It’s been nearly a year and a half since President Trump’s election, and millions of dollars have been poured into an autopsy of the American electorate ahead of the highly anticipated 2018 midterm elections, with particular emphasis on the white working class in rural districts. But there is a danger in overemphasizing the white working class to the detriment of people of color, immigrants, women and the LGBTQ community.

A similar shift in focus occurred over a century ago as post-Civil War Reconstruction wound down and the Jim Crow era was beginning to wind up. In the latter half of the 1800s, black suffrage was a critical plank of the Republican platform; the Southern black vote was a reliable bloc for Republican control of Congress; the number of black elected officials and jurors was rising; and there was some progress toward racial integration of public accommodations. But by the 1890s, Northern commitment to black suffrage and emancipation was eroding.

There are several reasons for this. Northern states discovered their own latent racism as black migration from the South to the North increased in the late 1800s; nativism was rising, especially in New England, as French-Canadians and immigrants from Ireland and Italy, who were predominantly Catholic, began to arrive, along with Eastern Europeans; and “sectional reconciliation” between the North and South became more important.

America was also in a period of disruptive economic change. The Industrial Revolution, railroad expansion westward and recessions prompted protests by Southern white farmers, who organized into a powerful political force fueled by conservative populism.

As the Republican base in the North grew and suppression of the black vote eroded thin margins of support for the party in the South, the “race problem” became more a “Southern question” under the guise of home rule. This gave rise to the Jim Crow era and the Ku Klux Klan, which tapped in to the nativism movement here in Maine.

American history is laden with pivotal points when people of color, women, minorities and marginalized communities were left behind in mad rushes for a political win or two.

No doubt many of us have been told to abandon identity politics; we’ve been informed that what will win us elections is driving home a “jobs and the economy” message that appeals to the average working-class American. Increasingly, that narrative is being pushed out all across the country, and the long-term implications of this for civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ and immgrants’ rights worry me deeply.

To tell people of color, women and the LGBTQ community to “forget identity politics” is, in my view, a tone deafness equal to #AllLivesMatter. What those who argue this ignore is that class politics, in many ways, is identity politics; it is the politics of white male privilege and the privilege that allows one to view things merely as jobs and the economy.

It largely ignores the disproportionate rate at which people of color are racially profiled, stopped, arrested, incarcerated, and shot and killed. It ignores that no progress has been made for African-Americans in terms of homeownership, unemployment and incarceration in 50 years. It ignores the gender wage gap; it ignores the need to protect the progress we’ve made on LGBTQ and women’s rights; and it ignores the trauma and cruelty wrought on immigrant families and families seeking asylum.

It ignores that President Trump and the far right have made it all about identity politics when they peddle conspiracies and myths about “welfare queens” and immigrants crossing the border and stealing jobs (and lowering wages), while opposing LGBTQ and women’s rights and passing laws that limit them.

Viewing things solely through an economic and class frame homogenizes and whitewashes the discrimination and disadvantages suffered by people of color, women, immigrants and LGBTQ people every single day, regardless of the state of the economy.

Class and identity politics are not mutually exclusive. We are at our best as a society when we appreciate the finer details, nuances, context and intersections of our increasingly diverse nation, while collectively realizing that our individual experiences have a common source in the human condition.

In 2008 and 2012, we were for something; hopeful. In 2016, we were overpowered by fear, and fear is better at dividing than it is at uniting.

We need to win on a message of hope. Hope is all-inclusive. Hope can embrace an economic, racial and social justice message. Hope is what holds the power to draw people of all backgrounds together, and it is the struggle for the common good that will bind us together.

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