Identity Politics 2020
When Bernie Sanders launched his 2020 presidential bid this week, a Vermont Public Radio interviewer asked him how his candidacy fit into a moment when the Democratic Party is looking more diverse than ever. Sanders responded, “We have got to look at candidates, you know, not by the color of their skin, not by their sexual orientation or their gender and not by their age. We have got to move towards a nondiscriminatory society.”
On the surface, Sanders’ comments seem reasonable enough; of course we want candidates — and all people, really — judged on their beliefs and actions over all else. But being “nondiscriminatory” isn’t about ignoring race and gender — it’s the opposite. Moving towards justice requires us to pay very close attention to the relationships these identities have to power and privilege.
After all, we didn’t get all male, all straight, and almost all white presidents by accident — presidential candidates have always been judged by their race, gender, and sexual orientation. Yet, it’s only when there are female or nonwhite candidates that voters are told that gender and race shouldn’t matter.
These kinds of distinctions and nuances are becoming increasingly understood on the left. But we need our politicians to catch up.
When Starbucks CEO and presidential candidate Howard Schultz claimed in a televised town hall, “I don’t see color,” for example, he was widely panned for repeating a well-known (and deservedly-mocked) statement by those who seem more interested in waving away issues of racism than dealing with them directly. People understood that Schultz wasn’t signaling a commitment to racial justice issues, but claiming that he was above it all.
Politicians can’t afford to brush off what’s happening in the U.S. around race and gender right now. In fact, “identity politics” may be the most urgent social issue of our time — it’s just not about the identities most people associate with the often-derided term.
Right now, extremist hate groups and white supremacist terrorism are on the rise. A new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center showed a 50 percent increase in white…