As we devolve into a modern incarnation of white establishment politics, one that has merged the sensibilities of 1950s-era America with the advent of social media, the easiest and most natural response for us would be to counter through uniting around familiar concepts such as “Asian American” rights and empowerment. However, by doing so without a critical eye, I fear we will lapse into a politics that is neither revolutionary nor liberating.
Only by pursuing a path of deconstructive politics — one that takes apart ideas and identities we take for granted among ourselves — can we truly form an agenda that benefits all classes, all genders, and all those who will be further marginalized by this new and dangerous administration.
At a post-election event in Boston, Senator Bernie Sanders uttered the following: “It’s not good enough for someone to say, ‘I’m a woman! Vote for me!’” No, that’s not good enough. What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industry.”
Since the victory of Trump over Clinton, comments like those have echoed across the political spectrum, including from several Democrats (or those claiming to be). Those who hail from the political left fear that the Democratic party has lost its way with the “working class” — which is a problematic frame that I’ll explain later — or that Democrats are more invested in diversity than in dismantling class oppression. These are both valid points. However, those of us who are underrepresented and politically insecure — especially those of us who are people of color — have reason to worry: this framing portrays us and our issues as mere distractions from the “real” concerns of American people. Evidently, the soul of the Democrat Party is a site of struggle. I hope to push back against the forces that would marginalize racial justice on the Left, and which would leave POC like ourselves stranded and more powerless than before.
There are valid critiques of “identity politics,” including some raised by other folks of color. We might, for example, confuse a person’s background for their politics. When we elect Bobby Jindal or Nikki Haley, some of us can make the mistake of believing that they’ll stand up for us, or that their wins should be celebrated. Similar sentiments might also apply to Margaret Thatcher or other so-called “change” candidates, even when these figures are revealed to only serve the interests of the wealthy elite. However, the argument turns bitter and dangerous when the person advocating against “identity” politics invokes a sort of “neoliberal” agenda to divide and rule the people while neglecting working class politics.
The critiques of “identity politics” are problematic in three ways. First, it marginalizes the experiences of African Americans and other groups of color who are part of the working class. Second, it distorts the image of who is the typical reactionary voter. Most importantly, it consistently negates the power of race and racism in the U.S., both past and present.
“They sold us out,” a friend texted me on election night, after an avowed racist, misogynist, and capitalist , was declared the 45th President of the United States of America.
As the days wore on, others too have expressed similar sentiments, whether while crying over the phone or messaging me at 1 A.M.
All of us, as POC, recognize what has happened, and understand who “they” really are: the white neighbors we thought we could trust, the white friend we assumed knew better, the white co-worker we believed was joking when they claimed that the orange-colored man was what America needed after eight years of Obama. We now see them for who they truly are: liars and frauds.
If you claim to be a white ally and are uncomfortable in reading this, then you are part of the problem. You have allowed the racism in your family and among your peers to permeate the political discourse, and to ultimately, take it over and in the process, risk the lives of millions of POC.
For the rest of you, who I’m hoping are in fact black and brown people searching for answers over what to do next, it is incumbent upon me to admit the hard truth:
“I need to pee, and I need a cookie,” I told my friend as we drove to Edison for an anti-Trump protest.
We stopped at a Dunkin Donuts where I used the bathroom and bought a chocolate muffin instead. I kept tapping my feet as we sat in the corner of the store. My heart was pounding against my chest.
When I first heard that the Republican Hindu Coalition was organizing an event for Donald Trump in Edison, New Jersey, I laughed. Another friend of mine – one who I’ve known since high-school — found out that the event was being held at the convention center, she quickly began organizing a protest. She’s quoted in this article at Quartz, where you can find more information about the background of what happened and why. She did the hard work of getting others involved, including me. Like I said, my immediate reaction was amusement and annoyance at the Trump event, rather than frustration or anger. But that mood changed as the week wore on. From watching interviews of Trump supporters online and hearing how gleeful they were about their misogyny and racism, flashes of prior incidences splashed across my mind, when protestors were pushed and assaulted. Plus, the election was nearing its peak, and it seemed like the true believers were prepared to do anything to win.