I agree with you about most of this. Both Harris and Booker are flawed in significant ways; there’s not a perfect candidate in this race.

I’d like to tease out this idea about the limits on “identity” a little bit, because it’s helpful if we’re all on the same page about what we mean by that word. When I say “identity,” I’m talking about those factors that fundamentally structure my experience of the world and how others respond to me. I can’t circumvent my whiteness, for instance, or take a break from being read by others as feminine. There are also certain aspects of class and culture (such as my country-as-fuck upbringing) that are with me for good.

None of these factors guarantees that I’ll be right about any given thing. But they are all strong predictors of certain sorts of experiences, and for this reason, “identity” can often be used like a shortcut to being able to empathize with someone whose experiences are likely to be at least somewhat similar to one’s own. (One reason #MeToo was such a powerful cultural moment is that feeling of realizing that there’s this whole community that can empathize with things that many people have been silent about for so long.)

I think there are people who have come to all sorts of political conclusions through their own experience-informed reasoning and they’re not necessarily “wrong” as much as they are looking at reality from a slightly different angle than I am, and the degree to which I am able to earn their trust (the precursor to persuasion) is to try to be mindful of as many of those factors that have informed that experience as possible. This is why our broad-based progressive movement must take into consideration the ways that class has historically and continues to be formed and reinforced by hierarchies which include gender, race, education, and access to power, and the ways those hierarchies are perpetuated both formally (through laws and money) and informally (through culture and belief).

Ultimately, the best critiques of any candidate, no matter who they are, is in relation to that tangible matrix of power. And yes, I think there are valid critiques of both Harris and Booker that take that whole matrix of power into consideration.

Artist and historian. PhD student researching religion, material culture, media, and politics. Bylines at The Wire Magazine, Art in America + more.

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