‘You Say’ and Primal Screams — The Explanation for Identity Politics?

By Tom Gilson Published on October 16, 2019

Lauren Daigle’s “You Say” just broke Billboard’s record for most weeks at number one in its category. I’m trying to figure out why. It’s about music, which makes it a matter of opinion, but I’ll claim what authority I can as a former professional musician. “You Say” has nowhere near the melodic, harmonic, or dynamic interest of the previous record-holder, Hillsong’s “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail).”

But it does have Daigle’s outstanding voice, and even more importantly, it speaks a gospel-based answer to the questions of the day: Who am I? And am I okay? Quoting from the lyrics:

I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I’m not enough
Every single lie that tells me I will never measure up
Am I more than just the sum of every high and every low?
Remind me once again just who I am because I need to know. …
The only thing that matters now is everything You think of me
In You I find my worth, in You I find my identity.

“You Say” undoubtedly benefits, too, from crossover sales to listeners who haven’t noticed the “You” is God. Still, I’m willing to bet that it’s the song’s honest questions and thoughtful answers on “who am I” that have made it the record-breaker it’s become.

Primal Screams and the Question of Identity

And I think that especially because I’ve just read Mary Eberstadt’s new book Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics, which also speaks to identity; in fact, it’s all about that. Eberstadt thinks identity politics in all their toxicity are about Westerners trying to recover some sense of identity, after losing touch with its usual foundation: family. Humans were intended, she says, “for familial forms of association that for many people no longer exist.” (The emphasis is hers.) Also:

Who am I? is a universal human question. It becomes harder to answer if other basic questions are problematic or out of reach. Who is my brother? Who is my father? Where, if anywhere, are my cousins, grandparents, nieces, nephews, and the rest of the organic connections through which humanity up until now has channeled every day existence?

“An illiterate peasant of the Middle Ages,” she says, was “better equipped” to answer the “Who am I?” question than “many people in advanced societies in this century.” The resulting loneliness is “a new form of human poverty.”

She frames it more as a proposal than a conclusion, yet she makes a solid enough case for it. The convergence in time is suggestive, to start with. The term, “identity politics” first appeared in a 1977 black feminist manifesto. And identity politics’ influence has increased as the family has decreased.

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Interchangeable family members (read: “blended family”) would certainly be expected to interfere with one’s sense of identity. Reduced family sizes means less of a sense of “who am I” with respect to siblings and neighborhood friends. Out culture’s growing disconnection from God completes the break from identity.

The result, she suggests, is a desperate search for identity in distinguishing characteristics like race, gender, sexuality, and so on. It’s a fight for social and psychological survival in a world we humans were not designed for. And in various ways the loss of identity keeps breaking out in “primal screams.”

God, the Gospel and Our Identity

There’s far more thesis there, far more supporting evidence than I can even begin to summarize here. If she’s even close to right, though, it explains a lot of the anger associated with identity politics. People are flailing for identity, trying to find it through categorizing themselves and others. That can only lead to frustration and anger, though, for it’s the wrong approach. Identity comes through connection, not through categorizing; through relationships, not “intersectionality.”

Daigle’s “You Say” clarifies the ultimate relationship defining our identity. It’s in a personal relationship with God, and in the security of knowing that what he says is true of us. I suspect — and I sincerely hope — listeners are grabbing tight to the truth she’s communicating there.


Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream, and the author of A Christian Mind: Thoughts on Life and Truth in Jesus Christ and Critical Conversations: A Christian Parent’s Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens, and the lead editor of True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism.

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