My Commitment to Civil Rights is Not Identitarian: Thoughts on Strategy Following the U.S. Presidential Election

Standing up vocally for people’s civil rights is not “identity politics,” uplifting voices of people who long ago would have gotten due credit had they met the identity requirements of the hegemonic power structure (which is now violently trying to maintain ground before its eventual demise) is not identity politics.

The left should stop adopting the same language the right has spent decades using to describe us. No, Hillary did not say “I’m a woman, vote for me.” She said “I’m the most qualified person to ever run for this position, vote for me.” That she and some of us (including myself) celebrated that this was also a milestone for women is not identity politics.

Tonight, the last children’s hospital in Aleppo was bombed, and we have no one to turn to to lead us to a solution in this crisis. I do not know what to do.

Last night water protectors fighting to save our life sustaining environment from extractive industry had their lives threatened by plumes of freezing water, concussion grenades, rubber bullets, and toxic chemicals shot at their bodies. I do not know what to do.

And today a person continues to flounder at trying to figure out how he is supposed to do a job he lacks the skills to do, and in the process he surrounds himself with people known to promote the idea that some people as a result of their ethnicity are lacking in humanity. I do not know what to do.

But I do know that standing up for civil rights is not identity politics. I do know that uplifting the voices of the marginalized is not identity politics. I do know that celebrating our peacemakers is not identity politics.

My allies will define themselves; the names they are called will not prevent them from lifting their voices and sharing their beautiful agenda.

The right can keep its identity politics, its name calling, its labeling, its reducing of the speaker to her race, her sex, her religion, her audacity to envision a future where civil rights are respected and yes where diversity is honored and given the space and reverence this requires (nature shows us this is so critical, yet so many remain unconverted by that miraculous system even when our lives depend on it).

Friends, please, do not yet again get suckered into believing the names they call you. Do not abandon those who need you because their immutable characteristics make them a target for being dismissed as identitarian any time they speak. Please, be allies. I am trying. Please try.


(Header Image from a page in Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts)

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