Identity Politics

I’ve been resisting this post. Everyone and their mother has written about the Clinton/Obama explosion, and the massive tensions around identity politics. I’m not all that excited about electoral politics, and especially around primary time, I feel profoundly cynical and disenfranchised.

However. The fracas about identity politics is particular in this situation. It is being pitted as the contest between race and gender. It’s being discussed as though either Clinton’s or Obama’s victory will vicariously denote the victory of one ‘minority’ over another, as though a defeat will signal the gold medal in the oppression olympics.

It’s driving me insane. There’s no room in this discussion to say “both,” to be both feminist AND anti-racist, to be a person committed to multiple struggles. I am white, female, queer, and committed to justice. I am willing to make this vote on identity politics (sorry Dennis, I still love you.) But how can I make that decision in a responsible way? The way it’s being discussed now is a zero-sum game; a win for one is a loss for the other. And directly, for the two candidates involved, that is of course true. But for us a country and a culture, why does it have to be? Why can’t the election of either of them be a victory for all of us?

I have to say that I’m nervous about the outcome. If Clinton wins, I’m afraid that it will be a sign to non-white Americans that when it comes to it, white folks will circle the wagons. (I’m even more scared that that’s actually true.) And if Obama wins, I’m afraid that in my majority-white feminist community, there will be a backlash of racism and distancing. And if neither of them wins, I’m afraid that it won’t feel like a reason to rally together, but rather a reason to blame each “side” for their insularity.

In the same moment that I’m losing faith in my feminist and progressive communities, though, I’m also excited by the fact that this is happening. Up until a few days ago, the Democratic ticket had three contenders who were NOT the traditional white men (remember Richardson?). Two of those contenders are wrestling over the top spot for the nomination. This is an exciting thing to live through, even while it’s a divisive and difficult choice to make.


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