This blog was originally posted at Identity Campaigning.
We’ve emphasised that one of the great possibilities offered by identity campaigning is to build new coalitions of groups that are concerned with a wide variety of different issues, but which recognise that the aspects of identity that underpin our engagement on these issues are often common.
Here is a great example of this convergence of interest in engaging identity, from yesterday’s Observer. The barrister Matthew Ryder was appointed one of the national role-models for Reach, “a government-supported scheme aimed at raising the aspirations and attainment of black boys and young men”.
we are confronted by a difficult issue highlighted in a new report: “Black role models: which messages work?” It is based on research from the University of Kent and reveals that role models who emphasise their material success are more inspirational to young black men. Importantly, they were more likely to be emulated than those role models who focused on moral and social respect. So the report recommended that: “Role models could include concrete material achievements in their discussions with black boys and black young men as a way of reinforcing the ‘value’ of the role models.” But is focusing on material gain part of the solution or the problem?
This problem exactly parallels the problems that the environment movement faces in deciding whether or not to appeal to self-interest in the course of trying to motivate pro-environmental concern and behaviour.
The identity campaigning perspective rejects appeals to values that, according to the research, are ultimately antagonistic to the emergence of those very aspects of identity that will have to come to underpin any proportional response to a range of global challenges.
Ryder responds in exactly the same way:
Initially, I rejected this way of appealing to boys, as a matter of principle. Perhaps romantically, I had always believed that the male role models who had influenced my life – friends, relatives, my father and my uncle, even historical figures – had not inspired me because of money. It was their principles: their love of family and community; and their dedication to worthy causes that captured my imagination and framed my ambition. But my objection goes beyond principle. Now, more than ever, it is important to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy that success and self-worth are defined purely by money, not play into it. [Emphasis added].
In tackling this problem, you must not only address the actions of those chasing the money, but also the mindset that drives them. A role model who diverts someone from becoming a ruthless, money-oriented drug dealer has done well. But unless the underlying values towards money are challenged, the person may simply become an equally ruthless banker or mortgage broker. That is why role models who use material success as the means for gaining young people’s attention are taking a real risk. Difficult as it may seem to be, our goal must be to find other ways to excite and capture their interest.
This recognition is at the heart of identity campaigning.