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People Say Identity Politics Are Killing the Democratic Party. I Think They’re Saving It.

Roy Moore was an extreme danger to religious freedom and the rule of law for everyone living in the United States, but he posed a particular threat to the liberty of queer people, Black people, Chicanos, Muslims, non-Christians (including his own lawyer who, his wife noted with great enunciation, was “a Jew”), women, immigrants, and the poor.

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But let’s give credit where credit is due and admit that the real reason Democrat Doug Jones will be heading to Washington to represent the people of Alabama is Identity Politics. If white people in Alabama had their way, Moore would be heading to the Senate, where he’d be free to legislate what kinds of sex you and I would legally be able to have, free to impose theocracy upon us, and free to keep treating young women as he allegedly has in the past. An overwhelming number of white people, who make up the majority of the state’s eligible voters, cast their votes for Moore, just as they voted for Trump last year. At the same time, 98 percent of Black women and 92 percent of Black men voted for Doug Jones. And, despite the gutting of the Voting Rights Act and voter suppression efforts, they came out to vote in droves.

Identity Politics saved the day.

But wasn’t it a different kind of identity politics that gave us Trump in the first place? Wasn’t it “white identity politics” behind Moore’s strong showing with white voters? Not exactly.

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Conservatives of all stripes, as well as liberals like Jonathan Chait and Mark Lilla, like to write off “identity politics” as divisive claptrap, but I don’t believe they understand the concept for what it is. Identity politics is not simply referring to the politics of any identity—its roots lie in grounding anti-racist, anti-misogynist and liberation politics specifically in the experiences of Black women.

The Black feminist Combahee River Collective coined the term 40 years ago. (In fact, their famous statement has just been newly published in the book How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective). These women wrote that their “politics initially sprang from the shared belief that Black women are inherently valuable” and “that our liberation is a necessity not as an adjunct to somebody else's.” Identity politics was born as Black women owning that “the most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identity, as opposed to working to end somebody else’s oppression.”

Black women made life in the U.S. in general and Alabama in particular a little less dangerous and and humiliating for everyone by rejecting a theocratic racist.

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This is what we saw on Tuesday: Black women made life in the U.S. in general, and Alabama in particular, a little less dangerous and humiliating for everyone by rejecting a theocratic racist. Doug Jones understood this: he, too, put forward a politics based on Black women’s oppression. In 1997, Jones brought prosecution and won convictions against two members of the KKK who were responsible for the 1963 16th Street Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, that killed four little black girls (and maimed one more who suffers in poverty to this day). Instead of hiding this fact to appeal to “centrists,” Jones allowed this to be a key part of his message.

And yet, the Democratic Party has a hard time understanding that they need to put “minorities” (a term we should retire because it denotes subservience to whiteness) and particularly Black women, at the forefront. After Hillary Clinton’s loss, there was no shortage of voices on the left saying she appealed too much to special interest “minorities” and disaffected white people. But whiteness is both a political scourge and represents the past, while identity politics represents the present and the future.

Ashley Bennett

Since Trump was elected, we’ve seen the kind of specific identity politics rooted in the experiences of the marginalized and maligned that comes, as the Combahee statement described, “directly out of our own identity, as opposed to working to end somebody else’s oppression.” There was Ashley Bennett, the woman so angry about a sexist joke from her representative on the Board of Freeholders in Atlantic City that she ran against him and won. There was Danica Roem, the first out transgender woman to be elected in Virginia, who turned her transphobic representative in the House of Delegates into her constituent.

And, as the Windy City Times found, of an historic 72 out LGBT candidates nationwide, more than half won. Indeed, since Trump was elected, we are seeing the most racially, sexually, and ethnically diverse crop of candidates not only participating, but winning. Even in “red states,” many of them are winning with truly progressive economics, such as Jackson mayor Chokwe Lumumba. Some 15 members of the Democratic Socialists of America have won across the country. For the left, the path to victory against Trump does not entail rallying around a “neutral” candidate who puts identity politics to the side.

Now, as to the the elephant in the room—didn’t Trump also win by way identity politics?

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In a way, yes. Trump won through what Carole Anderson calls “the politics of white resentment” or “white rage.” And the desire to “Make America Great Again” certainly represents a politics rooted in white identity. But the thing is, this is the opposite of what the concept of “identity politics” was created to describe. Voting to maintain white dominance is not a politics rooted in oppression, but a politics rooted in fear, entitlement, and the rage to hold onto unfairly distributed wealth.

Buying into the politics of white supremacy—and make no mistake, that’s what most white voters in Alabama were doing—actually harms many white people. When white women vote for Moore or Trump, they are voting to put white men in power who hate women like them. When poor white voters elect racist politicians out of allegiance to whiteness, they are voting for cuts in Medicaid that may kill themselves or someone they love. And when white people vote for a homophobe like Moore, they are also voting against LGBT rights.

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There was no exit polling on how LGBT voters cast their ballots in Alabama. But we know that white people voted overwhelmingly for a virulently anti-gay candidate, and there has been a lot of silence from white gay voices grappling with the connection between white supremacy and homophobia.

These voices aren’t always quiet in considering race and homophobia. On election night in 2008, Dan Savage argued "Black Homophobia" explained how Obama could win California despite the passing of Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that repealed California’s then-novel allowance of same-sex marriage. Savage wrote that he was “done pretending that the handful of racist gay white men out there—and they’re out there, and I think they’re scum—are a bigger problem for African Americans, gay and straight, than the huge numbers of homophobic African Americans are for gay Americans.” Savage was just plain wrong in blaming the passage of Prop 8 on Black people: As Ta-Nehis Coates pointed out shortly after in The Atlantic, Black people formed just seven percent of the electorate in California. A follow-up study from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in 2009 that “the differences seen among racial and ethnic groups in support for Proposition 8 were almost certainly more narrow than indicated by the Election Day exit poll” Savage had cited. As Nate Silver had correctly surmised at FiveThirtyEight shortly after the election, "Prop 8’s passage was more a generational matter than a racial one.”

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Savage had no trouble blaming black voters for Prop 8 when he thought (incorrectly) that an overwhelming majority of them were anti-gay and had caused its passage. And yet, looking at Savage’s blog this week, I see nothing by him (nor by other prominent white gay writers) calling out the pathological homophobia revealed by white voters’ overwhelming support of Moore.

But if two out of every three Black people had supported Moore, the Savages of the world would have screamed their heads off about “Black homophobia.” But because white people did, it’s not something that gets called out.

I bring up the white gay silence on white homophobia to belabor two points: that white supremacy hides itself to all kinds of white people (even white gay liberals), and that identity politics is not just the politics of differing identities. Identity politics has its roots in queer Black feminism, and if we bring this kind of politics to the foreground, it will help everyone. Because, as the women of Combahee put it, “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.”

That’s the kind of identity politics that won this week in Alabama: a politics organized and executed by Black women who rejected racism, misogyny and homophobia—and it has the power to liberate all Americans.



This post first appeared on Shareabler, please read the originial post: here

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People Say Identity Politics Are Killing the Democratic Party. I Think They’re Saving It.

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