I do think it is possible to untie your privilege and background from your politics. It takes a specific circumstance and the right amount of effort, and I do not think it is easy or transpires in everyone’s life. However, if people do not make the move into these different physical and mental spaces, they face the potential of forever being stuck in their own vissuto.


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