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Publisher's Summary

A powerful indictment of the ways elites have co-opted radical critiques of racial capitalism to serve their own ends

“Identity politics” is everywhere, polarizing discourse from the campaign trail to the classroom. But the “identity politics” so compulsively referenced 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, Táíwò identifies the process by which a radical concept can be stripped of its political substance and become 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.

©2022 Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò (P)2022 Blackstone Publishing

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Good espresso for correcting colonialism's wrongs

This book is rich espresso, well worthwhile in keeping up with its rapid pace of concentrated thought. Táíwò takes the reader through the unintentional mistakes of well meaning (white) people who (understandably) feel that deference is the correct way to interact with persons from an oppressed population. Such deference itself (as in passing a microphone in an individual meeting) is often done from an unconscious perspective of privilege. In this book Táíwò doesn't just mow the grass of individual racist manifestations—he lays the axe at the root of the tree of racism's foundations in colonialism.

The problem is not the deference itself, but rather the lack of a larger historical awareness of the deep current day effects (worldwide, including the US) of colonialism dating from Portugal's slaving in the 15th Century—by engaging the forest as well as individual trees, we are better enabled to neutralize racism at the tactical (including personal) level. Táíwò uses the history of the Portuguese subjection of Cape Verde as an example of ways an oppressed people can (and did in the case of Cape Verde) regain their individual and cultural agency in the face of brutal suppression and war against them. They accomplished this partly by not treating white Portuguese as the enemy (while still carrying on an armed resistance against a better equipped army)—Táíwò explains how the Carnation Revolution in Portugal in the 1970s was partially the result of that approach.

We could view Russian citizens the same way today, not reflexively tarring them with their government's war in Ukraine—and similarly US citizens in respect to their own government's foreign (and domestic) boneheaded (elite supported) misadventures. In this context, it would be advisable to not jump to conclusions about the Soviet and Cuban involvement in the Cape Verde struggle (avoiding the disingenuous Socialist epithet used by American slave holders and on through to our current time)—correcting for colonialism doesn't make one a totalitarian Communist, and neither does recognizing that Marx was right about a few points make one a purveyor of closed minded dogma. The opposite is needed: creative thinking and entrepreneurial innovation will be essential components for work in correcting the damage of present day racism that has its roots in colonialism. Other than essential behavioral laws (such as non-discrimination), a good rule of thumb might be that any transition of advocacy methods from persuasion to pressure is an indicator of change in legitimacy and intent.

The answer to elite capture of identity politics is to broaden the conversation and include people beyond just tokenism—there's limited value to groups of mainly white people trying to correct their own racism when they're still (unknowingly) captured by colonialism's perspectives about people's of color (and their own!) lack of personal agency. We need to reach out (to the best of our means) to those who have no voice—who aren't in the same room with the microphone. This book is short and intense—and it's good espresso for launching into correcting colonialism's wrongs.

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Great read

Brief, clear, effective communication that can resonate regardless of your ideological priors. Táíwò may be a Marxist, but his thoughts on elite capture cut across any ideological boundaries.