Bernard E. Harcourt | Identity Politics, the Combahee River Collective, and Worldly Philosophers

By Bernard E. Harcourt

As I mention in my introductory essay for Revolution 4/13, the Combahee River Collective (“CRC”) Statement and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s introduction and interviews in How We Get Free offer a careful and nuanced discussion of “identity politics” as understood by the CRC—a term in fact coined in the CRC Statement.[1] Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor elaborates importantly on the politics of identity in her article in The New Yorker, “Until Black Women Are Free, None of Us Will Be Free,” where she analyzes the interaction between forms of oppression based on race, gender, class, and sexuality.[2]

The republication of the CRC Statement in How We Get Free in 2017 and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s more recent interventions in The New Yorker come on the heels of the most virulent attacks against Black identity politics from both the Right and the liberal Left. For several years now, Trump, Bannon, and their cabal have attacked the term “identity politics” while simultaneously enacting a white identity supremacist politics.[3] Shortly after whitewashing the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in August 2017, Bannon told Robert Kuttner of The American Prospect: “The Democrats, the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”[4] On the Democratic Left, our colleague at Columbia University, Mark Lilla, scathingly attacked identity politics, first in an editorial in The New York Times, and then in a short book titled The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics.[5] Lilla argued that identity politics undermines solidarity and cohesion around universal liberal principles among Democrats and caused the 2016 election of Trump. “Identity politics,” Lilla wrote, “is largely expressive, not persuasive. Which is why it never wins elections — but can lose them.”[6] On the radical Left as well, especially among orthodox Marxist thinkers, there has been an ongoing critique of identity politics that it obfuscates class struggle; Slavoj Žižek, for instance, challenges intersectional-identitarian movements arguing that they fail to appreciate the centrality of class.[7] Meanwhile, all around us today, there’s a raging controversy over Critical Race Theory (now simply “CRT”), that has at its core the question of the supposed “divisiveness” of its identity politics and focus on systemic racism.[8] As Fonda Shen recently suggested to me, “ ‘identity politics’ in mainstream conversation has essentially turned into pundit target practice.”

There have been important responses to these various attacks and to the assault on CRT.[9] With regard to the “friendly” fire from the Democratic Left, our Columbia colleague Katherine Franke penned a persuasive reply in the pages of the Los Angeles Review of Books, as did Michelle Goldberg in Slate and Matthew Yglesias in Vox.[10] Katherine Franke argues convincingly that Lilla’s version of post-identity liberalism reenacts the marginalization of the most vulnerable people, sidelines their struggles, and effectively sanitizes a white supremacist politics that prioritizes the interests of white persons. Matthew Yglesias makes the powerful argument that in reality “There is no other way to do politics than to do identity politics”—which is demonstrated well by Trump and Bannon, CRT-opponents, orthodox Marxist critiques, and also Lilla’s own writings.

At a time when many argue we should be, one way or another, “after identity,”[11] it seems appropriate to return to the CRC Statement to carefully reanalyze the original articulation of identity politics. This is particularly timely in the context of Revolution 13/13 because one of the features that distinguishes “worldly” or “revolutionary” philosophers from critical philosophers tends to be their form of political engagement often tied to their willingness to place their own identities at the heart of their work and activism. This is, as I suggested earlier, at least part of the difference in tone, theory, and praxis between Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth and Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Preface” to that work. There often seems to be a different relationship to the “us” and “them” as between worldly and critical philosophers. So, the questions of identity politics seem particularly relevant to our seminar series. Let’s return then to the Combahee River Collective Statement which first coined the term identity politics.

The Combahee River Collective Statement and identity politics

It is important to begin by reemphasizing the nuance and care of the CRC’s discussion of identity politics. To do so, I would like to start here by reproducing, at length, three paragraphs from Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s New Yorker article. They are particularly helpful in framing our own discussion of the important place of identity in politics—especially in this age “after identity,” at least in the sense in which identity is now undeniably on the table.

The first passage discusses the relationship between feminism and socialism, and thus goes directly to the question of “interlocking”—in the CRC’s words—forms of domination based, in this case, on gender and class.[12] Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes:

Most important, the C.R.C. saw themselves as socialists and as part of the broader left, but they understood that no mass movement for socialism could be organized without responding to the particular forms of oppression experienced by Black women, Chicana women, lesbians, single mothers, and so many other groups. Their point was a simple one: you cannot expect people to join your movement by telling them to put their particular issues on hold for the sake of some ill-defined “unity” at a later date. Solidarity was the bridge by which different groups of people could connect on the basis of mutual understanding, respect, and the old socialist edict that an injury to one was an injury to all.

The second passage discusses the relationship between race and gender on the one hand, and sexuality on the other. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes:

the Combahee Statement was also written to describe how race, gender, and sexual orientation were woven together in the lives of queer Black women. In describing the distinct experiences of Black women who were lesbians, they pioneered what would eventually become known as “intersectionality”—the idea that multiple identities can be constantly and simultaneously present within one person’s body. The experiences of Black lesbians could not be reduced to gender, race, class, or sexuality. The C.R.C. demanded politics that could account for all, and not just aspects of their identity.

The third and final passage goes to the broader question of interlocking forms of oppression and how Black feminism is able to address them. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes:

Because Black women were among the most marginalized people in this country, their political struggles brought them into direct conflict with the intertwined malignancies of capitalism—racism, sexism, and poverty. Thus, the women of the C.R.C believed that, if Black women were successful in their struggles and movements, they would have an impact far beyond their immediate demands. As they put it, “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.”

As these three passages suggest, the CRC developed a nuanced and multidimensional theory of identity politics. Their concept of identity politics is not static, but rather, and always, dynamic. It was dynamic at the time the CRC wrote their statement: while the original impetus that led the members of the CRC to embrace and refine Black feminism was the interlocking forms of oppression associated with race and gender, the founding of the CRC as an offshoot of the National Black Feminist Organization was the product of their also addressing forms of oppression associated with class and sexuality. It was their more radical politics centered around class and sexuality—reflected for instance in some having been part of the Black Panthers, anti-war movements, and socialist organizations, as Barbara Smith explains[13]—that led them to break off from the NBFO and form the independent Combahee River Collective. That was a dynamic process involving the fluidity of identity—and leading, eventually, to the CRC explicitly embracing, in its statement, socialist and lesbian identities.[14] These questions remain dynamic today because, in addition to race, gender, class, and sexuality, Black feminism and social movements for Black lives also now address forms of oppression that target transgender persons and persons who are disabled.[15] The dynamic nature of identity politics is key—and, as evident here, inextricably tied to the shifting nature of “systems” of oppression themselves.[16]

The Ontological and Historical Dimensions of Identity

Now, to more fully articulate the CRC’s theorization of identity politics, I think it is important to discuss two other aspects—in addition to its dynamic nature: the first has to do with more ontological questions surrounding identity; the second has to do with historical questions regarding the experience of other political movements such as socialism or feminism.

So, first, at the ontological level, there are subtle differences between and within identities—and this is reflected in the CRC Statement throughout. Obviously, as between different identities, there are some identities that are more immutable than others. Cisgender identity, for instance, is fixed at birth, mostly (it is now possible to change sex designation on birth certificates which may ambiguate how “gender at birth” is defined[17]); sexuality may be considered more fluid at times, but immutable at others; racial identity is relatively stable, although it evolves as the social construction of race and ethnicity changes and as nomenclature changes as well. Political identity may be more malleable than race or gender; in fact, many critical thinkers write about political identity through the lens of “becoming.”[18]

Within identities as well, there are possible variations or different ways to express an identity. There is a difference, for instance, to say that one is a socialist versus a member of the proletariat, or working class. There is a class identity element to socialism and Marxism. One need only read the famous opening of the Communist Manifesto: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” Of course, one does not need to share the identity of being a member of the working class to be socialist—those are sometimes overlapping, but also possibly exclusive; however, there is surely also a way to say that one is socialist by claiming simply to be part of the working class. There is also a difference, for instance, between saying that one is opposed to heterosexualism or to heteronormativity and to say one is lesbian, or gay, or queer.

As a result, there are ways of talking about categories of identities that can vary from far more personal and biographical, even genetic, to far more conceptual and fluid. And the choice of how to describe one’s identity within each category will have important implications for the theorization of identity politics. To write “we are socialists” or “we are lesbians” represents a political choice and has political ramifications that are different, say, than to write “we are members of the working class” or “we are anti-heteronormative.” To write, for instance, as the CRC does in the introductory paragraph of its statement, that “The most general statement of our politics at the present time would be that we are actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression,”[19] is to index the four identities that the CRC embraces explicitly elsewhere in the statement (Black, women, lesbian, and socialist), but to do so in a different manner. It is also subtly different from when the CRC writes: “We do not have racial, sexual, heterosexual, or class privilege to rely upon.”[20] The reference to privilege there is slightly different from when the CRC writes “we are feminist and lesbians.” There are, then, important differences in the way in which identities can be expressed that have implications about the speaker’s situating of themselves, about their membership in a group, about any required belonging for group membership, and about the political implication of the identity.

Second, at a historical rather than ontological level, there are important variations in the static vs. dynamic nature of political movements. I spoke earlier about the fluidity and shifting nature of forms of oppression and the correlative dynamic nature of identity politics. With regard to history, the question is whether to treat with flexibility or inflexibility the track record of a political movement.

The CRC writes, in their statement, that socialist movements historically have not taken account of the systems of oppression that Black women face. That is a historical claim—one that I believe is correct. This has been true also, the CRC said, of feminist movements that were predominantly organized around the concerns of white women. The result is that the CRC is not willing to identify as socialist tout court, or as feminist tout court. It identifies as Black feminist socialist. “We are not convinced,” the Collective writes, “that a socialist revolution that is not also a feminist and anti-racist revolution will guarantee our liberation.”[21]

Notice that this requires a certain inflexibility with regard to the historical track record: there are today certain socialist organizations that are perhaps more attentive to race and gender (possibly the DSA), and it is surely possible to imagine a socialist movement or party that embraces and centers Black feminism. But given the historical track record, the CRC refused to talk about socialism tout court without qualifying it as Black feminist socialism. This is a consequence of socialism’s history and a certain inflexibility with which it may be necessary to treat historical experience in order not to slide back into old bad habits.

So, even if there is fluidity in the forms of oppression, variability between and within identities, and a dynamic nature to identity politics, it may be important to treat the history of political movements with less flexibility.

By contrast to socialism or feminism tout court, Black feminism has a positive historical track record that might make it possible to deploy Black feminism to address new forms of oppression targeting, for instance, transgender persons or persons who are disabled. As noted earlier, the CRC began by focusing on race and gender, but quickly took on issues of class and sexuality. There is a track record, then, of expanding the political analysis to more vulnerable people. As a historical matter, Black feminism adjusted to the fluidity of forms of oppression by embracing issues of class and sexuality even though those are not fixed in the terms “Black” or “feminism.” By contrast to feminism tout court, there is no troubling history within Black feminism of disregarding persons who find themselves in even more precarious situations of oppression—for instance, transgender women of color. Therefore, there is no reason to believe that Black feminism could not also properly address the problems facing persons who are transgender or disabled. This may have to do with the fact that the combination of race and gender is so marked by oppression that it creates a form of sensitivity or consciousness or awareness that is protective of those persons who face even more layers of oppression. The historical inflexibility or attention to track records is what makes it difficult to believe that feminism tout court, but easier to believe that Black socialist lesbian feminism, would address well the problems facing person who are transgender or disabled. And note, for Black feminism, this may or may not necessarily require claiming those identities personally—it may or may not be necessary to write “we are transgender” or “we are disabled” as the CRC did regarding other identities earlier.

Histories of social movements and struggle are important in this sense. Historically, socialist or communist movements have not been sufficiently attentive to persons at the margins of the working class; this reflects, in part, the problem of orthodox Marxism and its relationship to the “lumpenproletariat.” That history is fraught, and as a result, those who are Marxist may now need to rally behind a different flag—perhaps Black feminist communism.

This is also what makes new movements and new ways of thinking important. It is why new movements are politically meaningful. It is why the closing pages of Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth are so powerful and timeless. It is why it may be important not to remain wedded to old parties, institutions, or organizations, even if it makes organizing difficult over time (because those institutions gain power through longevity, membership, and name recognition).

Layers of Identity Politics in the CRC Statement

When we put together these different dimensions—the fluidity of forms of oppression, the dynamic nature of identity politics, the ontological variability of different types of identity, and some inflexibility in the treatment of history—we begin to see why certain forms of identity politics, such as those of the CRC’s Black feminism, remain vibrant today. It may also help identify different layers of the theorizing of identity politics in the CRC Statement—three layers in particular:

Along a first layer, some identities produce formative experiences that are politically important. So, for instance, the experience of living as a Black woman, the CRC Statement proposes, produces certain unique lived experiences of abuse and oppression that shape one’s understanding of the world and serve to politicize and politically engage oneself. Here it is the lived experience of someone with those identities that is formative and politicizing; not everyone, of course, will personally experience that. One has to share those identities, personally, in order to experience those forms of oppression that inform and politicize.

Along a second layer, the consciousness of being ignored by a political movement because part of one’s identity is not shared by others, although other parts may be, produces an insight and understanding of exclusion that sensitizes one to other forms of abuse, exclusion, and oppression along other parts of one’s own or other person’s identities. As the CRC Statement explains, this is the experience of participating as a Black woman in a feminist or antiracist movement; and it sensitizes individuals to the potential for oppression along other lines, such as being queer, or a transgender person, or a person who is disabled. Now, having suffered oppression is not automatically sensitizing in this way; for instance, many persons who flee oppression and migrate then favor closing the borders to others. There is something about the CRC’s Black feminism that is unique or special in this regard, and, I would argue, it has to do with its dynamic nature—the fact that the CRC began with a focus on race and gender, but then expanded to focus on heteronormativity and capitalism. So, the historical track record of the Black feminism of the CRC is positive. A movement has to have that favorable history in order to be open to be sensitized in this way.

Along a third layer, the specific identities of being Black and being a woman combine, within the context of a heteronormative capitalist society, in such a way that addressing those interlocking forms of oppression necessarily gets at the root of forms of oppression that affect others. This dimension does not necessarily entail sharing those other specific identities; but it does require sufficient sensitivity to focus one’s politics on the oppression of persons with those identities. This is the argument, in the CRC Statement, that “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.”[22] Tackling oppression along certain identity lines serves to protect against other forms of oppression.

These represent three different ways in which a politics of identities can promote justice. They suggest that there are different ways of engaging identity politics. The CRC Statement and the practices linked to it offer several different modalities to discuss questions of identity politics—in addition to others (for instance, separatism) which the CRC did not pursue. But there are several different modalities of identity politics that the CRC embraces at different junctures of the Statement.

The Contemporary Challenge to Identity Politics

Much of the attack on identity politics today is in bad faith, in the sense that it is being led by politicians who are themselves engaged in forms of white identity supremacist politics. So, let’s set aside the New Right, Bannon, and Trump—and all those who are trying to ban CRT because it is supposedly offensive to white people and divisive.

I’d like to focus, instead, on the “friendly fire” and, to do so, offer the most charitable possible interpretation of the Democratic Left attack on identity politics. On this charitable reading, Mark Lilla’s critique of identity politics is primarily an electoral strategy—in the same way in which former President Obama criticizes the defund the police movement: if you really want to make progress on the issues you care about, you need to get political power by rallying the (white) moderates, keep silent about the most polarizing issues, and then implement changes quietly. On this view, Black and queer identity politics will not garner votes, but instead push moderate whites into the hands of a Trump. For Lilla, it is a question of arithmetic, pure and simple. So, Lilla says:

let’s be concrete about this: transgender people make up less than one half of one per cent of the country. There is no electoral group that we’re trying to mobilize. That’s not to say that we don’t want to help them, and focus on that when we analyze our problems and when we get into power. But that is not how you seize power in this country, especially in the states we need to win. Look, we have the two coasts. We need to go to the middle of the country. And if we keep talking about groups, and small groups, and especially if we touch on anything that involves children and sexuality—that’s insane. You don’t campaign on the basis of that.

There are, of course, a number of responses to this. As David Remnick argues, this elides the fact that radical politics do move the political scene. Stonewall, Occupy Wall Street, these movements shaped politics and outcomes. Also, as Katherine Franke writes, “Talking about identity, or better yet status-based power, does not preclude discussions of class, war, the economy or the common good.” There are many persuasive rebuttals.

But what I find interesting is that Lilla’s critique of identity politics rests on the exact dynamic that the CRC was trying to combat: marginalizing the interests of some with the goal of rallying the dominant group in a way that may possibly benefit a bit, but does not center the problems facing, those at the margins.

What is remarkable here is that everyone agrees on the form of the dynamic. Post-identity liberalism, like pre-identity liberalism, marginalizes the voice and interests of persons at the margin in order to gain power and then to “help them.” That’s what Lilla explicitly argues for. That’s what the CRC was explicitly arguing against. In fact, look at the words. Lilla is, if anything, transparent: “We cannot do anything for these groups we care about if we do not hold power,” Lilla says. “It is just talk. Therefore, our rhetoric in campaigning must be focussed on winning, so then we can help these people.”

“So that we can help these people”: that is precisely what the CRC was struggling against. It is precisely why the CRC wrote about “our experience and disillusionment within these liberation movements”; it is what led them to the realization that “the only people who care enough about us to work consistently for our liberation are us.”[23]

The stakes are crystal clear. And I think it should be obvious to everyone that the language of “helping these people” is a recipe for disillusionment—and a recipe for disaster.

Moving Forward

Underlying the Democratic Left critique—and this is true as well of the New Right assault on CRT, and orthodox Marxist arguments—is the idea that everyone is competing in a zero-sum game for political benefits and material interests. The underlying assumption is that white persons have interests that are at odds with, say, Black women. That’s why, the argument goes, given that white persons are more numerous, the Left needs to advance their interests first and foremost.

But this premise of pure interest competition fails to recognize something important about coalition politics: within a political coalition, the aim is not an internal competition for material advancement. Instead, the enterprise is about protecting everyone and that is best achieved by focusing on the most vulnerable persons. On my reading, that was the point of the CRC Statement.

The Democratic Left critique assumes that moderate left-leaning white persons are estranged and feel threatened by Black identity politics—and that we should therefore quiet Black feminism. But why should we assume that? Why would we assume that white persons could not come to realize that, within coalition politics, everyone would be in the best political situation if the interests of the persons who are most vulnerable in their coalition are best protected?  To be as clear as possible: Why wouldn’t all left-leaning white persons embrace Black feminism in order to best advance the collective interests of everyone from the most to the least vulnerable?

Instead of attacking identitarian social movements, those persons “outside” those identities would be far better off, as a matter of coalition politics, embracing the movements and their ideas and ambitions—without appropriating them. In the case of left-leaning white persons, they should surely rally with identity movements, not against.

This is not to suggest that politics is harmony. As Foucault argued persuasively in the early 1970s, social relations should be mapped on civil war. “Civil war is the matrix of all struggles of power, of all strategies of power, and, consequently, it is also the matrix of all the struggles regarding and against power,” Foucault declared in The Punitive Society.[24] But the matrix of civil war must be analyzed through coalition politics.

This is also not a theory of interest convergence, as Derrick Bell developed it. The point is not that it is only when interests converge that coalitions work together and protect the most vulnerable. No, the idea is that by protecting the most vulnerable, those who are less vulnerable are better protected. The question is how, strategically, to form coalitions in struggle.

Finally, none of this is to suggest that there are no risks associated with identity.[25] The point is, instead, that there is no reason to assume there should be competition, rather than coalition.

Here again the CRC Statement provides guidance because it offered a number of modalities in which identity politics operate. As discussed earlier, there are multiple layers to identity politics. Let me return to two of them here—by reexamining specifically the relationship between the original dimensions of Black feminism that initially brought the CRC together (race and gender) and the subsequent dimensions of sexuality and political economy that the Collective gravitated towards. (And today, we might add the additional dimensions of transgender issues, disability rights, and abolitionism that are part of ongoing Black feminist social movements.)

A first modality: there are passages where the CRC Statement specifically claims identities as a politically motivating factor—as a personally identified dimension of oppression that led members to political organizing. At those junctures, the authors of the statement take on an identity, and in that sense turn the CRC into a radical Black socialist lesbian feminist organization.[26]These passages resonate most with the CRC’s statement (right after introducing the idea of identity politics) that: “We believe that the most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identity, as opposed to working to end somebody else’s oppression.”[27]

A second modality: in other passages, the CRC does not necessarily highlight their own identities, but argues instead that if Black women are free, everyone would necessarily be—this is the third layer discussed earlier: “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.”[28] Barbara Ransby highlights this, for instance, when she refers to “the organizing and intellectual work of radical Black feminists who were also lesbians.[29] Here, the question of identified sexuality is central, but not determinative—central, in the sense that one could not be a radical Black feminist and not care about problems of heterosexuality; but not determinative because it may not preclude membership.

On the second approach, a political actor does not necessarily need to self-identify or take the identity of the most vulnerable members of the group, and yet they consider liberation of the most vulnerable members as the prerequisite to the liberation of everyone else. This is once again reflected in Ransby’s statement, noted earlier as well, that one should “always ally yourself with those on the bottom, on the margins, and at the periphery of the centers of power. And in doing so, you will land yourself at the very center of some of the most important struggles of our society and our history.”[30] This is especially relevant to present organizing because of the problems now facing transgender persons or nonbinary persons, or persons who are disabled.


“The ability to distinguish between the ideology of the American Dream and the experience of the American nightmare requires political analysis, history, and often struggle. The Combahee River Collective employed this dynamic approach to politics. …”

— Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, How We Get Free (2017)

In this essay, I have elaborated on these themes of the dynamic and the historical nature of the analysis of identity politics proposed by the Combahee River Collective. I hope we will take up these questions at our next seminar with Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor.

Welcome to Revolution 4/13!



[1] “The Combahee River Collective Statement,” 15-27, in Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective(Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2017).

[2] Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, “Until Black Women Are Free, None of Us Will Be Free,” New Yorker, July 20, 2020,

[3] Bernard E. Harcourt, “How Trump Fuels the Fascist Right,” New York Review of Books, November 29, 2018,

[4] Robert Kuttner, “Steve Bannon, Unrepentant,” The American Prospect, August 16, 2017,

[5] Mark Lilla, “The End of Identity Liberalism,” New York Times, November 18, 2016,; Mark Lilla, The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics (New York: HarperCollins, 2017); see also David Remnick, “A Conversation with Mark Lilla on His Critique of Identity Politics,” New Yorker, August 25, 2017,

[6] Lilla, “The End of Identity Liberalism.”

[7] Slavoj Žižek, “Class Struggle Against Classism,” The Philosophical Salon, May 10, 2021.

[8] Adam Harris, “The GOP’s Critical Race Theory Obsession,” The Atlantic, May 7, 2021,

[9] See, especially, Patricia Williams, “How Not To Talk About Race,” The Nation, October 18, 2021,; Kimberlé Crenshaw, “The panic over critical race theory is an attempt to whitewash U.S. History,” Washington Post, July 2, 2021,; Kendall Thomas in Cheryl Willis and Debora Fougere, “Teaching critical race theory: It’s about history, not guilt,” Spectrum News NY1, June 13, 2021,–it-s-about-history–not-guilt; John Wiener, “The Predictable Backlash to Critical Race Theory: A Q&A With Kimberlé Crenshaw,” The Nation, July 5, 2021,; Ibrahim X. Kendi, “There Is No Debate Over Critical Race Theory,” The Atlantic, July 9, 2021,; David Theo Goldberg, ‘The War on Critical Race Theory,” Boston Review, May 7, 2021,

[10] Katherine Franke, “Making White Supremacy Respectable. Again.,” Los Angeles Review of Books Blog, November 21, 2016,; Michelle Goldberg, “Democratic Politics Have To Be ‘Identity Politics’,” Slate, November 22, 2016,; Matthew Yglesias, “Democrats Neither Can Nor Should Ditch ‘Identity Politics’,” Vox, November 23, 2016,

[11] See, generally, After Identity: A Reader in Law and Culture, eds. Dan Danielsen and Karen Engle (New York: Routledge, 1995); Peter Erickson and June Jordan, “After Identity,” Transition, No. 63 (1994), pp. 132-149; Georgia Warnke, After Identity: Rethinking Race, Sex, and Gender (Cambridge University Press, 2008) (arguing, from a moral psychology perspective, that identities are “misunderstandings of who and what we are,” at 14).

[12] “CRC Statement,” in Taylor, How We Get Free, at 15. See also Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, “Introduction,” 1-14, in Taylor, How We Get Free, at 4.

[13] Barbara Smith, interview with Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, in Taylor, How We Get Free, at 54.

[14] “CRC Statement,” in Taylor, How We Get Free, at 19.

[15] I personally find the term “disability” troubling because of the suffix “dis-” and would have preferred that the term “differently-abled” had taken hold, but I use the term “disability” because it is preferred within disability justice communities and recommended by the National Center on Disability and Journalism. Disability justice activists argue that with a social model of disability, the word “disabled” is better at conveying the idea that there is nothing inherently wrong with any person, but rather it is the world and its structures (physical, social, and otherwise) that cause a disabling effect on the individual. See Sara Hendren, What Can the Body Do?: How We Meet the Built World (New York: Riverhead, 2020); entry on “disability” in Keywords for Disability Studies, ed. Rachel Adams, Benjamin Reiss, and David Serlin (New York: NYU Press, 2015) (esp. relevant, starting on page 8 to page 9, where they discuss the social and cultural models of disability: “Part of the transformation of “disability” from stigma and object of medical correction to source of knowledge reflects this new attention to inwardness. Disability becomes a mode of situating one’s understanding of self rather than a marker of isolation”); see generally the work of Mia Mingus, Patty Berne and Sins Invalid, Alice Wong, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, and other disability justice advocates; introduction to Disability Visibility, ed. Alice Wong (New York: Vintage, 2020). Special thanks for Fonda Shen for research, guidance, and advice on this question.

[16] I may use the term “system of oppression,” even though I have issues with the concept of “systems,” in order to stay close to the CRC’s theoretical framework. I have to think more about the way the concept of systems functions here.

[17] See “Changing Birth Certificate Sex Designations: State-By-State Guidelines,” Lambda Legal, September 17, 2018,

[18] See, e.g., Sarah Ahmed, “Becoming Feminist,” in Living a Feminist Life (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017), at 19-20; Derecka Purnell, Becoming Abolitionists (New York: Astra House, 2021).

[19] CRC Statement in Taylor, How We Get Free, at 15.

[20] CRC Statement in Taylor, How We Get Free, at 22.

[21] CRC Statement in Taylor, How We Get Free, at 20.

[22] CRC Statement in Taylor, How We Get Free, at 22-23.

[23] CRC Statement in Taylor, How We Get Free, at 17, 18.

[24] Michel Foucault, The Punitive Society, at 13.

[25] There are undoubtedly dangers to recognizing identities in part because they expose the person to the harmful kind of stereotyping associated with that form of oppression. So, for instance, I have always felt that there is a danger in overemphasizing the biographical aspects of a thinker like Foucault—and I have tried to avoid doing so when working, for instance, on editions of Foucault’s lectures, especially the most recent 1964 and 1969 lectures on sexuality. See Michel Foucault, Sexuality: The 1964 Clermont-Ferrand and 1969 Vincennes Lectures, ed. Claude-Olivier Doron, trans. Graham Burchell (New York: Columbia University Press, 2021).  I have tried to set aside the biographical identitarian dimensions—to note them in the margin, but not in the text—as a way to keep his critical theory and praxis more generalizable. So, for instance, I tend to put aside Foucault’s very difficult early experiences with homosexuality, queerness, and suicide when I discuss his histories of madness and sexuality—in part, because they so often are misunderstood, distorted, and turned against him in extreme homophobic attacks. That may be a mistake, as this discussion may reveal. But it has always been deliberate.

[26] CRC Statement in Taylor, How We Get Free, at 19.

[27] CRC Statement in Taylor, How We Get Free, at 19.

[28] CRC Statement in Taylor, How We Get Free, at 23.

[29] Barbara Ransby, “Comments by Barbara Ransby at Socialism 2017 Conference Panel,” 177-186, in Taylor, How We Get Free, at 177.

[30] Ransby, “Comments by Barbara Ransby at Socialism 2017 Conference Panel,” at 183.