Skip to main content

The Narrow Path: What Exactly Are Your Identity Politics For?


I wasn't paying much attention to the details of what was said during the debates when Clinton said this. I realize that this is somewhat sacrilegious for a supposed informed voter but nothing short of a detailed apology over past stances with an explanation of how that informed her new, very different policies would have garnered real consideration of her from me. This statement just proves to me that she offered nothing like the self-awareness that sort of apology would demonstrate. Another Bernie supporter jokingly paraphrased the statement in one of the Twitter hellthreads arguing the responsibility over the loss to Trump and whether or not Bernie's platform was racist. I just lost my train of thought for a moment, shocked by the memory that this was a real and ongoing "argument" that people were making: Sander's platform of ensuring that everyone has healthcare, free public college, and a higher minimum wage, which would have a disproportionately positive impact on Black people and people of color, was racist. The idea, also at the center of Clinton's statement is that economics and *isms are somehow separate things. Because I am sometimes willfully obtuse on Twitter, it's not always clear when it's genuine, like when I answered the paraphrased rhetorical question earnestly. When asked now, I answer with variations of, 'well, kinda.' Although it's not meant for genuine inquiry Clinton's rhetorical question has offered a useful mirror for critiquing the arguments of "leftists" who are now making the point she had. These people, who swear they support Medicare for All, raising the minimum wage, and free public college and university also criticize these policies for not addressing racial disparities. On looking closely at these assertions it becomes clear that these people either don't understand what racism is or are not actually interested in combating it as they criticize policy that does precisely what they say it doesn't.
A progressive independent publisher I follow posted the following on Christmas,
The responses to the post were illuminating for some and a degree of validation for me. I have garnered a reputation for being something of an asshole. The reason is that I go after bad arguments regardless of whether they come from a supposed nemesis or ally. There's a saying in the Black community which is generally helpful in this era of anonymous online avatars, "all skin folk ain't kinfolk." People will say that they believe in universal healthcare or combating racism but will then argue a position with a strategy that suggests the opposite goal. I make specific rhetorical choices when I think someone is being dishonest. I sometimes get stuck on pointing out the contradiction, seeing continued discussion on a broken foundation as pointless; I'm not willing to just "agree to disagree" on something that's so foundational for me. The responses were validating because although over 900 people took the survey without problem a minority were starting to offer the wide variety of dishonest positions I'd been arguing against in such a concentration that patterns were starting to clearly emerge. It wasn't just me anymore. What became clear is that:
  1. some people don't understand that many people now and throughout the history of this world have had to decide between speaking up for their dignity and survival
  2. according to some white people the most devastating aspect of systemic racism for Black people is how racist whites feel about us
  3. "leftists" like liberals, who also believe in Identity Politics, think you should listen to Black people until they advocate against the preferred failed strategy, then they're probably racist
  4. most "leftists" don't realize that the Identity Politics they advocate has been a failure for the left over the last 40+ yeas and a boon for the right
  5. many who say they are leftists are not
Many of the angry respondents were reacting to the idea that there is a choice to be made between addressing "race" and "class" and the idea that they are separable. The irony is that their position is that they are separable. You can't discuss race and class, have a position that we must deal with both race and class, unless you see them as separate things. The people who argue that race and class are inseparable while arguing their separate importance call the people noting this contradiction class reductionist. It's not a phrase that corresponds with reality. The idea is that advocating for universal policy without specific remedy for race (sex, or whichever recognized identity you insert) somehow maintains the "system". This is why I say these people either don't understand racism or are not actually interested in combating it. If their position is a legitimate intellectual space to occupy there are several simple questions that should be answered. If the economic redistribution that something like Medicare for All represents is the class part of the equation, how do we address the race part? What are these concrete manifestations of systemic racism that are met through non-economic measures? What are the actions for addressing them and desired effects? 
Not every single person employing this internally conflicted argument is doing it dishonestly. Many people conflate systemic racism and personal bias. While personal bias is natural, systemic racism is the result of codified law that makes use of that bias to ensure the continued concentration of wealth. Looking at our history it becomes clear that what we call white supremacy is actually a wealth supremacy as willing to burn through poor white lives as it is Black and brown lives. When we address the economic structures designed to ensure that poverty remains disproportionately Black through universal programs we are combating racism. The people suggesting otherwise are making the same argument as Clinton. Beyond those economic measures, we're just attempting to address feelings. Despite what some white "leftists" might think, the amount that Black people care about the way racists see us is in inverse proportion to how much power they have over our lives.

I risk being told I'm ignoring the needs of other identities by centering race. I do that deliberately, but the questions I ask about race work when discussing other identities as well. As long as our discussion of identity stays focused on the ideas that have the most social capital, I'm not really supposed to share or have feelings about what women or the trans community might need. I'd suggest that if fulfilling the needs of the trans community is dependent solely on trans advocates those needs will never be met. I know this may be controversial, but noting that trans people are indeed people, I think they need food, water, and shelter; they need autonomy and agency. I'm not trying to 'cisplain' this, it's something I suspected that law professor Dean Spade reflected on in a recent episode of the Citations Needed podcast. The episode was focused on trans rights and the dismissal of identity politics. Spade makes an important point that the mainstreaming of trans politics and the backlash over the bathroom bills have negative effects on trans people already vulnerable especially to state violence. Much of the mainstream identity based advocacy isn't focused on the the things trans people who are especially vulnerable to poverty say they need themselves. I don't think I should have to know every detailed need of the trans community to want everyone who identifies as trans to have safety, agency, and autonomy. More important, it's clear to me that advocating for policies with the political possibility of passing that increase the safety, agency and autonomy of every individual who identifies as trans, is advocating for myself.

This is the problem with talking about identity politics in the abstract. I question the form of anti-racism that has white people trying to convince me that white people are so racist I need to be constantly aware of their bias; or trans advocacy that has me policing every possible bit of transphobia in myself and others. I suppose that we can expend energy doing these things but it's worth asking in service of what? How do these actions help to pass universal healthcare in the US or build a global movement to rapidly lower carbon emissions; or even lower racism and transphobia? They don't. The argument over identity politics and the importance of calling out bias is a distraction that has nothing to do with this political moment beyond stalling progress. For the first time in the history of polling a majority of voters support the idea of universal healthcare and support the idea of addressing carbon emissions. This is a critical moment that requires a rapid realignment of our economic goals and political will that centers human need over short term profit. While the platform that Bernie Sanders has advocated since the primary against Clinton is inadequate to the depth of our need it represents a crucial step in this realignment. His platform is the only one that completely rejects the neoliberal framing of the public/private partnership that usually means public risk for private profit. Medicare for All costs less than our current system while offering full coverage because it doesn't need to produce increasing profits. The fact that private profits play no part in his platform is the reason that centrist advocacy groups like Third Way are already paying for advertisements against him in swing states. They would rather lose to Trump again than have Bernie win. It's fascinating watching people suggest that the strategy of threading the needle between voter need and donor forbearance that turned Trump into an incumbent will somehow work this time. The democrats are not the opposition, they're just the contradiction. They have no clear animating position beyond contradicting Trump. They have become so reflexively contradictory that they look for reasons to stay in Afghanistan and Syria. It's possible that their strategy of centering the shameless PT Barnum of politics will somehow result in 'bad advertising' this time, I'd rather not wait for that inevitable failure. I understand the sense that anyone can beat Trump in the abstract. It's an easy feeling to have. i just wish that everyone would remember that was also the feeling before he defeated a billion dollar campaign to become the incumbent president he is now.

I think there are criteria for defeating an incumbent president, offering popular policy that meets broad need by a trusted advocate is a good place to start. Medicare for All is popular because Bernie Sanders has spent the last three years touring the country advocating for it because he believes in universal healthcare. Although, he has not yet officially announced, I believe he's the only possible nominee who will be positioned to defeat Trump because even the people who hate his platform believe he's dedicated to getting it passed; they're spending millions before he's declared because they know he means what he says. I'm not interested in arguing about the value of identity politics anymore, it's a waste of time that has nothing to do with my goals. It has been great for white identity politics. End of story. I will, however, be happy to discuss best paths to passing Medicare for All and stopping permanent climate collapse. I think both rely on defeating Trump. We need someone interested in transforming our politics, who recognizes the path to meeting the current challenge is so narrow and barely existent as to be focused solely on it, while meeting this criteria:
  1. has a vision BidenHarrisGillabrand, Booker, Warren (?), Sanders
  2. has an affirmative agenda BidenHarrisGillabrand, Booker, Warren (?), Sanders
  3. is a credible advocate of that agenda BidenHarrisGillabrand, Booker, Warren (?), Sanders
  4. is capable of driving a narrative BidenHarrisGillabrand, Booker, Warren, Sanders
  5. isn't reactionary BidenHarrisGillabrand, Booker, Warren, Sanders
  6. is capable of speaking to Trump voters with something like compassion Sanders
  7. and someone that Trump can't go to the left of BidenHarrisGillabrandBooker, Warren (?), Sanders
  8. Voted against the Defense budget BidenHarrisGillabrandBookerWarren, Sanders
 If Bernie Sanders doesn't declare, we need to draft him.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

If You Love Your People, Set It Free (or How an Identitarian Came To Prefer Universal Policy Over Identity Politics)

This post is late because I was in LA last week, where I made a point of walking as much as possible to enjoy my audiobook. Although I still have 20/20 vision I have been slow to accept that aging has made it more difficult to read, making it feel increasingly like a chore. In fully embracing this I've finally started looking for audiobooks I might find engaging enough to not be constantly distracted. For my trip I chose Mehrsa Baradaran's The Color of Money, which looks at the persistence of the racial wealth gap in the US.  It was incredibly striking and depressing listening to The Color of Money while accidentally walking through encampments of the unhoused, watching new encampments sprout up in the short time that I was there. This is who we've always been. If you have any doubt, the history recounted in The Color of Money makes it clear that capitalism has always been about extracting wealth from Black people and keeping poor people poor. On checking into Twitter I wa…

Why Are We Expending So Much Energy on Something Barely Half of Black People Want?

Presidential contenders are being asked about their support for reparations. One could be forgiven for assuming that reparations has broad support within the Black community, it seems like an easy bet. But only slightly more than half of Black people support the idea. So why has the idea suddenly gained so much traction? Neither Yvette Carnell nor Antonio Moore, originators of #ADOS (American descendants of slaves) have the following to drive a topic supported by less than a quarter of Americans into the national conversation. I suspect that it has everything to do with Bernie Sanders, the obvious frontrunner since announcing, and the ongoing attempt to portray him as racially blind and unaware. When asked directly about his support of reparations in 2016, Sanders answered, "Its likelihood of getting through congress is nil. Second of all I think it would be very divisive." He then went on to explain how his policies would have a disproportionate positive effect on the Blac…

Even Shitty People Can Support Good Things

If in observing this reality, noting that $31,600, before taxes, for 52 weeks of labor represents a raise for a significant number of Black and Latino workers you're inclined to insist we also need to confront racism, you are not the left. While personal bias can sometimes have deadly results, the numbers pale beside the exponentially larger number of deaths that are the result of the deprivations of capitalism. And I have yet to hear any effective method I might use for addressing bias within others that warrants adding it as a goal to the already monumental task of getting even subsistence level needs consistently met. Whether you consider yourself left or not it should be clear that the only potential candidate interested in transforming our political system towards one that considers the needs of the most vulnerable is Bernie Sanders. I want to say something that will be treated as controversial or apologist in certain circles but shouldn't be by anyone with any sense of …