In defense of identity politics: The soul of the Democratic Party will not sit down and shut up
In the aftermath of the election when the big loser of the popular vote is going to the White House, leaving the rest of the world to whom America has been yapping about democracy stunned, some have seen great opportunity in this great crisis for our country.
Interestingly, another white dude who also lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton - and also the nomination of the Democratic party because we are actually democratic - saw it as his opportunity to hijack the modern Democratic party and make it into a Trump-lite ego-stroker for rural racism. Not so long ago Bernie Sanders went on quite a rant about how Democrats must ditch what he pejoratively called "identity politics." Said the other yelling old white man from 2016:
It is not good enough for somebody to say, 'I'm a woman, vote for me.' No, that’s not good enough. What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industry.
In other words, one of the struggles that you’re going to be seeing in the Democratic Party is whether we go beyond identity politics. I think it’s a step forward in America if you have an African-American CEO of some major corporation. But you know what, if that guy is going to be shipping jobs out of this country, and exploiting his workers, it doesn’t mean a whole hell of a lot whether he’s black or white or Latino.
Before I get to how offensive, stupid and beyond psychobabblish that is, let me state the obvious: this line of rhetoric is not that different from Bernie Sanders and his supporters' constant assault on and belittling of people of color, civil rights and women's rights during the campaign. Nor is this line much different from Sanders' unrelenting assailing and demonization of Hillary Clinton's character, which fed into the narrative Trump pushed against Hillary Clinton and the so-called white working class bought.
This is not so different from Bernie Sanders and his campaign consistently dismissing Hillary Clinton's primary wins in states with large populations blacks and Hispanics on the basis that those states aren't swing states (and therefore, who cares if a bunch of n*ggers in South Carolina want Hillary Clinton, right, Bernie?). All of this is very much in line with what seems to be Bernie Sanders' sad and debunk political philosophy that if only economic equality reined, a black Harvard professor wouldn't be getting arrested while attempting to enter his own house, or a young, successful black woman wouldn't be pulled out of her car on her way to an interview to a lucrative job and later die in police custody.
Nonetheless, for a moment, let's address this huge, giant, pain-in-the-ass strawman Sanders wants to beat to a pulp: us running candidates based on their high heels and afros.
No Democrat but exactly no serious Democrat has ever said "I'm a woman, vote for me." I mean, what the hell kind of bullshit is that? Hillary Clinton went out of her way stand up for everyone who was left behind, everyone who needed a voice, everyone who needed to be lifted up. She went out of her way to make the case that man or woman, she was the most qualified candidate to ever run for president, and she was. Hillary Clinton formulated policy positions that took a tough stance on the financial industry, prescribed a health care platform that made insurance companies and pharmaceuticals hate her, and pledged to massively expand on President Obama's climate and clean energy leadership.
So spare me the nonsense horse manure that we Democrats gave our nomination to someone just because she was a woman. Or that we think it's cool for a CEO to mistreat their employees or compete unfairly so long as they are either melanin-bearing beings or of the female gender. Where does Bernie Sanders get this idea that Democrats are picking our candidates based on body parts and skin color rather than the content of our candidates' character? I am beginning to think from Donald Trump's shiny orange hair.
But let's be clear on one thing: we do now and will continue to demand that our candidates represent who we are as a country and as a party. We do now and will continue to demand that the content of our candidates' character involve a deep, abiding and active commitment to civil and equal rights, and an active commitment to civil rights requires something more recent than half a century. We are going to keep demanding that you don't get caught trying to dump white people's nuclear waste next to poor Hispanic neighborhoods.
We are going to demand that people of color, women and LGBTQ folk not only have a seat at the table but have a chance to lead. We are going to continue to demand that old white men lose the notion that they alone have all the answers and that the rest of us just need a savior. We are going to demand that we be heard on what economic and political progressivism look like. We are going to demand that we be respected for the candidate that we chose: while Bernie Sanders got the Republican demographic within the Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton won because of her deep support within communities of color.
We are going to demand that where we, people from across cultures and colors and orientations thrive, our cities, stop being neglected. We are going to demand that those of us who (or whose families) come from lands where "revolution" has meant bloodshed, coups and corruption be heard and respected by those with privileged, non-bloody backgrounds who believe revolution is an adorable, fluffy puppy. We are going to demand innovation from all over the world that we all benefit from and the resulting cultural enrichment and economic benefits not be stifled by tradephobic ideologues.
No, Bernie Sanders. We will not sit down and shut up. We will not let the fear of a vote loser promoted by a racist institution (the electoral college) determine our future.
What Bernie Sanders doesn't understand is that equal rights and equal access are economic issues. It is because of economic disparities that black and brown people more desperately needed the Affordable Care Act while liberal white politicians could be counted on to lament its imperfections. It is because people of color and women are disproportionately victims of legal and illegal financial scams that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is more critical for us while limousine liberals call the president who created it 'bank-owned.' It is because our communities are more often underfunded and our families more often have a harder time paying for college that financial aid and affirmative action are more critical to us while the white working class basks in its privilege to whine about competition, in large part from us. It is because Hispanic women make 54 cents for every dollar white men make that abortion is an economic issue for people of color.
Oh, and we people of color actually vote for our - and our country's - economic best interest, while our poor white brethren have just turned over the keys to their Social Security, Medicare and health insurance subsidies to the party that has long openly promised to steal them, because they thought, like Bernie Sanders, that one party was paying too much attention to us. I am not going to apologize for telling it to them straight.
You want to call that identity politics? Go right ahead. I don't give a damn. In fact, I am proud to vote my identity as a gay, brown working American. I am proud that I cast my vote twice for a black man who has been a better president than any white dude in the last half century, and I am proud that I cast my vote for the woman who paid attention, created plans, listened to us and won the popular vote.
I guarantee you that I am not the only person voting my identity. Pretty much everyone does. The white working class voted their white identity, their white privilege which they told was being threatened by black people, brown people, Asians, immigrants, and other working people here at home and in foreign lands. I wonder when Bernie Sanders will tell white people - more particularly, white men - to stop voting their identities.
Make no mistake: ignoring identity in politics is identity politics, just as "color blindedness" is racism. Not one of us is immune to economic pain, and not one of us is oblivious to economic suffering. But to tell us that economic pain of a white industrial worker in the face of the new global economy should concern us more than the daily economic and social cost of police misconduct in black communities is offensive. To tell us that it's more important to perform a futile attempt to return low-skilled factory jobs in rural white counties than clearing the way for more small business loans for the Asian woman opening her own restaurant in the middle of a vibrant city is both wrong and stupid. And all of this is identity politics.
Because Bernie Sanders' version of politics seems to be saying that your identity should matter in politics only if you identify with economically saddled rural America. If your identity is something different - or even something more complicated - then your identity should not have a place in politics.
And we won't have it.
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