In Defense of Identity Politics

Ann Friedman's full throated rejoinder to the common-good meme.

By Kai Wright Aug 10, 2010

Conservatives aren’t the only ones [failing to live up]( to their professed political ideals. [Ann Friedman at the American Prospect]( offers a searing analysis of the mainstream-liberal notion that identity politics are harmful to progressive politics in general and the Democratic Party in specific. Ann asks, >Are there two political forces more vilified than interest groups and identity politics? No matter what your ideology or political party, if you want to prove that you are truly committed to the betterment of our nation, you are almost required to speak out against these pernicious influences. Organizing with other people who share your particular identity and interests? That’s selfish. Practically anti-democratic. And, many have argued in this magazine and in other progressive venues over the past 20 years, it’s harmful to liberalism. The piece is part of [TAP’s 20th anniversary issue](, and she goes on to lay out the ways in which the left’s intellectual elite have vilified identity politics. She points out that, contrary to the now-conventional wisdom, identity and interest groups have fueled some of the left’s most last reforms. She takes on the misguided notion that people who come to politics through identity are selfish; by definition, they’re actually motivated by a collective good. But most compellingly to me, she points out Democrats’ hypocrisy on the subject: >Progressives love identity in the voting booth — it’s how we knew our long-awaited majority was going to emerge. But when it comes time to govern, these constituencies quickly transform from the very lifeblood of progressivism into a perceived burden. You would think that, because minorities and women are the keys to progressives’ demographic success at the polls, their particular concerns would be of utmost importance to leaders and lawmakers. Instead, "identity groups" agitating for equality and their place at the table have often been told to sit tight and trust movement leaders to do what’s best for everyone. We might all agree that gay couples deserve marriage rights, and women must have access to reproductive health care, but when it comes to devising a political strategy and policy agenda, these are inevitably the issues that slide quietly to the back burner. It is painfully clear that in reality we do not all take on the same level of responsibility for securing the rights in which we claim to believe. [Read the whole essay.](