The Identity Politics Red Herring

The Identity Politics Red Herring

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In the aftermath of the November 2016 elections the term “identity politics” has been thrown around repeatedly with many progressives suggesting that the Electoral College defeat of Clinton by Trump was the result of some sort of Democratic Party obsession with that concept.

I am not known as a defender of the Democratic Party, but in the post-November summations the whining about identity politics has become both misplaced and obnoxious. Various pundits, in suggesting that the Democratic Party over emphasized so-called identity politics at the expense of some sort of pure class politics (meaning a politics focused exclusively on economic injustice) obscures the fact that there has been an on-going struggle within the Democratic Party—let alone the USA as a whole—to ensure that it is broadly representative. Does anyone have to be reminded that the Democratic Party was the party of white supremacy? The party of the so-called Solid South? A party that had a very uneasy set of alliances that included those, like President Roosevelt and those like Senator Strom Thurmond? The fight to make the Democratic Party a more representative institution was not a fight around advertising but was directly connected to the demands of historically excluded groups to be included, not as window dressing but as central players. This entire history is being denied in the name of upholding some sort of supposedly pure fight for economic justice.

“Identity politics,” as a term, is being used as a way of describing a set of politics that challenges specific forms of oppression that exist within capitalism; forms of oppression that go beyond the boundaries of the economic. The use of the term “identity” complicates matters because it is subjective, i.e., it assumes that certain struggles are driven by people or forces that have a specific distinctiveness that connects them with that issue. Among other things this fails to take into account that various so-called identity struggles inevitably bring in allies who are not from that specific constituency.

What passes for identity politics should actually be understood as social justice struggles that aim for consistent democracy and become, as a…


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