September 20, 2022

Elite Capture How the Powerful Took Over Identity Politics

Marguerite Casey Foundation (MCF), in partnership with Haymarket Books and Seattle Arts and Lecture, will feature a discussion between MCF President & CEO Dr. Carmen Rojas, author Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò, and National Director for the Working Families Party, Maurice Mitchell.

Marguerite Casey Foundation (MCF), in partnership with Haymarket Books will feature a discussion between MCF President & CEO Dr. Carmen Rojas, author Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò, and National Director for the Working Families Party, Maurice Mitchell.

“Identity politics” is everywhere, polarizing discourse from the campaign trail to the classroom and amplifying antagonisms in the media, both online and off. But the compulsively referenced phrase bears little resemblance to the concept as first introduced by the radical Black feminist Combahee River Collective. While the Collective articulated a political viewpoint grounded in their own position as Black lesbians with the explicit aim of building solidarity across lines of difference, identity politics is now frequently weaponized as a means of closing ranks around ever-narrower conceptions of group interests.

But the trouble, Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò deftly argues, is not with identity politics itself. Through a substantive engagement with the global Black radical tradition and a critical understanding of racial capitalism, Táíwò identifies the process by which a radical concept can be stripped of its political substance and liberatory potential by becoming the victim of elite capture—deployed by political, social, and economic elites in the service of their own interests.

Táíwò’s crucial intervention both elucidates this complex process and helps us move beyond a binary of “class” vs. “race.” By rejecting elitist identity politics in favor of a constructive politics of radical solidarity, he advances the possibility of organizing across our differences in the urgent struggle for a better world.

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About the Author

Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University. He completed hismy PhD at University of California, Los Angeles. Before that, he completed BAs in Philosophy and Political Science at Indiana University.

About the Panelist

Maurice Mitchel is a nationally-recognized social movement strategist, a visionary leader in the Movement for Black Lives, and a community organizer for racial, social, and economic justice.

Born and raised in New York to Caribbean working-class parents, Maurice began organizing as a teenager — and never stopped. As a high school student, Maurice served as a student leader for the Long Island Student Coalition for Peace and Justice. At Howard University, after a classmate was killed by police officers, Maurice led organizing efforts against police brutality and for divestment from private prisons.

Maurice went on to work as an organizer for the Long Island Progressive Coalition, downstate organizing director for Citizen Action of NY, and Director of the NY State Civic Engagement Table.

Two tragedies changed the course of Maurice’s life. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy destroyed Maurice’s house in Long Beach, NY and left him living in hotels for months. Eighteen months later, after Mike Brown was killed by police in Missouri, Maurice relocated to Ferguson to support organizations on the ground. Seeing the need for an anchor organization to provide strategic support and guidance to Movement for Black Lives activists across the country, Maurice co-founded and managed Blackbird. Maurice was a key organizer of the Movement for Black Lives convention in Cleveland in 2015.

In 2018, Maurice took the helm of the Working Families Party as National Director. He is applying his passion and experience to make WFP the political home for a multi-racial working class movement.

About the Moderator

Dr. Carmen Rojas (she/her) is the president and CEO of the Marguerite Casey Foundation. Prior to joining Marguerite Casey Foundation, Dr. Carmen Rojas was the co-founder and former CEO of The Workers Lab, an innovation lab that invests in entrepreneurs, community organizers, and government leaders to create replicable and revenue-generating solutions that improve conditions for low-wage workers. For more than 20 years, Carmen has worked with foundations, financial institutions, and nonprofits to improve the lives of working people across the United States.

Prior to building The Workers Lab, Carmen was the Acting Director of Collective Impact at Living Cities. She supported 22 of the largest foundations and financial institutions in the world in order to improve economic opportunities for low-income people--supporting projects in the fields of economic and workforce development, energy efficiency, and asset building. From 2008 to 2011, Carmen was the Director of Strategic Programs at the Mitchell Kapor Foundation, where she oversaw the foundation’s Green Access and Civic Engagement programs. Alongside her work at the foundation, Carmen also taught in the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to this, Carmen was the Coordinator of the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency’s Task Force on African American Out-Migration to address African American displacement from the city.

Carmen currently sits on the boards of Beyond12, Blue Ridge Labs, Children’s Defense Fund, as well as the San Francisco Federal Reserve's Community Advisory Council, Confluence's Racial Equity Initiative Advisory Committee and the AstraZeneca US Health Equity Advisory Council.

Carmen holds a Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning from the University of California, Berkeley and was a Fulbright Scholar in 2007.

MCF Book Club: Reading for a Liberated Future

Throughout this series, authors, scholars, and organizers examine the most pressing issues of our time. The MCF Book Club shares the ideas of leaders who encourage us to imagine how we can radically transform our democracy, economy, and society to include all of our dreams, hopes, and aspirations. Together, they offer a course toward a liberated future.

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