There has been a lot of discussion recently about identity politics–whether or not they played a role in Secretary Clinton’s defeat. Some say that her focus on diversity—on groups such as African-Americans, Latinos, the L.G.B.T. community and women strengthened her support among them, but alienated and excluded other groups. Donald Trump called the other groups—the “forgotten men and women”—largely composed of the white working class and white evangelicals. The people in these groups created what has been called the “diversity backlash,” which some have claimed,, with their votes, led Donald Trump to victory.
There is something important to be considered in this analysis. My colleagues and I in the conflict resolution community have been strong proponents of diversity—having the lives of people from different cultural backgrounds recognized and understood. While raising awareness about the differences among us has been a top priority, I have come to recognize that diversity awareness—understanding our differences—is not the end of the road. At some point, we need to find a way to bring us all back together again, as one united people.
The only thing that I have seen that unites people, especially those who have gone through the pain and anguish of longstanding conflict, is a shared desire to be treated with dignity. This universal human yearning is our highest common denominator. Everyone wants to be treated as if they mattered. Dignity is what can unite us. For if indignity has torn us apart, dignity can bring us back together again.
I have heard, countless times, that the only way we can be united is to find common ground. I do not think we need common ground; I believe we need higher ground. We all need to find a reflecting place more elevated than where we are now so that we can see the ravaged political landscape that has been left in the wake of the election. We need higher ground to see what we have done to one another, and to the sacred ground upon which this country was built.
In order to find higher ground, we need to see the boundaries of where we stood before and understand how those boundaries might have excluded and violated others. We have engaged in an uncivil war and it is time to reflect on the part we have played in it. If we have done harm—if we have violated the dignity of others—we need to take responsibility for it. The only way to put the past to rest is to acknowledge the suffering our actions have created. We need to shift our internal default setting from blaming to responsibility taking.
What will we find once we reach higher ground? The more we climb, the easier it will be for us to see that we are truly One People. From this elevated place, we will see what biologists have known for a long time; that we are all members of the human species. We are One Species with a variety of expressions of what it means to be human, but at the end of the day, we all share the same biological history, the same biological systems, the same biological vulnerabilites.
And I would add that we share the same desire to be treated with dignity; we all want to be seen, heard, acknowledged and understood, especially when something doesn’t’ feel right. We have an inborn reaction to being treated unfairly and a lot of conflict and war has resulted from it.
These shared aspects of our humanity can become a strength if we understand them. The knowledge forces us to take the matter seriously and think about how we can use it to create a shared human identity that can transcend the divisive aspects of identity politics and replace it dignity politics.
Dignity politics would be based on the truth that all human beings were created with equal value and worth, and, at the same time, recognizing that we all have the same vulnerabilites by virtue of being human. Acknowledging the value and vulnerability of all humanity creates not common ground, but the common sense we all need to in order to live together as united people in the United States of America.
Donna Hicks is an Associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University and author of the book, Dignity: It’s Essential Role in Resolving Conflict.