Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors on the importance of embracing identity politics, intersectionality and how to propel the movement to protect all Black lives forward.
Following the 2016 Presidential election, critics on both sides of the aisle claimed that a focus on “identity politics” resulted in the election of Donald Trump.
As if to say that the mere recognition and inclusion of multi-faceted people who bring to the table an array of layered identities is what is wrong with America. In reality, it’s these layers that make up the very fabric of this aspirational political project we call America.
As poet and author Audre Lorde once said, “there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single issue lives.” Each and every one of us has multiple identities, and this is a fact that should be celebrated. I for example, am a queer, Black, woman who grew up poor in Los Angeles.
These identities matter because they deeply inform how I navigate the world and this movement, this resistance. I cannot afford to focus on a single issue or single-identity struggle. For those looking outside in, it’s not fair — or accurate — to assign someone an identity based off the first thing that we see. Individuals are complex and deserve to be recognized as such. As members of the resistance, it’s important that we lift up people’s identities and engage in broader conversations in order to propel the deep and everlasting changes that are needed right now.
When folks say “identity politics” don’t matter, it simply reinforces the norm of a White, middle class, cis narrative and further marginalizes the rest of us who don’t share that identity.
This is why, when we were founding Black Lives Matter, we created a mission statement that explains we are fighting for justice beyond extrajudicial killings of Black people by police and vigilantes and seeks to form a movement that affirms the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, Black-undocumented folks, folks with records, women and all Black lives along the gender spectrum. It centers those that have been marginalized within Black liberation movements.
In this very moment in America, there is an intentional narrowing and criminalization of various identities. As we saw just recently with the acquittal of Oklahoma officer Betty Shelby in the deadly shooting of Terence Crutcher, yet another unarmed Black man, our community is rarely on the serving end of justice. To disconnect the purpose from which police sprung—as slave captors—from the narrative of current day police brutality, is to ignore the longstanding injustices that Black families continue to face at the hands of law enforcement.
From the brutalization of Black women, men and children at the hands of police and vigilantes to the aggressive detainment of migrants to the alienation of members of an entire religion—those perceived as “other” are under attack. Currently, we are living inside of what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. referred to as the triple threat—the perfect storm of racism, economic exploitation and never-ending war. But our current reality doesn’t need to be the new normal. We as a collective have the power to alter this country’s future and choose a new path.
We are in a historical moment where too much is at stake for us to remain neutral. How we show up and show out in this moment matters to the longevity and ultimate survival of this nation.
Right now, we have corporate billionaires pouring money into campaigns and lining the pockets of politicians in an effort to slow the demographic shift that will see them lose their strangle hold over our democracy. We, as an amalgamation of queer, young, people of color, with varied abilities, economic backgrounds and religions, are the majority— there is no amount of influence or resource that can undermine this fact.
Our power is not only in our presence and our ability to organize, but also in our treasure—the resources that we extend to organizations fighting to end oppression. That’s why organizations like the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice are necessary to our survival. Astraea has been fueling the frontlines of the resistance for 40 years, centering lesbian, trans and queer people of color within their philanthropic giving.
This is what it means to value intersectional communities—ensuring that all have a seat at the table, not because someone granted it to us, but because we fueled it, demanded it and created one for ourselves. The only way to repair the tattered fabric of America is by resisting together, layered in our identities and steeped in solidarity.