Tuesday, June 06, 2017

On the Topic of Identity Politics by Dr. Nelson Flores

On the Topic of Identity Politics by Dr. Nelson Flores

White people across the political spectrum have similar views on identity politics in ways that reinforce white supremacy. It isn't surprising that white conservatives, often explicitly espousing white supremacist views, would have negative things to say about people of color bringing attention to racial oppression. Yet, white liberals often describe identity politics in similar terms to white conservatives, arguing that they are divisive and distract from the ultimate goal of creating a colorblind society. And not to let the white radicals off the hook, a common critique of identity politics in these circles is that they distract from efforts to unite the working class. All of these perspectives are reinforced by some establishment people of color who are primarily interested in changing the color of elites while ignoring the need for broader structural change.
But identity politics have been integral to social change in the United States through challenging racial oppression produced by all sides of the political spectrum. Identity politics unmasked the injustices of Jim Crow laws, the xenophobia of English-Only policies and more recently the racism of mass incarceration. Identity politics have also pointed to the ways that colorblind discourse prominent in many liberal circles serves as a tool for the continued maintenance of white supremacy. And identity politics have also pointed to the ways that a purely social class analysis will never get to the root of the inequities of US society, which has white supremacy at the core of its institutions.
So identity politics is not the problem. White supremacy is the problem. That said, neoliberal identity politics that seeks inclusion within white supremacist institutions is not the solution. Instead, we need a radical transformation of our institutions in ways that dismantle the white supremacy that lie at their core. Radical identity politics must play a role in this transformation.

Dr. Nelson Flores is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.  He has a Ph.D. in Urban Education from the CUNY Graduate Center. His research attempts to bridge theory and practice in ways that transform educational programming for language minoritized students.

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