Thanks to Cosmo’s prolific readership, many of us may have already read at least one analysis of the two progressive white men who recently commented on the politics of abortion and reproductive justice, arguing that, to win elections, Democrats should back off on abortion to appeal to segments of the population that typically vote Republican. One of these men was a professor of theology* at Boston College (and is from Ireland, a notoriously anti-abortion nation); the other was Bernie Sanders (who is from America, also a notoriously anti-abortion nation) (LOL!).
But these are just a couple of misguided left wing white guys! It doesn’t mean there’s a deeper problem.
Sike!!!! Racism and sexism have been problems in leftist movements led by white men since modern leftist movements have existed. Leftist movements were supposed to be spaces that were supposed to be more progressive than the “real world.” Unfortunately, it turned out to be impossible to leave the real world behind, especially when the power structures of that world were recreated within the movements, with white men leading and expecting people of color and women to do caring labor without credit. Identity politics were created in response to the oppression that existed within those movements.
The white men of today who demonize identity politics as the downfall of the left are the same stock of white men who inspired their creation in the first place. I don’t know how many times it will be said before white men listen, but sexist and racist leftist movements will NEVER achieve liberation because economic injustice, racism, and misogyny are tied together right from the start, at their very roots. You’ll never parse economic justice out of that.
Additionally, consider this revolutionary insight: poor white men aren’t the only poor people. In fact, women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people are disproportionately poor compare to straight cis white men. What about economic justice for all the rest of us? Sexist and racist leftists understand that poverty is a life or death issue, but either don’t understand that racial and gender justice are also life or death issues (which are inextricably linked to economic justice), or they don’t care. Access to healthcare, including abortion, prenatal care, and contraceptives, is a matter of life or death. Access to affordable, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food and to accessible and affordable housing, in neighborhoods that have been redlined, are life or death issues. The violence of law enforcement and mass incarceration, which is played out primarily on bodies of color, is a life or death problem. Intimate partner violence, which men disproportionately perpetrate, is life or death. Islamophobic violence, which is not only about Islam but is also about brown bodies, is life or death. Does structural violence only matter when it’s enacted upon white male bodies? White male leftists who are willing to sacrifice racial and gender justice to get the poor white male vote don’t seem to understand or care that people of color, LGBTQ+ folks, and women literally die when progressive movements aren’t intersectional.
If we give up identity politics to win elections (and let’s be clear, giving up identity politics in no way guarantees wins for Democrats), when do they think we get to put them back in? What do leftist white men think is the “right time” to care about race and gender and sexuality? If leftist white men can’t be bothered to have a full and intersectional analysis now, why would they bother if they started to achieve their goals? White men, including progressive white men, have never shown much willingness to give up power in the service of politics or to truly center people of color, LGBTQ+ folks, or women. Why would winning elections make them willing to do that?
I don’t think we can or should “leave” poor white men behind, but I think we have to acknowledge that THEY ARE NOT THE ONES WHO HAVE MOST BEEN “LEFT BEHIND.” I do not deny that the left in the United States is often elitist and classist; that is a huge problem. But the solution is not to say, “Fuck gender and racial justice.” The solution is to make race, gender, and sexuality justice central and nonnegotiable parts of leftist politics. That kind of progressive activism will also lift poor white men up, but focusing on white men first will not help poor people of color, poor women of color, poor LGBTQ+ folks of color. Those are the people who disproportionately suffer and die without a radical and revolutionary agenda. We should never ease up on reproductive justice, or racial justice, or LGBTQ+ liberation to appeal to white men, who may be truly suffering themselves, but who are also advocating for the continued oppression of people unlike themselves. What is the point of a left-wing party that is willing to compromise crucial parts of leftist politics? Democrats should consider that perhaps their flimsy commitment to progressive politics, rather than being too far left for racist white people, is their problem.
Featured image is from the Repeal Hyde Art Project, a reproductive justice-focused collaborative art project. It is so awesome! Check them out.
* He also characterized LGBTQ+ rights/liberation as a culture war that Democrats should drop to appeal to conservative voters, so he can just fuck off all the way 🙂