Kamala Harris: I Have a Problem With the Phrase 'Identity Politics'

August 5, 2018

Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) said during a Friday speech at Netroots Nation that the phrase "identity politics" is a pejorative meant to minimize and marginalize issues that "define our identities as Americans."

Harris told the audience that "the uncomfortable truth is" that "the folks who helped build the Democratic Party and have been the backbone of the Democratic Party have not always been given equal voice in the Democratic Party. And we need to deal with that."

She referenced the media stories that credited black women with delivering Sen. Doug Jones (D., Ala.) with his special election victory in December 2017.

"But that did not just magically happen. It happened because black women have been putting in the work, going door-to-door, organizing even when the cameras were focused elsewhere. And it is time to respect that leadership," Harris said.

"The truth is we should not just be thanking women of color for electing progressive leaders," she said. "In 2018, we should be electing women of color as those leaders."

After applause, the senator said she was aware that some people would say that's identity politics.

"I have a problem, guys, with that phrase, ‘identity politics,’" Harris said. "Because let’s be clear, when people say that, it’s a pejorative. That phrase is used to divide, and it is used to distract. Its purpose is to minimize and marginalize issues that impact all of us. It is used to try and shut us up."

Harris told the audience that the phrase is raised when talking about issues around race, gender, sexual orientation, and civil rights.

"And yes, we are talking about those issues and we won't be shut up and we won't be silenced!" she said.

"We won't be silent about immigrant rights. We won't be silent about a woman's right to control her own body. We will not be silent about equal opportunity and equal justice under the law," she added.

She proclaimed that "these issues they are trying to diminish and demean are the very issues that will define our identity as Americans."

Harris forcefully embraced identity politics in a way some Democrats have not.

Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell (D.) said she is "very concerned" identity politics have hijacked the Democratic Party, and another midwest Democrat, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (Ill.) warned that "we can't just care about minorities, or immigrants, or identity politics."

Former President Barack Obama rejected identity politics in a July speech where he said you can't dismiss opposing voices because they're "white" or "male."