Let’s Celebrate Representation Without Putting Politicians on a Pedestal
Seeing ourselves reflected is important, but there’s more work to be done
When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks out against those who have insulted her or underestimated her, my heart flutters and I feel less alone in the world as a Latina woman. Her unwavering capability to call out what’s wrong and argue for what’s right — however unpopular her peers deem her ideas to be — is an inspiration to me. Her response to Rep. Ted Yoho calling her a “fucking bitch” gave me goosebumps because I am often insulted in a similar way, and rarely have the strength or the space to respond the way she did. But despite the fact her incredible presence in American politics keeps tugging at my heartstrings, I am careful not to put Ocasio-Cortez on a pedestal of representation, especially during a time where political parties are all too aware of the PR power of outward-facing diversity and inclusion.
In the current political and cultural landscape, there are many examples of co-optations of identity politics, a framework that was initially developed by the Black feminist Combahee River Collective and explicitly rejects “pedestals, queenhood, and walking 10 paces behind,” and demands Black women be “recognized as human, levelly human.” In many ways, this original conceptualization has been usurped and turned into less radical versions that privilege the individual social ascension of a few over the liberation of all. Both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ victory speeches on Saturday, November 8, strongly signaled toward embracing this kind of identity politics, emphasizing diversity and inclusion. “I’m thinking about [my mother] and about the generations of women — Black women, Asian, White, Latina, and Native American women throughout our nation’s history who have paved the way for this moment tonight,” said Harris, while Biden’s mention of trans people has been called “historic.” Many liberal commentators have lauded Vice President-elect Harris’ win as progress for representation politics. But the sole existence of implied kinship under the banner of “women of color” is shaky ground upon which to build liberation. It is crucial to remember — particularly after mainstream news reporting on the election scrambled to understand the Latino vote, which…