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This essay argues that critical ethnic studies and identity politics must be seen against the backdrop of the “seismic shift” constituted by the decolonization of world culture. Central twentieth-century events—World War II, the Jewish Holocaust, Third Worldist anticolonialism, the civil rights struggle, and minority liberation movements—simultaneously delegitimized the West as the axiomatic center of reference and affirmed the rights of non-European peoples emerging from the yoke of colonialism and racism. In this context the essay critically interrogates the convergence of anti–identity politics within left- and right-wing discourse. It calls for the recuperation of a nonessentialist identity politics that is capable of addressing identity-based oppression.

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