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The Curse and Failure of Identity Politics


I think we’ve all had enough of the bullshit: identity politics has been a curse to leftist movements in the U.S. for far too long. How could anyone argue otherwise?

During the Obama years, leftists were chastised for their critiques, with many, including myself, being accused of racism. Racism, really? I’ve spent the last ten years of my life dedicated to progressive social movements, yet I’m a racist because I think that Barack Obama is an imperialist scumbag? Piss off…

Today, the same is happening in the context of Hillary Clinton’s run for U.S. President. Any and all critiques of Hillary are deemed “sexist” by HRC’s bootlickers.

On a recent DemocracyNow! program, Clinton lackey Bertha Lewis (former CEO of ACORN and currently of the Black Institute and Working Families Party of New York) had some profoundly ignorant and misinformed things to say. Of course, none of this is surprising, nor is it really out of the ordinary, but it is disheartening and troublesome.

The best part of the interview was Bertha’s statement that, “If you want to see a revolution, then elect a female president!” Indeed, Bertha may be right: under Thatcher, the U.K. underwent quite a revolution, although not the type of revolution leftists would like to see.

However, the Curse of Identity Politics isn’t relegated to the electoral sphere: I’ve been told by activists that the U.S. can’t pull out of Afghanistan because women will be treated worse. I’ve been that women serving in the U.S. Military Machine is a progressive accomplishment. And I’ve been told that because black and brown people overwhelmingly support Democrats, I too should support the “lesser of two evils.”

When I sat on the board of directors of an national antiwar organization, we talked about meeting ethnic, racial and gender quotas as much as we talked about ending wars and militarism. In fact, during one strategy retreat in Chicago, we started out each day by exploring what pronouns each of us would prefer to use. Yes, this is what modern activism, for some, has turned into.

At the same time, people are learning valuable lessons, particularly young folks, about the world of progressive politics – its failures, inadequacies and so on.

Fortunately, young voters (84% of women under the age of 30) in Iowa overwhelmingly supported Sanders over Clinton. In my thinking, this trend will continue. The Age of Identity Politics is coming to an end. The wrath of middle-aged, middle-class white women is quickly losing steam. Young women are tired of hearing about the first female U.S. President – they’re interested in policies that will actually help the vast majority of females in the U.S., not bourgeois feminism aimed at the dwindling white middle-class.

The real question is: how long are we going to play the identitarian game? In 2020, will we have to go through the same song and dance with a centrist Latino or LGBTQ candidate? I sure hope not.

In the end, Iraqi and Afghan children don’t care whether it’s a man or a woman who drone strikes their family and friends. They just care that someone is trying to kill them.

Domestically, the same is true: most Americans don’t care whether it’s a white woman or a black man who’s trying to pass the worst trade deal (Trans Pacific Partnership) in history – they simply know they’re getting screwed by powerful elites.

I would argue that the more the identitarians try and play their identitarian games, the more they will lose support and standing in progressive communities. Already, young black activists with Black Lives Matter and various other community organizations are challenging the dominant liberal narrative that having people of color in powerful positions will automatically result in better conditions for people of color.

As a result, my black activist friends are not interested in replacing a white police chief with a black police chief. And my female friends are not interested in replacing patriarchy with patriarchy-light. Hence the reason young activists aren’t engaging in the same absurd ideological games as their elders. Here, we should be excited.

In many ways, the identitarians have already lost the ideological battle. After all, Latinos are being deported in record numbers, African Americans are worse off today than they were prior to Obama taking office, and women are facing unprecedented attacks from religious conservatives. All of this after forty years of identity politics. Obviously, focusing on what Chris Hedges calls “boutique political issues” hasn’t resulted in better living conditions for people of color or women. Yet, the public is more educated about these issues than ever before.

So, what gives? A complete lack of power and organization. Without question, the Left has virtually no power and is utterly lacking the infrastructure and institutions that would be necessary to rectify the problem. Instead of talking about the brutal realities of power, leftists often talk about “shifting narratives” and “changing dominant discourses.”

Indeed, the more the Left focuses on the most prescient issues of our time – ecology, militarism and economics – the more likely people will be to gravitate toward leftist political organizations and movements.

Right now, identity politics is all the rage. But those days are coming to an end.

As the seas continue to rise and the rich continue to plunder, people will seek truly radical alternatives, not liberal rubbish.

Vincent Emanuele writes for teleSUR English and lives in Michigan City, Indiana. He can be reached at

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