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Identity as a Shield: Leveraging Racism and Sexism to Deflect Criticism

There are few things as reprehensible as opportunists who use the pains of marginalized people to advance their own agendas. This art of appropriating the suffering of many to gain influence and clout is one that politicians have practiced for ages. However, we have entered into an era where treading on the pains of the oppressed has taken a sick twist; not only are charlatans co-opting people’s pains, they are now exploiting the very people who have been systematically mistreated and using victims as human shields to protect themselves from criticism.

The article is titled after Kamala Harris only because she is the latest politician who is cynically running a campaign by using the plight of the downtrodden to elevate herself as she turns “black” folks, women and historically marginalized groups into stepping stones. But in all honesty, Kamala is not the only politician deploying this playbook, politicians and pundits on all sides of the aisle and of all ideological spectrum are partaking in this insidious ploy.

After making names for themselves and earning fortunes pushing policies that exacerbate inequalities, these charlatans maliciously run behind their identity to escape accountability. Both parties are endeavoring in this gambit to distract and displace; after all, Donald Trump and Republicans use the frustrations of their base the same way Obama and Democrats leveraged the grievances of their supporters.

But if we are to be honest with ourselves, one party traffics in this most pernicious form of paternalism more than the other. Where Republicans have honesty in advertisement when it comes to their institutional bigotry, Democrats have perfected identity politics in order to obscure their malevolent actions. After working obsequiously on behalf of their corporate patrons, Democrats immediately trot out a diverse army of mannequins to blunt denunciations by pointing to their “progressive” tokens as proof that they can’t possibly be racists.

Yesterday morning, Kamala Harris launched her presidential campaign. She chose Martin Luther King Day on purpose, it was her way of letting us know that her race and gender will be wielded like a cudgel against anyone who dares to inspect her record. After spending a career prosecuting the poor and working class while looking the other way as the executive class dispossessed millions of Californians of their homes illegally, she is going to spend the next two years pretending to be a progressive voice of persecuted people everywhere.

While Harris “rises above the fray”, her supporters and campaign staffers will tar and feather people who have the audacity to highlight her past by calling them racists, sexist or both. Never mind that Kamala Harris locked up women and “minorities” with impunity, it’s not her acts that are hateful but those who dare call attention to her record. This is a perversion of justice, the same people who pushed malicious laws and regulations turn around and cry victim when their actions are inspected. Let me channel my inner Kamala Harris prosecutor spirit and present you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, with prima facie evidence of this deplorable tactic.

Let’s get one thing straight, people who sat at the policy table and enacted racist, sexist and bigoted policies are not exempt from condemnation by virtue of their gender or race. Are we to give a pass to black overseers who whipped and lashed their own because they shared the same skin color as the people they were brutally mistreating? Are we to excuse the actions of Marie Antoinette for her indifference towards the poor because she too was a woman?

What good is diversity in government if the leaders we are electing share our complexion and/or gender if they don’t have empathy towards human suffering. Far from justifying their malevolent actions, we should be even harder on those who should know better and choose to amplify injustices. I expect a woman to be more compassionate instead of rationalizing her misdeeds by saying we should cut her some slack because she is a woman. I expect someone who has felt the heat of racism to crusade against racists policies instead of overlooking his transgressions in order to “cut a brother a break”.

No more falling for politicians who embrace us when they need us and forget us once they have power. We must demand more than platitudes and meaningless gestures.

I will no longer look the other way when people in positions of power further social inequities just because they happen to belong to an out-group. I did that for too long during Obama’s administration after he continually broke his campaign promises and enriched Wall Street while screwing over the rest of us. Each time around, I kept blaming Republican obstructionism or cutting him slack because he was the first black president. It took me more than six years to realize that Obama was no different than his predecessor.

Obama was not a victim of racism, he was a willing accomplice of a racist system. People like to point to the birther movement as an indication of a vast right wing, bigoted conspiracy to destroy him. But the truth is that Obama greatly benefited each time some nitwit insinuated that he was not American. Instead of focusing on substance, arguing over his citizenship status and paying attention to imbeciles who tried to otherize Obama distracted us from the policies he enacted.

The billionaires who funded Obama’s campaign got what they wanted. By installing a historic figure as president, plutocrats were able to get legislation enacted that favors them while using Obama’s heritage to silence people who dared to speak against the largest wealth transference in the history of America. Obama became both a sword and a shield, a way to attack anyone who questioned his decisions while defending the oligarchs whom he enriched. For this act of duplicity, Obama got paid handsomely.

Kamala Harris is trying to pull off the same coup, the story of some unknown blowhard questioning her citizenship status is going to be used to distract voters from inspecting her record and her past policy decisions. Instead of offering solutions and addressing inequalities that indiscriminately indenture tens of millions of people into a lifetime of hopelessness and hardship, Kamala is going to reprise Hillary Clinton’s campaign of bashing anyone who dares to question her past decisions.

It’s going to start off by dismissing her critics as racists, sexists or “Bernie bros” and will reach the absurd culmination when her supporters start bashing people who don’t support her as Russian operatives. This is not a winning strategy but an moronic blueprint that will get Trump reelected.

The Democrat hopefuls who cynically use their identity as launching pads to feed their rank ambition of becoming president will be falling all over themselves to prove that they are one of us. The picture above with Kamala Harris and Cory Booker feature two of the bourgeois hustlers who will lie through their teeth in order to obfuscate their record. Cory Booker has been a prostitute of Wall Street for the past six year as New Jersey’s junior Senator is going to put on the cape of crusader in an attempt to seem progressive. Never mind that Cory has been serving Big Pharma and the Military-Industrial Complex as if he is the black Dick Cheney. No need to inspect his record, he wants you to focus on his color.

No more. We can’t let token faces and mannequins of the status quo use our pains and struggles to enhance the fortunes of the 1%. We must call out treachery without bias to identity or ideology. We must be morally consistent; race, gender and the faces of the marginalized cannot be used to absolve the excesses of authority regardless of their identity or ideology. Judge people based on the content of their character—and the impact of their policies—instead of judging them by their looks or their rhetoric. #PushBack Click To Tweet

The burdens felt by countless millions of people cannot be used to insulate politicians and policy makers from accountability. More importantly, just because someone is of the same race or gender as people they pretend to care about does not mean they understand our plight. This is not to be envious of success, if people attain riches and fame without stepping on others, more power to them. However, we must draw a red line when the same people who heighten economic imbalances turn around and try to claim solidarity—by extension seek protection—by pointing to the same people they screwed over and saying “I’m one of you”. You are not one of us if you stabbed us in the back when you had the chance to help us!

I urge you to please tell politicians and their enablers in the press to take a hike the next time they try to use the suffering of the least among us to buffer them from deserved condemnation. Let us not be so caught up in the cult of personality that we exempt elected officials and opinion leaders from criticism just because they share our features. Demand more, not less, from people who should know better and don’t let them use the distress of victims as human shields.

Just because they share our skin doesn’t make them kin, just because they have the same body part doesn’t mean they care about us::

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Teodrose Fikremariam
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Teodrose Fikremariam

Founder at Ghion Journal
Teodrose Fikre is the co-founder and editor of the Ghion Journal. A published author and prolific writer, a once defense consultant was profoundly changed by a two year journey of hardship and struggle. Going from a life of upper-middle class privilege to a time spent with the huddled masses taught Teodrose a valuable lesson in the essence of togetherness and the need to speak against injustice.

Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.
Teodrose Fikremariam
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