This Is What I Think of When I Think of “Identity Liberalism”…


And I think the greatest achievements of “Identity Liberalism” were, first, the Emancipation Proclamation, and then the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments. These are all the root documents of ‘identity liberalism.’ They are there not because good men decided to identify someone. They are there because bad men based their oppression upon identity. That we are, still, 150 years on from all that fighting the same battles is our very great shame.

But the very fact that the party of Lincoln — the man who appealed to the ‘better angels of our nature’ and pledged ‘with malice towards’ none — is now led by a lesser demon who trades in nothing but malice is all the demonstration we need that the corruption is real and vigilance is necessary. You’re not immune. I’m not immune.

Well over a hundred years ago Fredrick Douglass stood up and said that when you enslave another man you find the other end of the chain around your own neck. This is a remarkable statement, full of compassion for both the slave and the slaver. John Brown is mostly forgotten, indeed forsaken, because all he wanted to do was to punish the slaver with death, and then hellfire, without understanding. Fredrick Douglass is remembered and revered because he wanted to end slavery for the slaver, not just for the slave. “Identity Liberalism” confronts identity based oppression, for the oppressed and for the oppressor.

Ullysses S. Grant identified Robert E. Lee and the army of Northern Virginia as ‘brothers’ after their surrender at Appomatox. This was a surprise to Lee who had feared, and not without some justification, that he and his officers would be tried, and hanged, for treason after their surrender.

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Grant had every justification to hang General Lee, and all his officers, for treason. Indeed, that’s what Lee expected him to do. Grant didn’t do that: following Lincoln’s lead of the ‘better angels of our nature’ and ‘with malice towards none’ — and Lincoln would be dead less than a week later at the hands of a cowardly assassin — Grant deliberately and forcefully stopped the Union army from cheering the surrender and only took the Rolls of Confederate Officers and told them to take their horses back home and that they were on parole. It was, in fact, Robert E. Lee, at the beginning of hostilities who chose the identity of ‘Virginian’ over that of ‘American’, declining the proffered job later to be held by Grant. One wonders if a lot of bloodshed could have been avoided if Lee had made a different choice… a choice not based upon identity…

There once was a term, ‘white slavery,’ used to distinguish the enslavement of a white person rather than the slavery we knew: that slavery we knew was wholly identity based. Lincoln didn’t choose it. Fredrick Douglass certainly didn’t choose it. Grant didn’t choose it. They only chose to fight it. The term ‘white slavery’ is a bygone slice of ridiculousness — as though you have to qualify slavery — echo’d today in the equally noxious retort ‘all lives matter.’ Yeah, all lives should matter, but some lives don’t have that affirmed for them on a daily, even hourly basis. And when that situation obtains, when one group is secure and secured in the fact that their lives matter and an other group is not, then it sure doesn’t look like “all lives matter.”

So, yeah, BLACK LIVES MATTER. That’s what I think of when I think of “identity liberalism:” That liberalism that confronts oppression based upon identity. It is a silly thing to identify someone for oppression, and yet it is done. It never ceases to be absurd, but when people pay the price for it with their lives, it must be confronted. As long as Donald Trump wants to identify Muslims as the focus of oppression, I’ll stand against it. As long as Donald Trump wants to identify Mexicans as the enemy, I’ll stand against it. The fear that Donald Trump peddles is the fear that he feels. I would rather he not feel that fear. So long as he doesn’t listen to me, he’ll have to deal with me in other ways. But I didn’t choose the terms of the debate, he did. As long as the instruments of the state, the POLICE, harass, incarcerate and kill black men indiscriminately, there will be identity liberalism. As long as white america feels to proud and stubborn to vote for a capable and generous person like Hillary Clinton and, instead, chooses as the form of their own destruction, a man who would slice our America into separate identities at war with each other, I’ll call it what it is. That’s what identity liberalism means to me.


19 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. In general...

    …I’m not a huge fan of identity politics for its own sake, but I have to admit I didn’t think in 2016 it would be people who look like me engaging in it so heavily. American slavery of course was based on racial identity so said race would be the most obvious beneficiary of emancipation/abolition as well.

  2. Who is doing the oppressing?

    From what I gather, it’s people who look like me.

    Tell me how that endears me to your cause.

    • What part of...

      Fredrick Douglass is remembered and revered because he wanted to end slavery for the slaver, not just for the slave. “Identity Liberalism” confronts identity based oppression, for the oppressed and for the oppressor.

      … did you not understand?

  3. A great meditation until the last paragraph

    Many POC I am friends with do not feel Hillary Clinton was their advocate or champion. Many still cringe at “super-predator”, a phrase as anachronistic and offensive as “white slavery”. Our own Paul Simmons and the NYTimes have reported extensively on this enthusiasm gap which could’ve made as much of s difference as the white men who defeated to Trump, if not more so.

    Moving away from a bold politics advancing racism justice is immoral and it’s actually bad electorally. We can actually win more voters moving further to the left, I can’t emphasize that enough. We need to be the party of New Deal and Civil rights liberalism going forward. I’ve long argued Hillary came out of that tradition, but her many compromises with Wall Street and neoconservatives hurt her in this campaign. Fairly or not.

    The Great Emancipator and his legacy are still being fought today, every four years, with his party hijacked by the Dixiecratic legacy of Jeff Davis rather than the vision he and Frederick Douglas so eloquently fought for.

    I might add economic justice is just as important as political equality with one enforcing the other. DuBois as well as Booker T Washington. We need both.

    • I have several times...

      …watched clips and read transcripts of HRC’s comments that included the word “superpredator”. I think I have done so with enough of the verbiage around it to have picked up the context too. I cannot for the life of me find where in those remarks she said or implied that she was referring to people of a particular race.

      • It was a meme. More than one Law and Order

        episode dealt with the idea (none of the superpredators was black, an intentional choice, I think).

        Christopher, you have an oversimplified view of communication in this case. In the simplest communication model, you have a sender, a message, and a receiver. The sender’s intention doesn’t necessarily follow the message to the receiver. What people of color took from the message may have not been in Clinton’s words, but in their interpretation of those words. I can’t speak for them, but the idea of “superpredator” was not being applied to white, middle-class kids. The term was being applied to poor kids, who most white people picture as black or brown. (Their point of view affecting their interpretation). This was a time where people were talking about kids born addicted to crack and 12 year-olds committing murder.

        • So how can she be held responsible...

          …for anything other than her intention? When I hear the term “superpredator” among the first names that come to mind are Jeffrey Dahlmer, Boston Strangler, Son of Sam, and Charles Manson – all white guys. I suppose one might include the DC Sniper and Willie Horton too, but the point is superpredators come in all colors.

  4. To be clear

    Your history and recollections here were fantastic and beyond disputed.


    if the shoe fits, wear it.

    Fred Rich LaRiccia

  6. We may identify "identity politics" differently

    I think my definition of “identy liberalism” (or “identity politics”) is different than yours. I see it as an identity group doing what they believe is in their immediate best interest, rather than all “identities” pulling together to do what’s best for all.

    Given that definition – which could be wrong – freeing the slaves was mostly the opposite of identity politics: two of the three folks pictured in your post were not eligable to be slaves. They fought that awful war because they felt it was the right thing for humanity, which is why they are heros of mine (as is Douglass).

    Now to Clinton… she ran a campaign based on a strategy of telling some identity groups that she was their champion, while finding nonsense excuses to attack other groups. In the end, this fracturing of the 99% was a really harmful idea in general, and it was such an awful strategy that she lost to the most-disliked presidential candidate ever recorded.

    • Whom did she attack...

      …with the possible exception of the “basket of deplorables” who not only richly deserved it, but whose identity in this context is based not on who they are, but what they believe?

      • The most obvious and cringeworthy, IIRC

        But there were plenty, particularly from surrogates, who equated non-enthusiasm for Hillary to misogyny. And a good-sized army of likely David Brock plants on Democratic forums who outright claimed that support of Bernie was racist and misogynist – remember the whole Bernie Bro wave of lies?

        • Was that even the right link?

          The clip that came up when I clicked it was mostly Bernie Sanders trying to explain himself on gun control. HRC only appeared at the beginning to note she was accused of shouting which Sanders says wasn’t directed at her specifically. She didn’t even attack gun owners in that clip (and I don’t believe ever, but again even she had it would be based on choices and beliefs rather than identity). As for your other allegations, there were a few Bernie supporters who came across the way you mentioned, but he is not responsible for them and neither did she or the campaign ever suggest that Sanders support was based on racism or misogyny. Frankly, I detect a bit of Hillary Derangement Syndrome in some of your comments.

« Blue Mass Group Front Page

Add Your Comments

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Sat 29 Apr 7:18 PM