California Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris went out of her way to slam those who complain about “identity politics” as attempting to “silence” people on issues of civil rights. The critique of “identity politics” has long been a consistent theme of the political right, and of Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
On Sunday morning’s edition of MSNBC’s AM Joy, host Joy Reid asked Harris about her level of comfort pursuing race-based policies, as opposed to a general approach that is more race-neutral.
“You’re talking about specifically issues that face African-Americans,” Reid noted. “We are seeing videos of people barbecuing while black people are confronted by civilians, having the police called on them. These are race-based issues.”
“When African-Americans talk to me about this race, and about the Obama era, they say when a black person achieves power the disincentives toward doing race-based policy are so strong,” Reid continued. “The larger world wants rising tide lifts all boats, not race-conscious or race-based policy, because then, you appear biased.”
She then asked Harris if, as the first black woman and first Indian-American president, “would it be difficult for you to advocate race-based policy, or would you feel that you have to do just rising tide?”
Harris then took on the “identity politics” critique head-on.
“I want to talk about the issue of identity politics, Joy,” Harris said. “This term identity politics, people will use that term — it’s like people used to talk about the race card.”
“Right,” Reid said.
“They bring this term up when you talk about issues that are about race, about sexual orientation, about religion. They’ll bring it up when we are talking about civil rights issues as a way to marginalize the issue, as a way to frankly try to silence you or shut you up,” Harris said.
“We need to call it what it is, which is to try and divert away from a conversation that needs to happen in America,” she continued. “Why? One, because we must speak truth. Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, anti-Semitism are all real in this country, so we need to have that conversation and address it.”
“Two, and this is equally important,” Harris added, “how America deals with the issues and the disparities, and also the hate that can be — that causes these issues to become lethal in proportion — how America deals with these issues is a matter of American identity. This is not about identity politics, and if it is, it’s about the identity of the United States of America. How we handle the issues will be about our collective identity.”
While the political right has long deployed the phrase “identity politics” pejoratively, the complaint has also been central to Bernie Sanders’ political philosophy for many years, and Harris’ remarks show that it could become important subtext to the Democratic presidential race.
Watch the clip above, via MSNBC.
[Image via screengrab]