Is Being a Minority a Requirement for Democrats in 2020?
So, what is it about minority identities? It seems it has become almost fashionable to be a minority on the left these days.
Identity politics is a tricky business. Beyond all the complaints against political correctness, there is a sort of ambiguity of how to function within the ideological boundaries of the movement. Sure, the basic principles such as equality for people of all races, religions, genders, and sexual orientations are straightforward enough, but what about the nuances?
Take for example Elizabeth Warren. The senator from Massachusetts and 2020 Presidential candidate is a woman that phenotypically presents as white; she has blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair skin. Yet, she has been claiming to be Native American on various different applications, resumes, and official documents for decades. (Editor’s note, the extent to which, if any, Warren has used her Native American ancestry to her advantage educationally or professionally is debated, see the Snopes’ report for a fuller understanding).
While the Republicans, and even many liberals, have been lambasting the senator for her claims, it still begs the question as to why someone would claim minority status when all tangible aspects of her life point a different identity. Regardless, Trump continuously uses this fiasco as a political attack against Warren. According to him, she was trying to get an unfair advantage in her career by leveraging her status as a minority.
Although Warren has claimed that this had no bearing on her career whatsoever, she still attempted to double down on her Native American identity by releasing a DNA test that revealed she may have had a Native American ancestor six to ten generations ago. Unsurprisingly, this stunt did not go over well.
Then there is Kamala Harris. The senator for California, another 2020 candidate, received condemnation from many different demographics for claiming to be African-American. To be clear, Kamala Harris does phenotypically display African features by most standards; she is a brunette, brown eyes, and a darker skin tone.
However, her family is from Jamaica which according to some, such as CNN’s Don Lemon, does not give her the right to claim the African-American identity as her ancestors were not slaves in the United States and did not live through Jim Crow or segregation. She even received some criticism from her own father by trying to appeal to younger voters by claiming that she smoked marijuana and listened to Tupac and Snoop Dogg in college, several years before either one of they debuted their first album.
So, what is it about minority identities? It seems it has become almost fashionable to be a minority on the left these days. While there are a record number of minorities running for the presidency this year, there are also a number of scandals regarding candidates clamoring to mark as many minority checkboxes on their political resumes as they can, so to speak.
After all, one of Hillary Clinton’s biggest selling points during her 2016 candidacy was that she was woman and one of Obama’s was that he was black. What does this ultimately mean for the state of identity politics for political candidates? At least for the Democrats, the future of this strategy depends on how well they do in 2020. Time will tell.
I find it interesting how the left’s appeal to diversity is often caricatured on the right or derided as “identity politics.” But the right plays identity politics just as much, if not more so, than the left, and with a heavy reliance on racial stereotypes and tropes. This is not at the heart of your piece, mind you, but I feel like it bears stressing.
More to the point, I’ve heard people in my social media bubble refer to Bernie Sanders as “another old white guy” and have felt the excitement behind people like Kamala Harris and Cory Booker in their campaign announcements. Then again, early polling has Joe Biden and Bernie atop the list of Democratic Party hopefuls. Meanwhile, Beto O’Rourke is convinced he was “born to run” while Stacey Abrams waits in the wings despite possessing a superior platform and command of relevant issues.
Does one have to be a member of a minority group to be in the Democratic field? No, and especially if the candidate is a woman, she may struggle to win the presidency or even the nomination after the loss to Donald Trump through no fault of her own.