Identity Politics are Civil Rights

Posted on December 2, 2016 by

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The 2016 electoral cycle is coming to an end as the new year approaches; Donald J. Trump is our president-elect and while the focus of the Republican party has been centered upon securing the president-elect’s cabinet and administration, the Democratic party is going through an ideological shift that will reshape the party for the foreseeable future. This ideological shift for the Democratic party has been framed within conversations surrounding “identity politics.” Identity politics as a concept are not new and have remained central to American political dynamics since the enfranchisement – sociopolitically – of minorities. Identity politics within the political lexicon will continue to be heard; continue to be a divisive force to some, and a rallying cry for others. Identity politics refers to the political interests of women, minorities, and other marginalized groups in American politics. These interests are far ranging and include everything from fighting for equal pay for women, marriage equality, and fighting against police brutality and systemic racism within minority communities. In such a hostile and tumultuous election cycle, identity politics have been condemned by Conservatives and Liberals for being divisive and insignificant. Minorities have been targeted and condemned for engaging in identity politics, and not focusing on “real issues.” But what are the “real issues” which identity politics “distracts” us from? Generally, those who use identity politics as a deriding term want minorities to focus on class instead of issues that pertain to identities (i.e. race, sexuality, gender-identity, etc.) of marginalized people. Essentially, Liberals and Conservatives alike are arguing that marginalized groups should stop engaging in civil rights. Minorities centering their interest has been argued to have upset poor working-class white people, who might have otherwise voted Democratic, if not for minorities and women pushing their ‘agendas.’ Indirectly/directly this is a call for white supremacy. Telling minorities and/or other marginalized groups that their issues are “distractions,” and they must remain subservient to the issues of white people is language enveloped in a political agenda that don’t center equality or racial justice in 2016 – which is unacceptable.

This rhetoric has been seen in many articles since the election of Donald J. Trump. Mark Lilla in the New York Times argued it was “a strategic mistake” of Clinton in her tendency “to slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, LGBT and women voters at every stop.” Bernie Sanders echoed these same sentiments during this post-election process, saying  “It is not good enough for someone to say, I’m a woman, vote for me.” While this was never done by Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders is speaking to a contingent of voters who are angry and frustrated, however, the charge is misleading and revisionist. For all of Hillary Clintons issues and failures as a presidential candidate, the Democratic nominee had countless pages of policy proposals and based on her resume alone, was arguably one of the more qualified presidential candidates in modern U.S. history. These sentiments aren’t falling on death ears, many white working-class voters feel that minority and women’s interest have become too prominent in the Democratic Party and that minority interests should be obeisant to class interests. This argument indirectly tells us that only the interests of white people are legitimate, and politics should be about emboldening structures that keep whiteness as the default. Asking marginalized people to be subservient, and decenter their rights, is white supremacy. Arguing that marginalized people shouldn’t have representatives who look like them, is white supremacy. Simply follow this rhetoric of “identity politics are bad,” apply an ample amount of context and nuance and the only outcome that is left is, white supremacy.

Opposing “identity politics” in 2016 is no different than is opposing the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s. It’s not the job of minorities to protect or embolden political actors on both sides of the spectrum that want to make sure that the interests of white people (of all classes) are put first. It’s not the job of minorities to recenter whiteness out of this fallacy of “unity.” Donald Trump’s white ethnic-nationalist movement was never referred to as “identity politics.” To the American public, putting interest that benefits white people first, regardless of class, is “politics.” Minorities will not stop speaking about race, class, sexual and gendered identities. While many will call that divisive; arguing that the need for compromise is essential, I would argue we have continued to see compromise take place for generations within minority communities. This burden shouldn’t be placed onto disenfranchised communities; placing it onto these communities continues marginalization and acts as if anything outside of the spectrum of whiteness is, therefore ‘othered’ and shown hostility. Demographics and diversity of this country are the future; embracing that dynmaic is essential to not only a sustained Democratic party – that won’t exist without it – but also a prosperis United States of America.

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