By: Brian Birnbaum
Among contemporary progressives, the space for debate over the value of identity politics is shrinking at pace with its growing popularity within political discourse. Today’s dominant progressive tastemakers seem to feel that identity politics should either be bought wholesale, or you’re not a progressive. But as a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA), a firsthand witness to deaf alienation, and even more importantly, as a progressive myself, I find it unacceptable that such particularistic, individuated, and limiting rhetoric as that employed by proponents should preclude the validity of my own political stance.
I’ve always been suspicious when new code-words and ideologies are introduced into the political sphere, as they strike me as euphemistic spins on old and often pernicious tropes. Take, for example, ‘Make America Great Again’, which was a dog whistle for returning to a time more prosperous for whites at the expense of all others. But my awakening to the deeper perils of identity politics came during the Democratic National Convention for the 2016 election, where hardliners ascended with pageantry to the podium and proselytized the masses, ostensibly for the good of the party. At their own earlier convention, the Republicans had trotted out the bereaved mothers of Benghazi, and now the DNC responded with the bereaved mothers of police brutality. The RNC had brought out the Boys in Blue to talk tough on crime, and the DNC called up Khizr and Ghazala Khan to thump the constitution and pick at its semantics. It was a lot of standard pandering to the parties’ respective bases, sometimes to mild success, other times to a fault.
But I observed a major difference – a massively important difference – between the way things were presented at the two national conventions. Nearly every individual the Democrats sent up to the stage used a variant of the same phrase: “As a black woman…”; “As a Muslim man…”; “As a Mexican immigrant…” Hearing this anaphora – and noticing it more and more after the convention, whether from a guest on CNN or a friend’s Facebook feed – I felt caught in a unique position. As a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA), not once, among the DNC’s lineup of marginalized persons (or on CNN, or on the feeds of non-deaf Facebook friends), did I hear any mention of the deaf, nor any language related to the deaf population.