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Your Identity Politics Are Anti-Anti-*ism

Over the last few weeks I have been reading and listening to a lot of Adoph Reed Jr. and listening to episodes of the podcast The Dig with Daniel Denvir, specifically his interviews with Barbara and Karen Fields, Nancy Fraser, Asad Haider, and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor. As a result of this immersion I'm recognizing a clarification of my own thinking around identity, intersectionality, and what for now I'll call restorative justice. I'm using restorative justice in recognition of the structures that serve capital in the US and as a catch-all recognition of the need to address the effects of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and threat to any "identity" not mentioned. If it's not apparent, even as my thinking clarifies my ability to voice that clarity remains somewhat fractured. That discontinuity is the result of the sometimes purposefully obscuring ways in which we discuss these issues. In a recent episode of Dead Pundits Society Reed said:
what's useful about both andists is it gives the impression, and I think ultimately , the illusion, that you can both pursue a radical class politics and not have identitarians yell at you or call you out for it. But the reality is that ...the construct has always been, ultimately, terms in which the identitarian component, the racism sexism, patriarchy, or whatever is ultimately the noun and the class portion of the argument is like the adjective that's just kind of there for window dressing or to imply a certain heft.
 Having been repeatedly called anti-black and self-hating for not showing sufficient obeisance to the ideals of anti-racism or asking what those ideals are I think Reed is right about the motivation of both andists; especially since I was one until 15 minutes ago. The reason that my writing remains fractured is because the way that I have been thinking about identity has been fractured. I'm interested in a radical class project where class is the noun and the identity components are what thy should be, descriptive-- the adjective. As it stands, the way identity is currently approached, it serves as a shield for the status quo against coalition building and progressive action.

In my last post I wrote about the arguments being made against universal policies that are redistributive on the basis of wealth instead of race. Re-reading it I'm struck by how often I use "identity politics" when I mean "race" since the piece focuses mostly on that identity component. It speaks to Reed's quote and my own desire to not be disingenuously misunderstood by essentially saying, "all of these things." I think it speaks, as well, to the increasingly obscuring nature of the concepts of intersectionality and identity politics. The problem with both is that they have come to define states that need prescription rather than just being descriptive of interacting structures.  From the description for the Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor episode of The Dig:
It was a way to identify the various ways that capitalism, racism, patriarchy, and homophobia created a set of interlocking oppressions. And the point of identifying how those systems operated together was not to create a itemized politics of particularity, as is too often the case today, but rather to create a framework for solidarity.
What we have instead of solidarity is a constant competition between identities, the 'oppression olympics' of who has it worse. This is what I mean when I say that identity politics is a shield for the status quo. For identitarians, recognizing that poverty is disproportionately distributed among Black or Native people, a program that raises everyone from poverty doesn't do enough to address the racial wealth gap, essentially because it also raises white people out of poverty (or gives them healthcare, or free college).  I would suggest that if you actually care about Black poverty, you wouldn't stand against a project addressing that just because it also addressed white poverty. You would also not stand against it just because it doesn't address some other large problem.

I shared this in my previous post but want to again because it represents a conversation I frequently have on Twitter and it highlights two legs of the sleight of hand that identitarians use to substitute ephemerals for concrete policy:
The conversation always starts with the idea that we need to fight racism (or other amorphous ism) and when solutions are offered they are the equivalent of unicorns and free ponies. In fact, when Kelly Kash finally responded to my questions on how to make reparations happen, he admitted that fulfillment of that vision wasn't his concern, just the vision itself. For identitarians it remains important to stay focused on the systemic problem rather than any concrete action unless it's one focused on a specific identity that will never happen. To complete the sleight of hand they will name specific issues, male to female pay disparity, racial over-representation in police violence and drug arrests, underfunded schools the solution is always, "we need to address *ism." It's more of a rhetorical circle than it is a conversation meant to result in concrete solutions.

Let's be clear, we can't legislate away sexual or racial bigotry. We can legislate for decarceration or increased de-escalation training for police. We can legislate for re-distribution of wealth to address poverty. We can legislate to forgive student debt. We can legislate for concrete things that benefit people materially. We can't legislate away bigotry but we can increase the resiliency of people's lives to be less vulnerable to institutional structures that lead to their deprivation and increase the space for agency to confront those structures in coalition.


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