Days after the national rebellion that erupted after the police execution of George Floyd, in May 2020, Muriel Bowser, a black woman and mayor of Washington, D.C., was ordered to paint the words “Black lives matter” in mustard yellow. Sixteenth Street near the White House. The symbolism radiates from multiple directions. About a week earlier, law enforcement used tear gas to clear Lafayette Park, which intersects with the street, of protesters. The mural was a thumbs-up in the eye of Trump, who certainly took it that way. In response he exclaimed that the chariot was “incompetent” and “constantly returns to us for ‘alms.'”
In the fall of 2021, Bowser announced that the portion of 16th Street is on display muralNamed after Black Lives Matter Plaza, it has been turned into a permanent memorial. She explained, “The Black Lives Matter mural is an expression of our saying no, but also defining and claiming a portion of our city that was captured by federal forces.” Speaking of its broader significance, she said, “There are people who yearn to be heard and seen, and for their humanity to be recognized, and we have had the opportunity to send this message loud and clear on a very important street in our city.”
Last spring, nearly two years after her standoff with Trump, Bowser proposed a new spending budget for Washington, D.C., which spoke as loud as the paint used to decorate BLM Plaza. At a press conference to celebrate the surplus generated in part by the federal government’s pandemic stimulus, Bowser declared, “We’ve been able to invest in something we’ve been wanting to invest for a long time — the sports complex. We’ve been able to invest in a new prison.” Bowser was promising to spend more than two hundred and fifty million dollars to replace part of the existing prison. It also proposed thirty million dollars to hire and retain new police officers, with the aim of increasing the force to four thousand personnel. Nearly another ten million dollars will add one hundred and seventy new speed cameras throughout the municipality.
Despite Bowser’s public embrace of the “Black Lives Matter” tagline, even making his presence felt in the nation’s capital, the capital’s mayor was now presenting a political agenda that contrasted starkly with the movement’s demand to defund the police. Instead, Bowser framed the movement’s most extreme perceptions of “a desire to be heard,” while also using it as a shield to protect it from activists’ accusations that its policies would harm black communities. Bowser was able to capitalize on the assumption that, as a black woman who angered and humiliated Trump after she painted “Black Lives Matter” on a public street, she could be trusted to do what was in the best interests of the black community. .
The most profound changes in black life in the past several decades have been along lines of class and status, creating political and social chasms between elites and ordinary blacks. After the conflicts of the 1960s and 1970s, it was no longer politically possible in the United States to make decisions about minorities without their participation. This was especially true in cities that experienced riots and rebellions. But exclusion has given way to a shallow representation of African Americans in politics and the private sector as evidence of color blindness and progress. The rooms in which decisions are made are no longer entirely white and male; They are now peppered with symbolic representations of race and gender.
Not only can the few represent the many but their presence can also serve as evidence that the system can work with those previously excluded. These new representatives could also use the language of identity politics, as many of them continued to be subjected to racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination. But their aspirations were different from those who first used these left-wing political frameworks. The new actors were not so much interested in changing the system as they were trying to navigate it.
These tensions are heightened when black elites or political activists claim to speak on behalf of the black public or black social movements while also engaging in political actions that either oppose the movement or reinforce the status quo. It is a process that writer and philosopher Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò has described as “elite captivity”. The concept, drawn from global development policies, describes scenarios in which local elites in developing countries might appropriate resources intended for a much larger audience. Taiwe explains that the term is used “to describe the way in which socially privileged people tend to dominate the benefits allotted to all” (albeit only rhetorically).
Táíwò, a professor of philosophy at Georgetown University, published his first book earlier this year. entitled “Compensation reconsiderationHe argues that if colonialism and slavery are responsible for the misdistribution of wealth and resources that has made blacks and whites particularly vulnerable to the current climate crisis, reform must be broad-based or capable of reshaping the world. In 2020, Taiwi wrote several articles criticizing the diverse ways in which it is transforming The concept of “identity politics” has gone from a radical invention of the black feminist left of the 1960s and 1970s to a quiet allure of racial and gender representation. The themes of these essays are now woven into a short, narrow volume published by Haymarket Books titled “Identity Politics.”Elite Families: How the Powerful Captured Identity Politics (and Everything Else). “
Táíwò began his examination of identity politics with the Compahi River Group, a group of black lesbian socialists that formed in the late 1970s. Among them were Dimita Frazier and sisters Barbara and Beverly Smith, who wrote the newspaper Kumbahi River Manifesto, where they coined the term “identity politics”. Women were veterans of the anti-war and feminist movements but were also associated with the civil rights movement and black liberation struggles of the era. Within the scope of their vast experiences, the issues that matter to them—regulation against forced sterilization and intimate partner violence against women—have seldom been taken seriously by others, including black men and white women.
In the Compahe River Manifesto, the authors explain that black women should chart their own political agenda: “We recognize that the only people who care about us enough to continually act for our liberation are us.” They continued, “This focus on our oppression is embodied in the concept of identity politics. We believe that the deepest and most radical policies come directly from our identity, rather than working to end someone else’s oppression. . . . We reject pillars, possessions, and walk ten steps behind. Recognize you as human beings, and human being at a sufficient level.”
In this way, the epistemology of point of view, or the ability to acquire knowledge because of your life experience or social standing, is closely related to Kumbahi’s view of identity politics. It was a forceful rejection of the status quo in the social sciences, which for many years relied on powerful external forces, usually white men, to glorify their wisdom about the lives of the marginalized, excluded, and oppressed. The powerful social movements of the era removed the common sense of white man’s power, transforming the marginalized from thoughtful objects into selves capable of controlling their own destiny.