Let me begin by saying this is not an editorial from our board. These are my thoughts as the founder of Progressive Army on the issue of class and race and how our team has addressed the argument over the years.
In the lead up to the general election of 2016, Progressive Army was the central location to get a robust critique of the identity-only styled politics that suffocated that election cycle. Along with Anoa Changa, Brandon Sutton, Wendi Muse and so many others, we offered an analysis that was sorely missing from the national conversation: identity alone is insufficient because it allows for a style of politics that has the appearance of liberation but denies the power thereof.
Anoa Changa said it this way: “Corporate feminism does not trickle down.” An amazingly astute and powerful statement that eviscerates the idea that all women need is representation in corporate America.
I argued an extension of Neoliberal Multiculturalism, a phrase I was introduced to by Aviva Chomsky and Adolph Reed who applied Charles Hale’s analysis of Latin American politics to the United States. My summary of each of those influences was simply that neoliberals want a diverse ruling class whereas we seek to destroy class structures — or as I weaponized it for social media:
How do you prefer your ruling top 1%?
GOP: White, Pasty Christians
Neoliberal Dems: 12% Black, 17% Latino, 51% Women, 3.8% LGBTQ
— Benjamin Dixon🌹 (@BenjaminPDixon) June 10, 2016
Brandon Sutton regularly reminded us that Democrats and Neoliberals weren’t looking to change the system, they simply wanted to moderate the excesses of this capitalistic system.
These concepts are not new. Progressive Army simply weaponized old truths in the era of new media.
I bring up these receipts for a specific reason: Progressive Army (PA) has been on the forefront of the conversation about race and class since it began anew during the primaries and general election of 2016. We firmly established the necessity of any movement to address “both/and” and never sacrifice one in favor of the other.
As fate would have it, the pendulum had swung in the direction of race-only identity politics being weaponized against Bernie Sanders’ campaign by the likes of Joy-Ann Reid, Charles Blow, Jonathan Capehart and a list of Twitter users who constituted Hillary Clinton’s social media version of her “Firewall.”
It was necessary at that time for PA to argue “race and class” on the side of “class” against those who used race as a means of insulating their wealth privilege to the direct harm of poor people of color. Racism had not gone anywhere. It was still present — and our entire team said as much in nearly every instance of the conversation.
But after the election, as people tried to understand how it was that Trump won the election, a part of that analysis began to include arguments that race and identity were the problems. Part of that line of reasoning came directly from identitarians like Steve Bannon:
“The Democrats,” he said, “the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”
Steven Bannon interview with Prospect.org
This argument was now revitalized in liberal and progressive-leaning circles. Suddenly, we found ourselves in a place where the path forward for a small but influential group of both liberals and progressives was to do exactly what Steve Bannon wanted: abandon identity politics altogether — no longer discuss race, gender, sexuality or anything else that was a large faction of their so-called allies’ lives.
I am not sure if I was more upset with the fact that we now had to fight off progressives and liberals who argued against the importance of our identities or the fact that they had fallen for Steve Bannon’s best Br’er Rabbit and the Briar Patch impersonation and were giving him exactly what he wanted because he pretended as though he didn’t.
We — the Progressive Army — found ourselves suddenly battling with so-called progressives who believed that the path forward was to align with alt-right adjacent personalities to fight centrism.
We then found ourselves fighting against liberals who thought that discussing race would help Trumpian candidates win local, congressional, and statewide races. We also found ourselves arguing with our beloved Leftists with their long-held belief that — from a theoretical perspective– race and identity should be secondary because, in a classless society, racism does not exist.
And, most-regularly, we found ourselves battling with Left-leaning, libertarian, free-speech absolutists who believed it was more important to protect the speech of white identitarians who sought to organize against our identities than it was to use our own free-speech to de-platform them.
We — who previously led the charge against an identity-only paradigm — now found it critically necessary to fight the same battle but now from the “identity” side of the equation.
In doing so, we quickly discovered the limits of solidarity. Furthermore, we found exactly how “unpopular” it was in our beloved progressive circles to insist that race and identity be equal in our analysis of class. Finally, we left open a gaping hole in the upwardly mobile niche of being Black and Brown faces willing to critique race-only politics that is now vying to be filled by a new group of POC who believe that race and identity should be secondary. I wish them well.
But for me and those in the Progressive Army who see things as I do, it was worth losing the opportunities we lost in order to hold up our standard: class and race — neither to the detriment of the other. And when the imbalance shifts again, we’ll be back addressing it from the other perspective as vociferously as we did in 2016.