Date: Sun, 6 Jun 1999 16:53:00 -0700 (PDT)
From: Art McGee <>
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Precedence: bulk
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] Quote of the Day: Salim Muwakkil

Quote from Identity Crisis

By Salim Muwakkil, In These Times, 22 January 1996

But part of the reason that practitioners of identity politics have shunned the class-based politics of the traditional left is because so many old-line leftists have been hostile to their concerns. Many African-American activists were driven into the arms of chauvinistic nationalism by the European chauvinism of their putative allies. The progressive movement has been slow in deconstructing its own white supremacist tendencies. The Village Voice's recent examination of the progressive media, for example, revealed a wide disparity between the rhetoric of racial inclusion and the reality of employment.

Left activists also tend to downplay the special concerns with identity that slavery's legacy has thrust on African-Americans. The white supremacist biases of Western culture are active and debilitating sources of racial oppression but seldom are they targeted by progressives. In the salons of the left (the few that remain), there is still a residual notion that such cultural struggles are superstructural. But the search for cultural identity is more than just a middle-class campaign for personal affirmation, as it is often caricatured-though it can easily descend to that level. It is an essential identity quest for people crippled by 250 years of chattel slavery and 400 years of white supremacy. The exceptionalist nature of the slave experience has forced a peculiar mission on the descendants of enslaved Africans. Progressive whites must understand that before any meaningful coalitions can emerge.

Many white-and black-progressives saw Louis Farrakhan's leading role in the Million Man March as a sign that the event was irredeemably flawed. But they failed to understand that the vast majority of marchers weren't there to endorse Farrakhan's politics. Rather, they gathered to make a statement of hope, an expression of faith that African-Americans possess the strength to become the people they need to be. If that sense of agency is tempered with a realistic appraisal of the need to join with other groups around issues of mutual concern, then the crippling tendencies of identity politics can be overcome. Nationalism fills a powerful human hunger and has both progressive and reactionary potential.