Identity politics — everyone has them.
Political views and opinions are inherently personal and connected to a person’s larger sense of identity. So why is it that whenever this phrase is uttered people cringe and grow angry?
Identity politics rely heavily on the idea that people generally support positions that benefit the groups in which they belong. And why shouldn’t you support positions that benefit you? After all, that fits in with American rhetoric that everyone is responsible for their own success.
Recently identity politics have become a tool of the political arena; effectively delegitimizing the stories of people that need identity politics in the first place. To specify, the delegitimization of a group of people happens when a politician or political groups appears to have the best interest at heart — i.e. making post-election promises, advocating for rights, etc — when in reality these beliefs and promises are disingenuous.
When this happens, the plight of particular groups becomes sidelined, often resulting in the narrative of minority groups being turned into a pawn and not a real issue impacting people across the nation.
Taking a closer look at the most recent presidential election alone there are a monstrous number of incidents where a political candidate claimed to be representing the interests of a political group while simultaneously making contradictory comments and actions proving that they were doing anything but that.
In 2016, now President Donald Trump, made many efforts to win the African-American vote. Trump made a bid to appeal to African-American voters by stating, “What do you have to lose?” as reported by CNN. At the time, Trump promised to create more jobs to empower communities of color. Trump's efforts seemed — to some — like an empowering move to represent constituents of color.
However, according to an article by the Washington Post, in 2018 Trump stated Haitians “all have AIDS” when referring to the recent population of immigrants, and that he prefers immigrants from Norway rather than immigrants from “shithole countries” like Haiti and those in Africa.
Despite these statements, according to the New York Times, Trump has even gone so far as to say he is “the least racist person you have ever interviewed.”
Another 2016 presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, ran on the platform of women’s rights. It was even one of the important issues on his campaign website stating, “When it comes to the rights of women, we cannot go backwards, we have to go forwards.” In all ways, Sanders made an effort to win the female vote.
However, since 2016 it has become clear that numerous women on his campaign were survivors of sexual harassment. According to a New York Times article, “it has raised questions among them about whether he can adequately fight for the interests of women, who have increasingly defined the Democratic Party in the Trump era, if he runs again for the presidential nomination in 2020.” In addition to sexual harassment allegations the article details the pay disparity between men and women working for Sanders’ 2016 campaign.
These are two examples of politicians running on platforms of identity politics without truly respecting the very people they sought the votes of. Disingenuous use of identity politics and falsely claiming to represent a group of constituents implies the rights of minority groups and the struggles of American citizens serve only to fuel political battles.
This is where the idea that identity politics is just people creating unnecessary conflict and pointing out the faults of other political agendas comes from.
It’s no wonder that people find identity politics to be a form of violent tribalism, because its original purpose — to empower individuals to have a sense of identity that cannot be taken away from them — has been hijacked. Identity politics ideally serves to empower those who feel underrepresented and voiceless, but when their voices are used as political pawns identity politics results in the disenfranchisement of minority groups.
Megan Holmen is the assistant news editor for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @megan_holmen.