Meghan McCain’s tenure as co-host on “The View” has ignited controversy – and this week was no different.
McCain, the daughter of the late Sen. John McCain spoke about “identity politics” during a discussion about Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. Duckworth told reporters Tuesday she would not support any more of President Joe Biden’s non-diverse nominees until he appoints more Asian Americans to his Cabinet.
“I believe that what makes America exceptional is the fact that we’re a meritocracy that you can be anything — that you can come from anywhere and go and have success in any capacity,” McCain said on Wednesday’s show. “And I think the question Democrats have to reconcile with right now is whether or not, race and gender are more important than qualification.”
She added: “I think this is actually just the natural progression of identity politics, and I will say just to put a cap on this: ‘The View’ is 25 years old next year, we’ve only had one Asian American host co-host the show. So does that mean that one of us should be leaving at some point because there’s not enough representation? We’re talking about is identity politics more important than qualifications of a job and I think that’s a question going forward that the progressive left is going to have to reconcile.”
For more on the senators:Duckworth, Hirono back off threat of opposing Biden nominees in push for AAPI representation
Her statement led to pushback on social media.
“I am 1 of 3 Black women who coined the term #IdentityPolitics in the #CombaheeRiverCollective Statement, 1977. @MeghanMcCain does not know what she’s talking about. What we meant was that Black women have the right to determine our own political agendas, period, full stop,” Barbara Smith wrote.
“Why do we even care what vapid white celebrities think about ‘identity politics’ and instead just let more people of color SPEAK, and more importantly, BE HEARD ?” Marie Myung-Ok Lee, a writer in residence at the Center for the Study of Ethnicity & Race at Columbia University wrote.
Experts described ways that people can talk about identity politics, whether that’s the right term to use and how representation could be tactfully addressed.
What is identity politics?
Smith linked to an article in The New Republic by Mychal Denzel Smith that reads: “The original intent of identity politics was articulating Black women’s struggle at the nexus of race, gender, sexual, and class oppressions, and then forming strategies for dismantling each of these, both in Black feminist spaces and in coalition with other groups.”
Dorinne Kondo, professor of American studies and anthropology at the University of Southern California, recommends checking out this explainer that looks at the history of identity politics.
“Like any term, it can mean many things to many people, but it now appears to circulate as a way to dismiss movements based around what I call ‘fields of power:’ racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and so on,” Kondo says.
Amit Ahuja, associate professor and director of graduate studies at the University of California Santa Barbara, says it’s a powerful force for both the political left and right.
McCain’s use of the phrase highlighted that dichotomy. “McCain’s rant on ‘The View’ is a textbook example of conservatives’ deceitful co-optation of liberal political concepts,” Charise Cheney, associate professor in the department of indigenous, race and ethnic studies at the University of Oregon, says. “Too often, conservative pundits deploy the concepts of anti-racism to mask their claims to the benefits of racism.”
In case you missed:Meghan McCain apologizes for previously condoning anti-Asian rhetoric used by Donald Trump
How to talk about identity politics
While it may be uncomfortable, productive conversations about race, gender, sexuality and identity aren’t impossible. But go in with a game plan first.
Know your place in the conversation. We all have one. “Recognizing that every one of us is implicated in ‘identity politics’ is an important first step when talking about it,” says Julie Lee Merseth, assistant professor in the department of political science at Northwestern University. The conversation is ultimately about the relationship different people have to power and privilege systems.
Hear out your listener – and listen yourself. “Persuading someone about your point of view takes time,” Ahuja says. If you don’t get anywhere, that’s troubling – but it’s key to be aware of the constraints identity politics present.
Avoidance is not the answer. “I think last summer taught us that as a society, we cannot go on avoiding difficult conversations,” Ahuja says. “We must learn to have these dialogues in a respectful way.”
Lee Merseth says it’s never an inappropriate subject to discuss, “at least when this refers broadly to people using group identities and group experiences to understand and respond to social, economic and political realities.”
It can go wrong, however, when “the conversation spirals into dead-end debates about the phrase itself,” Lee Merseth says. “Because the phrase itself can become a political distraction, it’s important to stay focused.”
Think before you speak. “I don’t need white celebrities telling me where I do and don’t belong – and the entitlement and self absorption and focus on some fantastical Asian dragging (McCain) from her ‘The View’ chair to take her place is kind of laughable,” Myung-Ok Leesays.
Educate yourself. Kondo suggests reading “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo and “How to be an Anti-Racist” by Ibram X. Kendi. “Try to avoid ‘aggressive white fragility’ in your reaction – (like) Sharon Osbourne, in her over-the-top response to the conciliatory and respectful Sheryl Underwood – making it about your defensiveness and hurt feelings rather than learning about structural violence and structural racism.”
Contributing: Savannah Behrmann, Ledyard King
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