The End of Identity Politics

Center of Concern | Thu, Jan 15, 2009

By Maria Riley, OP

It is striking how silent the Progressive movement has become on identity politics, be it gender, racial/ethnic or sexual. As a gender advocate I find it is becoming increasingly difficult to raise a gender issue and get any response beyond polite listening and general agreement—no action. Some call it gender fatigue, but I wonder if something else is taking shape: a unity ideology which does not want to deal with dissident voices or agendas.

Granted at times in the past identity politics has had a negative effect, breaking up coalitions, competition over whose issue was primary, weakening of the progressive voice in society, division in the ranks. But will re-marginalizing the voices resolve the problems?

Identity politics arose in the late 1960’s because the problems women, African Americans, Latinos/as, lesbians and gays, Native Americans and other marginalized voices were ignored in mainline media, liberal and progressive politics, social institutions such as labor unions and society at large.Granted much progress has been made in many arenas of discrimination and exclusion, but we have not arrived at the promised land yet.

So how do we move forward? If the era of identity politics has run its course, how do we reframe the approaches to ensure that particular problems that people face because of gender, or race/ethnicity or sexual orientation are not ignored. We still have, for example, glaring inequities in wealth/poverty distribution, discrimination in the work place, political exclusion and voicelessness, prejudice and discrimination that in the extreme can lead to violence and hate crimes.

The election of Barack Obama is an historical moment of which we are justly proud, but the success of one man or woman, or even a number of men and women, cannot be mistaken for justice for all in our country. There is still much work for all or us to do.