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Bernie Sanders said back in 2016 that identity politics distracts from what he felt were the more pressing issues of economic inequality and dismantling of organized labor. Why, then, is the legendary black feminist scholar Barbara Smith — who helped coin the term “identity politics” — casting her lot with the Vermont senator’s 2020 Democratic presidential campaign? “I think he’s obviously changed. That’s manifested in the kind of campaign he has run,” says Smith, who points to the diverse, grassroots, multiracial coalition that has rallied behind Sanders. “He has the plans. He has the passion and the compassion. He has the base of support, which is much more diverse than I think any of the other candidates at this point.” Smith criticizes the way the term “identity politics” has become distorted from the way its original coiners, the Combahee River Collective, first theorized it: Not as a means of creating division, but as an ethical basis for building coalitions.
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