Can we be honest about identity politics?

I will not get into the latest skirmage over identity politics with the presidential candidates because frankly I don't care about it.

Instead, what the latest skirmage forced me to ask myself is whether progressives/Democrats/Liberals, etc can be honest about how identity politics affects our decision making process?

This diary is mostly just a series of questions. I firmly expect to be attacked for asking because questions, but I have to ask.

1) Can we be honest about how identity politics affects decision making or must we sweep the discussion under the rug of racism or gender bias or whatever else people like to claim ?

2) Do you honestly think that there is not a positive for identity politics related to rage and gender that's a net positive for candidates in a Democratic primary season?

3) Do you think the stats that show how people are voting should be ignored ?

4) What do you think will happen in the general election with these issues?

These are just off top of my head. I am sure there are others I can think to bring to the mix.

This is all about my frustration with a lack of self reflection that I find in these discussions. I get that everyone is trying to argue the candidate's position, but really- who do you think you are fooling? Does anyone think that if Obama were a white male or if Clinton were a black female or white male that the dynamics of the primary wold not be different? Who here thinks that? Do you think these are all about the negatives- ie, people being sexist or racist against your candidate, and that there is no value that the candidates derive from their identity as well? I am repeating myself because I really don't get why neither side can admit, even if their candidate's can't, that "yes' the candidate's identities not only hurt them, but in other ways help them in a Democratic primary.

To me, this would be a like a Christian Evangelical white male not admitting that may help him in the GOP primary. It simply doesn't pass the smell test.

Tags: gender, Identity Politics, race (all tags)

Comments

18 Comments

of course we cant talk about it

seriously though, i agree.

the biggest issue that i have been grappling with (as far as my PC discussion of presidential politics in the blogosphere goes) has to do with BHO and the WOT.

In my mind, a black man with some Muslim heritage is inherently better suited to fight the War on Terror in its many manifestations. Can anyone deny that electing BHO would seriously call into question the vision of america which is sold by radical jihadists?

by omar little 2008-03-11 10:25PM | 0 recs
Re: of course we cant talk about it

I am not sure I understand you.

by bruh21 2008-03-11 10:35PM | 0 recs
Re: of course we cant talk about it

In other words:

Electing a black man with muslim grandparents and an African name who was against the war in Iraq, would make it more difficult for jihadist propagandists in the
Middle East to portray America as a land of crusading Christian
soldier-boys.

by Etchasketchist 2008-03-11 11:42PM | 0 recs
Re: of course we cant talk about it

I strongly support Clinton and find a great deal of the Obama support simply mystifying.

That said, for months this has been in my eyes the single strongest argument for an Obama presidency.  Anecdotal in the extreme, but I heard on NPR (I think) some weeks ago a story about some average Yemeni whose comment was something to the effect that "I believed America can't change but if America can elect a black man maybe I was wrong".

In a world off the rails, that effect, assuming it is widespread, is no small thing.

On the flip side, by running the macho national security campaign and being a Clinton, as opposed to another female candidate, I do not think Clinton can have as strong of a positive effect on global opinion, particularly among East African, Middle Eastern, South Asian, and Southeast Asian nations.  That is to say, ground zero in struggles with terrorists.

by Trond Jacobsen 2008-03-12 04:01AM | 0 recs
ps..

are you bruhrabbit on openleft? if so...

why you been acting so messed up towards me?

by omar little 2008-03-11 10:26PM | 0 recs
Re: ps..

I don't even know who you are. This is generally about the arguments presented to me, not the person.

by bruh21 2008-03-11 10:34PM | 0 recs
Re: Can we be honest about identity politics?

Don't try to defend Ferraro with the straw man argument that discussing race is taboo, and you and Ferraro are bravely bringing it up. Turn on cable news, and what do you see? Pundits endlessly discussing Obama and Clinton support among blacks, women and what have you. It's hardly taboo.

What is, and, in my opinion, should be discouraged, are statements of the kind Ferraro made, where she essentially suggests that Obama owes his success (where he is) solely to being black. He doesn't and to say so is insulting to him and the millions of people supporting him. It also plays into the worst kind of right wing frames regarding race and affirmative action.

by animated 2008-03-11 10:58PM | 0 recs
im quite sure thats not what he's saying

by omar little 2008-03-11 11:02PM | 0 recs
Re: Can we be honest about identity politics?

It's late,a nd i will keep this short. The latest dust up is irrelevant to me, and I only use its as a bouncing board for my greater concerns. If you want to go argue with some Clinton supporter (I am not one) over how bent out of shape you are about all of this, I would suggest you find one rather than bringing that to me because after this post I am going to ignore any attempts to try to turn this into Clinton versus Obama. Sorry, I simply have a low tolerance for someone selectively taking what I said and turning it into essentially another Obama is/Clinton is diary. Simply no longer interested since ther eare a plenty of places you can get that.

Also, I am not asking about pundits, I am talking about us the voters. If you could address that rather than try to side track the discussion into talking about pundits, that's cool, but if, not, I will simply move on.

by bruh21 2008-03-11 11:05PM | 0 recs
Re: Can we be honest about identity politics?

Hmmm...I dunno, maybe you have encountered people who get angry at the notion that Obama has black support, and that Hillary has support from women because of identity politics. If so, I would say they are being overly PC. I don't find that notion controversial at all and don't see any problem with discussing it. I don't mean to harp on the Ferraro thing, except to point out that what transpired there is a bit different from merely discussing race and gender aspects of the primary. I haven't met too many people who are afraid to do that.

by animated 2008-03-11 11:12PM | 0 recs
Re: Can we be honest about identity politics?

I have no problem acknowledging identity-based electoral decisions in the positive direction. That is to say, I'll readily admit that many/most AA voters are disposed toward Obama on the basis of racial/cultural identification and that women are disposed toward Hillary on the basis of gender identification. Whether that's good or bad, I'll discuss in a bit.

But, first, I'd like to address a trickier question: how to interpret lack of support during a primary. For instance, are we do conclude that MS white dems are racist just because they overwhelmingly supported Clinton as opposed to Obama? What about latinos in CA and TX? And Asians? Too many people seem to assume that this reflects racially/ethnically-based opposition to Obama, but there may be more complicated explanations.

For instance, as we were discussing in another thread, white southerners may not be inclined to support Obama because they just think other whites are racist and won't support Obama. That is, they themselves don't have a problem with his skin-color, but given the racially polarized environment in which they've lived, they are skeptical (I've encountered this frequently among white dems in SC). Moreover, the Clinton name has powerful resonance among white southern dems (Bill is "Bubba" after all). This is actually another kind of identity politics that never gets discussed (cultural identification, which is far more prevalent and tolerated. It relates to the "who would you like to have a beer with" question). I can think of lots of other alternative explanations, but my point is just to encourage more sophisticated analysis rather than assume the worst.

In any case, I don't think identity politics is inherently irrational or bad, although I'm more likely to consider positive identification acceptable as opposed to identity-based rejection of a candidate (such as pure racist/sexist rejection). Certainly, superficial identification shouldn't be the sole reason for supporting a candidate, or even a compelling reason, but to identify with someone on a superficial level normally permits inferences of deeper shared realities and values. For instance, because Hillary Clinton is a woman, women may rightfully believe that Clinton is more aware of systematic disadvantages that affect women. Hopefully, though, folks will consider lots of other info about the candidate before reaching a conclusion regarding whom to support.

Anyway, I haven't really answered your questions directly, but I just wanted to express some willingness to acknowledge the phenomenon in way that's more constructive.

That said, it's worth noting something about Ferraro's comment. It's true that Obama's heritage and background are an important part of the Obama package. The same is true, however, of Edwards, Clinton, and everyone to some extent. The fact that Obama is bi-racial, multi-ethnic, etc. certainly seems to inform his non-partisan, non-divisive vision. Specifically, because he eludes conventional racial/cultural labels, he is skeptical of labels and rigid categories in general. In short, his genetic and biographical background has unmistakably contributed to his cosmopolitan perspective on things. So, it really makes no sense even to imagine some generic white version of Obama. That would essentially take the ghost out of the machine. To imagine a white Obama is to imagine a completely different person--one who may or may not be a compelling political leader.  

I think it would be equally ridiculous to imagine a male Hillary or a black John Edwards. Because we all find ourselves, for better or worse, in a world where gender, race, religion, culture affect our experiences and perspectives, thought-experiments like Ferraro's yeild more confusion than insight. So, I think her statement was more stupid than offensive.

by DPW 2008-03-11 11:14PM | 0 recs
Re: Can we be honest about identity politics?

I don't see how her point is all that controversial unless you are dealing with people who don't want to frankly discuss the impact of race or gender on their decision making. Many have said that we are willing to discuss these issues, but in general, no mattr how it couched, I find progressives to be mostly closed minded no matter who they are voting on the issue of discussing how race or gender inpacts our thinking. And yeah, the thought experiment is confusing only if we haven't thought through the impact

by bruh21 2008-03-12 08:20AM | 0 recs
Re: Can we be honest about identity politics?

I'll just say that the way this primary has unfolded has been very disappointing. The large racial disparity and the smaller gender disparity in the vote can't be ignored. I hadn't really expected the magnitude of the former. We have a serious fissure in our party that we're going to have to deal with somehow.

by OrangeFur 2008-03-11 11:31PM | 0 recs
Re: Can we be honest about identity politics?

All the white women I know are big Obama fans. They can't stand Hillary. You should here my mom sometimes. And it's not because she's a woman and they're just self-hating women. It's because they feel that she married into her position. If she hadn't married the most talented politician of his generation, there's no way she would be a Senator from New York. If Hillary Clinton stayed exactly who she was, white woman, Yale, Nixon thing, all that, but her name was Hillary Rodham Dukakis, does anybody really believe she'd be where she is right now? She'd be lucky to get into the state senate. And that's not about her biology or her chromosomes, it's about her biography; her life story. So every time she brags about the trips she took as first lady or the experience she got working in her husband's administration, it infuriates women like my mom who actually had to work hard for her position in life and never relied on her spouse or her last name to get ahead. Is that sexist? I dunno...maybe, sorta. But that's the way she feels, and by now I don't think Hillary can say or do anything to change her mind.

by Etchasketchist 2008-03-11 11:55PM | 0 recs
Re: Can we be honest about identity politics?

Your mom is right!

by LCasey 2008-03-12 01:49AM | 0 recs
Re: Can we be honest about identity politics?

An accusation of racism is the trump card that automatically wins any argument.  This is ingrained in our blood as liberals.  So it's very tough to stay cool and have an actual dialogue when you can just play the trump card and win at any point.

It's all about power relationships.  When you're a minority in whatever situation, you're on the down side of that power relationship and you're somewhat dependent on the majority to give you your due.  At least in our liberal universe, being able to cry racism - justifiably or otherwise - is one of the ways to even up that power relationship and even get the upper hand.

I've essentially been on the wrong side of that particular argument during this primary and it's not much fun.  I imagine being a minority and being the target of actual racism isn't much fun, either.  And just as the white majority wasn't exactly inclined to hand over its power without a fight, I doubt the folks who benefit from playing the race card are interested in giving up that tool for as long as it remains effective.  No one wants to disarm unilaterally.

Aside from shifting the balance of power, an accusation of racism can also serve as a defense mechanism to avoid, as this diary suggests, having to grapple with the tough problems of identity.  Some people want to claim there's something wrong with Obama winning 90% of the black vote without digging any deeper and asking: Is this really any different than JFK winning the Irish Catholic vote?  How about all the Jewish votes Joe Lieberman brought to the Democratic ticket in 2000?  Is it the same, or no?  I see little interest in digging below the surface.  It's all about claiming Clinton's supporters are racist or Obama's supporters are reverse racist, all for the sake of a momentary debate edge.

If Obama is the nominee, the general election is likely to present a clash of worldviews.  The media generally subscribes to the liberal view on racial issues, and does so without the slightest hint of nuance or depth, but there are an awful lot of people out there who simply don't buy into that frame.  There's going to be much more of a backlash than we've seen in this primary to date, and I really don't know how it will all turn out.

Some of this applies to sexism as well but there really are enough key differences that it probably ought to be discussed separately.

by Steve M 2008-03-12 12:33AM | 0 recs
Re: Can we be honest about identity politics?

This is an excellent comment. I couldn't agree more about the debate-ending power of calling someone a racist.

by OrangeFur 2008-03-12 01:03AM | 0 recs
Re: Can we be honest about identity politics?
Sadly the more the Obama campaign objects to statements like Geraldine Ferraro's the more it creates a division. Many white Democrats feel her comment was factual not PC but factual. There appears to be a  growing back lash to the denial that the 90 percent AA vote  Obama achieves is  because of race and is not propelling his candidacy causing a segment of the white vote predominantly men to  shift and choose the other side.
Is that racism or skepticism regarding the denial that many AA's are choosing Obama because of skin color coupled with a heightened awareness that this is happening?
older Democratic are tired of being called racists in this campaign after a lifetime of supporting liberal Democratic causes and again this drives them toward Clinton.
There are many more reasons not to vote for Obama beside his skin color but those who support him are quick to imagine a racial slight in an attempt to dampen legitimate arguments about Obama's qualifications for the Presidency. Being called a racist by some anonymous pinhead on a blog when you know you are not racist doesn't bring Clinton supporters to Obama it hardens resolve. Mississippi was a dramatic confirmation of the trend spotted in Ohio and Pennsylvania is likely to be much more of the same disproportionate numbers of whites vote for Clinton disproportionate numbers of blacks continue to vote for Obama.
by coolofthenight 2008-03-12 06:15AM | 0 recs

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