Conservatives’ claim that identity politics is damaging to the “American Way” is patently false-it is the American way! (Identity politics is solidarity within racial, ethnic or other special interest groups to advance the group’s agenda(s). (Recurrent themes in this column are that Blacks must define their own interests and identity politics is a prerequisite for effectively collaborating with other groups.)
Â Conservatives’ insistence that identity politics is detrimental is a hypocritical smoke screen for white privilege. In fact, identity politics is the cornerstone of America’s founding White Anglo-Saxon Protestants’ (WASP) who pillaged and stole Native Americans’ land. For whites, identity politics is a manifestation of racism; for Blacks and others of color, it can be prejudicial and bigoted but cannot be racism. The term racism is widely misused: It is the domination of one group over others based on race or ethnicity. Therefore, is virtually impossible for America’s Blacks or other people of color to be racist-they don’t control America’s wealth or its resources.
The term identity politics is used by conservatives to discredit Blacks; they fear the possibility of racially diverse coalitions threatening their cherished American way of life. Political conservatives’ role is to protect white interest, not ensure that the law is fair to all groups in society. They denounce Blacks and others who advocate cultural solidarity, even though it is clearly a defining characteristic of white dominance. Whether conservatives, like it or not, the American way has expanded and unparalleled diversity exists in the U.S. today. Nonetheless, powerful forces denounce such change and their resistance has increased since Barack Obama presidency and the nation’s economic meltdown.
Conservative angst over Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s U.S.Supreme Court nomination is one indicator of their resistance to impending change. Others include the murders of a Black security guard at the Museum of Tolerance in Washington, D.C. by an 88-year-old white avowed supremacist and a well known physician who performed long-term abortions. He was killed while attending church by a rabid anti-abortionist. These are only the most notorious examples of a staunch conservative push-back.
After the Civil War, non-WASP European immigrants were treated as foreigners and considered a threat to American culture. But because they were white, they were able to assimilate and eventually ascend politically and economically. Not so for Blacks, who obviously could not pass the brown paper bag test.
Unlike later arriving European immigrants, Blacks were denied civil and human rights, de jure. And they still must, exert group strength commensurate with their numbers in the population as leverage for attaining full rights. For Blacks, marshaling requisite unity to accomplish this remains an elusive, daunting task.
There are many reasons for Blacks’ difficulty in forging sustainable unity-some obvious, many not. An important, but little discussed factor impeding sustainable unity is that Blacks have internalized the values of the dominant white majority without equal access to their benefits. Therefore, for many Blacks, to move against the majority is tantamount to moving on themselves.
Racism is the fulcrum of white supremacy and, in many ways, continues to determine who gets what. This is still significantly based on color. Conservatives’ antagonism toward Blacks and other people of color strengthens unity among whites. Despite internal conflicts, Blacks have always been the prime objects of conservatives’ derision. Ironically, race itself is both the source and potential solution of the “race problem.”
Increasing talk of a color-blind, post-racial society is pure nonsense; nor is multiculturalism a panacea. Unless multiculturalists collaborate honestly, their efforts will amount to nothing more than social masturbation. President Barack Obama’s downplaying of racial inequities is serving to aggravate the situation for Blacks, e.g., “My Stimulus package will lift all boats.” The implication is that for the Obama administration, specific consideration of Blacks’ needs is highly unlikely.
Blacks, though marginalized, are, of cource, an integral part of the expanded “American Way.” But in this time of severe economic strife, Blacks, as usual, are suffering more than most. It is imperative that they take stock, clearly define their political and economic priorities, and strategically address the barriers to sustainable progress.
Identity politics, a source of pride and solidarity, is an essential ingredient of any viable equation for Black empowerment. We Ignore this is at our collective peril.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org