Dear Progressives: Stop Slamming Identity Politics
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Dear fellow progressives,
Please, please stop using the term "identity politics" as a negative. "Identity politics" is a term adopted by conservatives (and moderate-to-right-leaning lefties) in an effort to insult the political action of women, people of color, the LGBT community, and other traditionally marginalized groups. It assumes that advocating for gender, racial or sexual orientation equality is about promoting particular "identities" as opposed to doing what white men have always done -- engaging in the political system, often in a self-interested way. If you're going to use the term "identity politics," go for it -- but own it as a good thing. We are all influenced by our identities; but since white, straight, Christian male is the default, it's only commented on when the rest of us voice our opinions.
George W. Bush dressing up as a cowboy and appealing to "authentic" American men? "America's Toughest Sheriff" swaggering around Arizona and making inmates wear pink underwear to emasculate them? John Kerry donning a hunting vest to prove his toughness? Not "identity politics."
But Hillary Clinton recognizing that she's female and perhaps that matters? Obama being black? Feminists promoting women's rights? People of color promoting racial equality? LGBT communities challenging heteronormativity? Suddenly identity politics are ruining America and harming the elections.
Identity has always influenced elections. Identity has always been a political cornerstone. Identity has always been something candidates focused on in order to get themselves elected.
The difference is that today, those identities are more diverse. More voices are being heard, and so more identities are being catered to, spoken about and owned. But many of those voices threaten the status quo when they pipe up and say, "Hey, I count, too." And so those who have an interest in maintaining the status quo dismiss valid arguments and interests as "identity politics" -- something they would never do to the boys who want to play cowboy or perform masculinity.
Don't adopt their frame.
Jill Filipovic is a New York-based freelance writer and a law student at NYU. More of her writing is available online at her blog, Feministe.
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