The following people likely sit on different sides of the partisan aisle: Mark Lilla, professor of humanities, Columbia University, is regularly labeled as “liberal” in right-leaning publications such as the National Review. Anna Valeria-Iseman, director of development for the Open Door Mission, is a self-proclaimed “compassion and opportunity-driven Republican.” However, both urge America to move beyond identity politics toward a panacea based on a broader, national identity.
There are two fundamental problems with this approach. First, a departure from identity politics conveniently ignores consequences of an international economy and a global society. Second, a move away from identity politics denies the contemporary experience of so many Americans just like me. I am a person of color, adopted by working-class whites, raised in rural America by conservative-Christian parents, college educated from the ivory tower of liberal elitism, working today as a so-called Millennial on behalf of capitalism, and practicing my faith at a liberal church in the Catholic tradition.
Their solutions emerge from different sides of the political spectrum but share the same destination: a future sans identity politics. Lilla suggests a post-identity liberalism “…that would concentrate on widening its base by appealing to Americans as Americans and emphasizing the issues that affect a vast majority of them.” Valeria-Iseman similarly believes “…diversity, to a nation that desperately needs to heal, must be about giving a voice to various ideological backgrounds, not just various racial, social, and cultural backgrounds.”
When Lilla says “appealing to Americans as Americans…” it only reinforces a skewed belief (and false history) that somehow America needed to be “great again.” As for Valeria-Iseman, diverse ideology is only convenient for those already seated at the decision-making table. For businesses, especially at the executive level, white men dominate the corporate boardroom — more than 90 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are white men. In religion, one only need to look at the Vatican for expectations on equal representation. As for America’s border security, 82 percent of its officers are male and 53.8 percent are white.
Worst of all, favoring a less nuanced brand of national politics over identity politics is just plain cowardice. Sadly, the abandonment of identity politics chooses a version of America so small and so afraid it will literally build walls.
Identity politics isn’t easy. It’s messy and forces America to examine some of its hardest truths. Yet, when we embrace it, we discover an America big enough to build bridges toward a more inclusive and diverse tomorrow. As President Obama so often says, “That’s the America I know.” Sorry, Mark and Anna. You can keep your sanitized version of America and those silly hats, too.