Adolph Reed Jr. on identity politics

This Bill Moyers interview with Adolph Reed Jr. was aired in 2014.

Adolph Reed Jr. is a retired professor of political science and a Marxist.  He thinks that what is called identity politics is a way of maintaining structure of inequality.  The purpose of this post is to call attention to his critique of identity politics and provide links to some of this work.

Identity politics is based on an analysis of how dominant groups oppress marginal groups.  Some examples:

  • Whites > Blacks  [racism]
  • Men > Women  [male chauvinism, mysogyny]
  • Native-Born > Immigrants [xenophobia]
  • Anglos > Hispanics [xenophobia]
  • Straights > Gays [homophobia]
  • Cisgendered > Transgendered [transphobia]

These are not made-up problems.  It is a fact that white job applicants or loan applicants get preference over equally-qualified or better-qualified black applicants.  It is a fact that shocking numbers of women are sexually harassed on the job.  No-one should be denied basic rights by reason of race, gender, national origin or LGBTQ identity.

The problem is when disparities between groups are used to distract from the structure of wealth and power in society as a whole.  According to economist Gabriel Zucman, one percent of Americans own 40 percent of the nation’s wealth, up from 28 percent in the 1990s.

Reed says that, within the multicultural framework, this would be okay if the upper one percent were 50 percent women, 15 percent black and the appropriate percentages Hispanic, GLBTQ and so on.

Ideas of equity can be used to promote inequality.  Ideas about oppression of minorities can be used to divert attention from exploitation of the majority by the minority.  The ideology of multiculturalism can be used as a technique to divide and rule.

Honoring diversity doesn’t bring about full employment, living wages, debt relief or an end to America’s forever wars

Honoring multiculturalism can leave members of all the different groups divided among themselves and equally exploited, along with straight white cisgender males, by employers, bankers, landlords and corrupt politicians..


Public Thinker: Adolph Reed Jr. on Organizing, Race and Bernie Sanders, an interview for Public Books.

An interview with political scientist Adolph Reed Jr. on the New York Times’ 1619 Project on the World Socialist Web Site.

Nothing Left: the long, slow surrender of American liberals by Adolph Reed Jr. for Harper’s Magazine (2014)

Adolph Reed: Identity Politics Exposing Class Division in Democrats, from an interview on the Benjamin Dixon Show (2016)

The Trouble With Uplift by Adolph Reed Jr. for The Baffler (2018)

What Materialist Black Political History Actually Looks Like by Adolph Reed Jr. for

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2 Responses to “Adolph Reed Jr. on identity politics”

  1. Fred (Au Natural) Says:

    I don’t see it as a political issue. I see it as a fundamental aspect of human nature. You can consider it all the same as tribalism or as I call it, “otherism.” It is a way to promote those genes closest to our own in our close-knit tribal family.

    Politics, education, and economics can be used to exacerbate or mitigate this fundamental instinct. It is genetic, always sitting there and waiting to come out. We learn what the categories are that we are to divide ourselves by. Slight preexisting differences offer templates for those biases to be built upon. Even if the differences are trivial, we make them big to emphasize our own specialness. Freud called this “the pathology of small differences.”

    If you have not, check out the Robber’s Cave experiment.

    And of course, thanks to the history of our dominant religions, if you are poor it is because God ordained it. The logic is that poverty equals inferiority.

    It isn’t as simple as diversity training or implementing a progressive economic plan. We won’t be able to “punish” our way out of it; that only keeps the hate hidden. The human heart changes slowly. A large minority of Americans still see no benefit in abandoning the attitudes of their ancestors.


  2. conartistocracy Says:

    Good analysis and makes the issue crystal clear. When you add up all the people who are being oppressed, as listed above, collectively they are the majority all oppressed by one single minded ruling minority.


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