Exclusive media partner: The New York Times


Receive regular updates about forthcoming events and other news from Intelligence Squared


You have been added to our mailing list and will now be among the first to hear about events.

Play video


Identity Politics Is Tearing Society Apart

Is identity politics, with its emphasis on gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation, sowing division? Or is it a call for social justice for everyone?

Forget the old battles between the left and the right. Welcome to the era of ‘identity politics,’ where loyalties are owed not to class or political party, but to groups defined by gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

To some people, this is a dangerous trend. True, many minorities have suffered discrimination and exclusion and they deserve to enjoy the rights that the straight, white majority take for granted. But critics claim that the fight for equality has spilled over into hostility towards the majority, with identity group activists telling white people to check their privilege or labelling them white supremacists. Such sentiments have stoked anger among white people who feel very far from privileged or in control, fuelling the rise of populism and bringing alt-right figures such as Steve Bannon to the fore. The identity politics movement tells people that their experience as a member of a particular group is what ultimately defines them and gives their lives meaning. This message is destroying society’s broad sense of the common good, increasing antagonism and fragmentation in our society.

That’s the critique made by opponents of identity politics. But many people who champion the rights of minorities reject this characterisation. They claim that, far from sowing division, they are raising their voices in order to combat the inequality which exists in our world today. Take the #MeToo movement, which has revealed the extent to which women face sexual violence and harassment. Statistics show that black people face shocking discrimination in the criminal justice system. And transgender people are so stigmatised that 84% contemplate suicide during their lifetime. With leaders like Donald Trump fanning racism and sexism, we cannot simply tell ourselves that identity doesn’t matter. Oppressed groups need to build solidarity among themselves, assert their rights, and fight for their inclusion in a just and diverse society. And let’s face it, identity politics is nothing new. Workers and gay people have won their respective rights by coming together as a group. The latest wave of identity politics is no different: it simply asks that all minorities enjoy the respect and dignity which is too often reserved for the straight, white, majority.

Is identity politics tearing society apart or is it a call for social justice for everyone? Join us on May 22nd, hear the arguments and decide for yourself.


Speakers For The Motion

Trevor Phillips

Founding chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission

Founding chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. He has been a vocal critic of multiculturalism, claiming it legitimises separateness between communities. He is the co-founder of the diversity analytics consultancy Webber Phillips, and Chairman of Green Park Interim and Executive Search. He is the Chairman of Index on Censorship, a director of the Barbican Arts Centre, and a Vice-President of the Royal Television Society.

Lionel Shriver

Novelist and journalist

Author of twelve novels, including the bestsellers The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 and the Orange-Prize winner We Need to Talk About Kevin (also a 2011 feature film). She won the 2014 BBC National Short Story Award, and her novella and story collection Property was published in 2018. She is a prolific journalist whose writing has appeared in the Guardian, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, amongst other publications.
Speakers Against The Motion

Dawn Foster

Guardian columnist and staff writer for Jacobin magazine

Guardian columnist who writes on politics, social affairs and economics. She is also a staff writer for Jacobin magazine.

David Lammy

Labour MP for Tottenham and campaigner for social justice

Labour MP for Tottenham and one of Parliament’s most prominent campaigners for social justice. He led the campaign for the Windrush generation to be granted British citizenship, has fought for justice for the Grenfell Tower families, and has run a high-profile campaign calling on Oxbridge to improve access for students from under-represented and disadvantaged backgrounds.

Kamal Ahmed

Journalist, author and former BBC News Editorial Director

Journalist who has been Editorial Director of BBC News and BBC Economics Editor. He has also held senior roles at The Telegraph Group, The Observer and The Guardian. He recently co-founded The News Movement, a start-up dedicated to tackling misinformation. He is the author of The Life and Times of a Very British Man.


Speakers are subject to change.