24 November 2016

White guy calls for the end of identity politics

In the New York Times, Mark Lilla identifies Hillary Clinton’s outreach to people of color as triggering the backlash that caused Donald Trump to be elected:

But when it came to life at home, she tended on the campaign trail to lose that large vision and slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, L.G.B.T. and women voters at every stop. This was a strategic mistake. If you are going to mention groups in America, you had better mention all of them. If you don’t, those left out will notice and feel excluded. Which, as the data show, was exactly what happened with the white working class and those with strong religious convictions.

Basically, the same thing I wrote about a week ago. Trump’s victory wasn’t really about racism in the burning-cross-on-a-lawn sense; yes, the neo-Nazis loved him, but they’re pretty insignificant in number. Rather, Trump was about the racism of white fragility, white identity, and perceived racial grievances.

But Lilla’s conclusion is that Democrats should ditch talk of diversity so that they can once again be “a unifying force capable of governing”. As Damon Young points out, what Lilla is really saying is that Democrats need to throw people of color and LGBT folks under the bus so that they can once again unify straight white people and get elected to govern. In other words, he wants Democrats to be more like Republicans; to appeal to a mythical past where we didn’t have to talk about minorities (i.e. be “politically correct”) but could instead enjoy a broad white consensus.

Lilla continues:

A post-identity liberal press would begin educating itself about parts of the country that have been ignored, and about what matters there, especially religion.

Oh, sure, because there haven’t been any articles in the liberal press about Trump’s America, right? Whereas right wing outlets have spent so much time trying to understand the left…

I counterpropose that maybe people in the rural bubble should get outside and educate themselves about the rest of the world, or at least the rest of America. Meanwhile, I think what liberals need to do is to tackle white fragility and explain why (for example) “Black Lives Matter” does not mean “White Lives Don’t Matter”.

Yes, such moves will have a cost, as The New Republic’s Lovia Gyarkye points out, but we need to talk honestly to Trump voters, not pander to them.

© mathew 2017