Identity Politics and Neoliberalism
I’m fascinated by identity politics because of its misuse. Black Feminists theorized their identity as Black Women as a way to deconstruct empire, yet people keep using the term identity politics to make sure Black/Brown folks are at the helm of empire—without changing empire.
The women of Combahee—alongside so many revolutionaries of the 60s and 70s—envisioned a completely new world, one in which we were all free. They understood because of their social position that for us all to be free, empire would need to crumble, capitalism would need to fall. Yet under the neoliberal system we live in identity has been monetized.
Though the women of Combahee spoke of identity politics as related to their particularities as Black Women the term has expanded to everyone—in part so that it can be wielded in the marketplace. Now identities are often wielded for capital—to gain buy-in within initiatives that merely change the faces of people in power without changing structures of power. But the radical vision of Combahee was not an empire led by Black and Brown people but the dissolution of empires.
I think about this often and of those movements that were squashed 50 years ago by government intervention or internal dissolution. What made many of those movements so dangerous is that they envisioned a completely new society—and a transformation of ourselves and our values. I think of the ways Combahee and people within or adjacent to it—such as Audre Lorde—centered self care as a political act. In many ways it makes sense, because if we’re going to change the empire we need to change ourselves—and self care can be an anti-capitalist act.
I’m drawn to radical movements, radical traditions, because we need a new world. In the quotidian ways my family and I face the exasperation of capitalism and empire let alone the macro realities we all face such as climate change, we need a new world.
I don’t have everything figured out, I’m not an expert on everything, and I don’t know that I have solutions to anything. But at minimum I want us to remember those traditions that loved enough to envision our freedom.
We need to be free. We need to be free.