Everyone wears their identities on their shirts now. It's almost indistinguishable from the way people treat their taste in music or what fashion brands they wear.
It wasn't always this way.
Identities used to be a radical recognition of a larger system, a system that through its oppression defined groups as masters, slaves, the pure and the depraved. To recognize where you fit in a system implied you understood something about that system – that you were taking the first steps to defeating it! To being free!
But something went wrong. Now the point is no longer to make a world where nobody has to be oppressed; now the point is to use "oppressed" as a marketing demographic.
Since about the late 70's, we've been living in the age of neoliberal capitalism. We're taught that "you have so many diverse options now! You’re so free! You can pick whatever you want!" But none of that is true. You still have the same obligations under neoliberalism: rent, work, food. The only difference today is that you have more ways to take care of those obligations. Pringles Wavy or Original? Sometimes the options are pointless – I can't just pick whichever place I want to live in, I can only go for the option I can afford. That wasn't much of a free choice.
A truly free society has no such obligations to capital, and no such restrictions among the "choices".
Back then, lots of companies made their own key brand or product in one field. Companies competing to produce the same thing, and eventually one of them got a monopoly – Coca Cola pretty much makes all the soda now. But today it’s upside-down.
Today you have so many different products, so many different brands that it’s practically impossible to remember them all, but they’re all still made by the same handful of conglomerate corporations. You have Sprite, Fanta, Dasani and Powerade, even Honest Tea – but they're all owned by Coca Cola. You might see more options, but the landscape hasn't changed. Everything’s just been fractured, each fractured pile still making up the same territory.
The sale of the human being has always been part of capitalism. The newest update to this marketplace of humanity came with neoliberalism’s "freedom of choice". It's just that, now, there’s a freedom to choose the flavor of person. The commodification of Pride, the commodification of hip hop. T-shirts selling leftist messages – and frustratingly, people genuinely wanting to buy them. Crazy Rich Asians.
It's fine to learn more about the structure of oppression you're in, to discover where you are. Nonbinary bisexual, Jewish-Latino, second-generation Japanese, you're all doing important work. Doing so is necessary to solving the issues implied by the very existence of your separate identity. The problem is that capitalism got very clever, teaching us to hold on to these identities – rather than go anywhere with them – so that we would calcify ourselves to these pictures, that we might confuse where we were with who we were. That our oppressions would become our egos. All so that it could tell us to buy whatever "expressed ourselves".
It's all so depressing.
Our identities no longer became pointers to where we should go, what we should do to be free of them, but instead they became a bunch of overglorified brands, genres, market demographics.
The late Mark Fisher once wrote of what he termed "capitalist realism". The idea was that capitalism, especially after the end of the Cold War in 1991, created an omnipresent atmosphere where people couldn't even imagine a world that wasn't capitalist, where people couldn't even think outside of capitalist terms. What I think has been done to our identities – whose existence once threatened the legitimacy of this realism – was that they became part of the show. Queerness used to delegitimize the realism of heterosexuality and gender. Asianness used to delegitimize the realism of whiteness being the only form of humanity. But now queerness is a marketing tool, and Asians are trying to be like white people.
Yesterday, diversity was the uncomfortable question. It showed capitalism's limits by lying outside of them.
Now, diversity has been monopolized.