Capitalism Hits Home: Identity Politics, Intersectionality, and Unity

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Welcome to Season 5 of Capitalism Hits Home! In this episode, Dr. Fraad explores identity politics by looking into the many facets of her own identity. 99% of us share an identity as exploited, oppressed people. We have different experiences and extents of exploitation. How can we honor our identities while remaining unified as a human race? Can we reclaim identity politics to include a human identity that connects everyone in order to create a safer, freer, and more inclusive world?

Transcript had been edited for clarity

Hello. This is Dr. Harriet Fraad with Capitalism Hits Home, a podcast from Democracy At Work. The point of this podcast is to show the interpenetrations and inter-moldings of the external world of the economy and politics on the internal world of our own emotions, and on our personal and family relationships.

Now when we talk about identity politics, what are we really talking about? What kind of identity? I looked up “identity” in the dictionary, and it said, “It's the fact of being who the person is.” Now, of course, no human being is limited to one identity, which means that the “identity politics” that people usually mean — like a black identity, a trans identity, a female identity, a Latinx identity — is a really reductionist kind of identity. It only reduces a person to one aspect of their complicated life.

When I thought about all the aspects of identity just in one person, I thought of myself. I have an identity as a woman, an identity as a Socialist, an identity as part of this planet and this world, an identity as a New Yorker, an identity as a life partner to my husband, as a mother and a parent, and as a Democratic Socialist that wants to break all the barriers that are totally arbitrary and divide people from one another — whether it’s sexual choice, or race, or ethnicity, or nationality, or class divisions. We're all human beings, and these divisions are arbitrary, and shouldn't obscure the fact that our main identity together is that we're humans. I'm also a connector of people on lots of different levels: on a professional level, as a hypnotherapist and psychotherapist, on a political level, as a podcaster and a person on radio, and also a person who participates in political change. I’ve been a teacher, had an identity as a teacher, in addition. And there are other identities as well, because we all have multiple identities.

And when I went back over the identities that are important to me, one was as a mother and a parent, and I realized that identity is hardly a unitary identity in any case. If I'm in a parent-teacher conference, as I was when my children were little, and I'm at my children's school, my only identity is as their mother, interested in what my own children are doing, how they're doing, and how they could improve. If I'm in, as i was, a movement to save that school, because they went to the Roger Sherman Community School. It was a magnet school, and through a corruption of one of the older people in New Haven, the school was going to be sold for a dollar to an orthodox religious Jewish school, because it was in the aldermen’s area where the Ganz religious school wanted to have a larger building. They wanted to take our building, and the older person of that area wanted to sell it to the Ganz School for a dollar. And, as a parent and a mother, I joined that movement. We didn't save the school, because we couldn’t battle that level of corruption, but I was there as a mother, and a parent, to defend my child's school.

Also, another aspect of my identity as a mother was when I was pregnant, and gave birth to my daughter at Yale New Haven Hospital. On the one hand, I was negotiating my own birth, trying to empower it, not have it be taken over by doctors with machines. On the other hand, I wanted a midwife to help me in birthing my daughter, and at that point Yale New Haven Hospital — which is an elitist institution like the university itself — had forbidden midwives to help assist women giving birth, because they wanted their students to practice. Their students were horrendously insensitive to women in labor. Most midwives have had children themselves. There were complaints of a Hispanic woman screaming because all these male medical students were looking up her vagina as she was delivering, and she felt shamed, and angry, and they didn't have anyone who they bothered to get as a translator. So her birth was in agony. Or there were rough exams, with a lot of joking and vulgarity. So we wanted midwives to attend to us. So I was a mother, but I was also part of a movement we started called “Citizens Concerned About Childbirth,” which won midwifery rights at Yale New Haven Hospital, so I could be presided over by a midwife. Of course, we only won that by organizing; there was going to be a pregnant woman sit-in at Yale New Haven Hospital with a lot of media attention, but we did win, and I was there in my identity as a mother. 

I'm also a partner, a wife, and that identity had several different aspects. One was negotiating relationships with our families of origin, our various in-laws and relatives. Another aspect was trying to work out our own differences, so that we could really be intimate and loving partners, and trusting partners, with each other. Another aspect was partners in maintaining a home because, as any person who does housework knows, there's a lot of work in maintaining a home. Also in my identity as a woman, I'm aware of the strengths of being a woman, the strength of being allowed, as a woman, to have emotion, and express emotion and vulnerability, and also the ability to create life, and the ability to bond.

The studies that are done that say when people are in trouble it's fight or flight, are studies of males. Studies of women in trouble, their strategies are to connect or flight. Not necessarily to fight, but to connect with other people, to try to hold on. Another aspect of my identity as a woman, is a sense of victimization, getting inappropriate attention, and sexual victimization. And of course, that's not the only part of being a woman that I identify with, but there's a fear that comes with being a woman in the United States. I remember seeing a radio program where the host interviewed Margaret Atwood, and also a male author, and her question was, “What are men most afraid of from women, and what are women most afraid of from men?” She asked the man first, and he said, “What men most fear from women is ridicule and humiliation.” Then the host asked Margaret Atwood, and she said, “Women fear death.” This was very dramatic, but there is a sense, being a woman in the United States, of being vulnerable because you're less strong. That happened to me when I was attacked. I was very aware that I had never learned to defend myself, and so I took karate, even though I was the only woman in the class, and became really capable. So if anybody was inappropriately bothering me, I knew I could utterly demobilize them. Then I taught karate to other women, so we could get into our anger, because one of the downsides of being a woman is you're not allowed the anger that every person should have. One of the upsides is we’re allowed to be vulnerable, but a downside is we’re less allowed to be demanding and angry. 

As a professional, I've had a lot of identities. I was a professional dancer all through high school and college, and about a year after college — when I really didn't want that identity because it separated me too much from the rest of life. Dancers in the United States are paid so poorly that you have a day job, and then you go to rehearsals till late at night, and classes at night, and your life is utterly overtaken, and you’re not part of the rest of humanity. And so I stopped that, and began a different professional identity as a teacher of young children. 

In that identity I had my job, I moved to New Haven, Connecticut, where my husband was, and started at a school in a slum, which was a terrible school, really. That's why they had so many vacancies, so that I could get that job. A parent came to me as a teacher, and said, “I bet you don't give my daughter any toilet paper. My daughter, my younger daughter in another class, doesn't get any toilet paper.” And I said, “Oh my God. That's not all your kids don’t have. Here's my home number.” As a teacher, I organized five teachers including me. With the help of the registrar, we got all the names of the parents. As teachers, we went to every parent in the school to tell them their child wasn't being properly educated, because they certainly were not. We mobilized the parents into what was called The Hill Parents Association. The Hill was the neighborhood where the school was, and it was a 99 percent black school, and a one percent Puerto Rican school, and it was terribly neglected. The teachers had a basically racist attitude towards most of the children, and so did the administration. And the parents won. They got rid of the principal, and started a civil rights organization there.

Later I was a teacher of psychology in college, where I had another role, all as a teacher, all under profession, that was to empower my students to apply psychology to their own lives, and understand more about themselves, and the people around them than they did before.

As a podcaster, I’m a teacher of sorts; I try to get my point across. I’m on this podcast, and I used to be on a podcast called “It's Not Just in Your Head,” with Liam Tate and Max Golding. The point was to show people that your problems are not necessarily just in your head. If you're getting evicted, it’s not just a figment of your imagination, and it's not just because you might have made some of what they call “bad choices.” It’s because you're paid badly, and because living is a commodity. You're living as a commodity, and someone is trying to get a profit off you. So all these things, happen as a teacher. When I speak on the radio on The Dave Feldman show at eight o'clock every Monday night, I’m a teacher. I talk about an issue, and have questions and answers with David Feldman on his really amazing show, and also with all of his listeners who want to ask questions, and can within the time. Similarly, I'm a teacher on act.tv when I’m on the Juliana Forlano Morning Show, or on Women’s Spaces on WBBK, and soon on my own radio show on WBAI on Wednesdays at 2:30, beginning in January, which will be Interpersonal Update USA. So that's all those ways that I'm a teacher. 

I’m also a friend, a friend of people that I'm close to. And of course everything that's valuable takes time and energy, and friendship takes that, too. So I have all of these identities, as well as a shared human identity with every other human on earth.

Now what has happened since the FBI and the CIA under Gloria Steinem, tried to create an identity for women as women, pushing our rights for gender reform, but no other economic and social rights, and creating a movement of equality within a system of ever more grotesque inequality, rather than a movement of equality for all men and women together as equals. The way that's been accomplished in some ways, unfortunately, is by making men the enemies of women, making the movement a gender-only movement, rather than a movement of women in solidarity. Basically, the CIA and the FBI wanted to fracture the movement, because they were afraid of a class-based movement. When Martin Luther King started saying, “The problem is not just a problem of race; it's a problem of an underclass, and we need to unite,” he was shot. When Malcolm X said the same thing, he was shot. There are a lot of people who don't want to see that class unity, and that identity we all have, as people who need each other to make changes so that there are no arbitrary barriers between us. 

That's the identity politics that I want to have  — not the fractured identity politics. Not the contest of who's more victimized, against those who are a little less victimized. Not that understanding one’s victimization isn't sometimes really helpful, but a movement of understanding that we all need each other. We all need to fight for a society in which arbitrary divisions of class, race, gender, ethnicity, religion, or anything else, doesn’t separate us from our common need to have a peaceful and prosperous life. In that way, under those conditions, the only identity that you could claim, besides your human identity, is white supremacy, which ranges from wanting to kill people who are different from you, to just thinking of them as inferior, because they're different. 

So I want to reclaim identity politics for us, with a human identity that unites us around all those ways that we need to transform America, to make it a kind, safe place to live for everyone, regardless of gender, race, sexual preference, ethnicity, or anything else.

That’s all for today. I hope you can rethink identity politics with me, and want to claim the identity as a human connected to other humans, without putting barriers between us. Which, of course, doesn't stop movements like Black Lives Matter from calling attention to a particular identity that's been victimized, but within the context that we're all victimized by the unkindness, and cruelty, and exploitation of capitalism.

So thank you very much, from me, from Democracy At Work, and I thank all of our Patreon subscribers who help sustain this program. Thank you very much. Goodbye.

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  • Quinn Hettinger
    commented 2022-01-09 23:15:28 -0500
    Dr. Fraad explores identity politics by looking into the many facets of her own identity. 99% of us share an identity as exploited, oppressed people. We have different experiences and extents of exploitation. How can we honor our identities while remaining unified as a human race? Can we reclaim identity politics to include a human identity that connects everyone in order to create a safer, freer, and more inclusive world?

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