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Joe Biden: 'Equality is not a matter of "identity politics."'

The former VP shares an important message in the foreword of author Sarah McBride's new book.

Sarah McBride is a brilliant, accomplished woman with a brand-new book — and one very famous fan.

Actually, she has many famous fans, but just one wrote the foreword to her memoir, "Tomorrow Will Be Different." McBride is one of the most well-known activists in the fight for transgender rights. When she spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, she became the first out trans person to address a major party's political convention, and she currently works as the Human Rights Campaign's national press secretary. Before that, she worked for a man named Beau Biden.

Beau was the son of former Vice President Joe Biden and served as Delaware's attorney general from 2007 to 2015. McBride worked in Beau's office, earning the admiration of both generations of Bidens.


Sarah McBride addresses the DNC as Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) looks on. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.

In the foreword to McBride's book, Joe Biden shares his own story of growth, delivering a powerful rebuke to the idea of identity politics as political poison.

"As a country, we need to reject the false distinction between social inequality and economic inequality, for any barrier to good jobs, safe schools, or basic health care is inequality one and the same," writes Biden.

"As a nation, we must continue to ensure that the American Dream is available to all people. Our LGBTQ fellow citizens are service members and factory workers, teachers and doctors. They are patients and caregivers, family members and friends. Equality is not a matter of 'identity politics,' it is a human right, and an economic necessity for many of the most vulnerable in this nation, people whose lives, dignity, and security are on the line.

We are at an inflection point in the fight for transgender equality, what I have called the civil rights issue of our time. And it's not just a singular issue of identity, it's about freeing the soul of America from the constraints of bigotry, hate, and fear, and opening people's hearts and minds to what binds us all together."

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

There's confusion about the concept of identity politics — what it is and isn't.

In the wake of Donald Trump's election, a number of prominent media figures were quick to place blame on causes like Black Lives Matter, the fight for trans rights, and anti-racist and anti-sexist movements.

These causes were, to those critics, identity politics. Identity politics has become a catch-all term for causes that focus on how to help a specific group of people. It's often used pretty derisively and framed as shortsighted. Biden doesn't think that has to be the case.

10 days after the 2016 presidential election, The New York Times published an op-ed by author and humanities professor Mark Lilla titled, "The End of Identity Liberalism." In it, he scoffs at the thought that people on the political left should fight back against North Carolina's anti-trans HB2 bill, writing, "America is sick and tired of hearing about liberals’ damn bathrooms." He mocks colleges that take steps to accommodate trans and non-binary students, as well as the larger idea of "diversity issues." Lilla seemed to believe that progressives should abandon issues around race and gender altogether if they want to win future elections.

It's time to stop treating identity politics as the cause of our problems or an obstacle to progress.

Identity politics and political correctness are convenient scapegoats for society's ills.  Trump wins an election? Blame it on Black Lives Matter. People didn't laugh at a comedian's joke? Blame it on oversensitive trans people. It's a simple, lazy excuse for not dealing with the actual causes of society's problems.

Regarding North Carolina's HB2 — the example Lilla indirectly referenced in his op-ed — it's worth looking at what effect identity politics had on the state in the first election after that bill was signed into law. Going into his 2016 reelection bid, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory ran hard on the anti-trans law and argued that, if were it up to his opponent, trans people would be allowed to use whatever bathroom matches their gender identity (which ... honestly makes sense, right?).

Roy Cooper, McCrory's opponent, did run on repealing HB2. According to Lilla's thesis, this embrace of identity politics should have spelled doom for Cooper. Instead, he won. Better yet, he outperformed virtually every Democrat on the ballot.

In a state that voted for Trump, Cooper was able to knock off its incumbent Republican governor. It seems that it was because of his willingness to embrace so-called identity politics that he won, not in spite of it.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper addresses supporters on election night 2016. Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images.

Identity politics are important because many of our identities are under major attack right now. McBride's book highlights that fight.

As Biden notes, social inequality is economic inequality. If a trans man loses his job because of his gender identity, that's an economic issue. If a pregnant person is forced to carry a fetus to term and is stuck with thousands of dollars in unwanted medical bills, that's an economic issue. If institutional racism prevents a person of color from finding a job or buying a home, that's an economic issue.

Still, the fight to right these wrongs is too often brushed off as "identity politics" or as a purely social issue.

Empathy, not isolationism, is what will help us create a better, more just world. That's part of the false message of anti-identity politics crusaders: They suggest that these issues divide us. The truth is that you don't have to be trans to care about trans rights; you don't have to be black to believe black lives matter; you don't have to be an undocumented immigrant to care about DACA; you don't have to be disabled to care about disability rights; you don't have to have a uterus to believe in comprehensive sex education and reproductive rights. You just have to be a person who cares about other people.

McBride's book, especially for people who might have any trans family, friends, or acquaintances, is a good place to start if you're interested in building empathy.

Photo: Jason DeCrow for United Nations Foundation

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