What are ‘identity politics’?

Michelle Farhang
Michelle is a San Francisco native working in advertising. Her 2017 resolution was to freeze more, so she decided to make the leap over to the east coast. In between her explorations of Manhattan, you can find her reading, Netflix-binging or attempting to teach herself how to play guitar.


We hear the term “identity politics” thrown around a lot in political debates and the media, but what does it really mean?

It’s not the most definitive term, but “identity politics” is most often used today to reference issues involving racial and religious minorities, the LGBTQ community, immigrants and gender equality.

Some argued that the Democratic party lost the 2016 election because it was focused on identity politics, losing the vote of middle class, white Americans who felt unseen and unheard.

Conservatives like Steve Bannon often tie identity politics solely to the Democratic party, but the term has been around for a long time and has been a grounding part of Conservative values and strategies. Nixon and Reagan both benefited from identity politics by leaning into the fears of whites in the south and racial polarization.

The issue is mirrored on both sides. The existence of identity politics in relation to minorities inherently creates an existence of identity politics for the other side that feels affected by those changes. It all comes down to neither group wanting to be left behind.

For liberals today, identity politics tends to be a conversation that feels long overdue to address the history of oppression. Many white Americans, especially in the Rust Belt who have been significantly affected by globalization, personally feel like robbed of opportunity when it’s dispersed more equally to other minority communities. Many people also believe the liberal viewpoint for identity politics and political correctness made them feel like they didn’t understand how to even open up without being “shamed.”

It would be ignoring an entire side of identity politics to believe that it is only a tool the left uses when both sides often, very strategically, use it. People of all identities in our current climate feel a lot of fear about being left behind. Rather than only addressing one or some of those groups, the best way to have an open conversation as a country is to discuss the real feelings and concerns of all citizens instead of getting caught up in semantics.