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Fri Aug 22, 2014, 06:49 AM


The Intentionality of Wedge Politics


Several months ago I received an email that I had imagined would come sooner or later: A GSAFE supporter informed me he was no longer going to support our work because we seemed to be losing our focus on LGBT youth. Because we had talked about the murder of Travyon Martin and Stand Your Ground Laws as an alarming safety threat to the lives of young Black boys and masculine people (including Black LGBTQ youth) and talk openly about race and white privilege in all of our work, we were seen as not being LGBT enough.


While these moments and patterns are frustrating, they are not at all surprising. Such binary either/or thinking is precisely the agenda promoted for decades now by the power elite, those in power who are devising strategies to maintain power and privilege for wealthy, white, able-bodied, cisgender, heterosexual people. It’s such an intentional divide-and-conquer strategy, it even has a name—wedge politics. Wedge politics are strategies intended to have a divisive effect on one’s political opponents by emphasizing issues that polarize opinions along racial or other demographic lines. Wedge politics have been used to prevent Black women from obtaining the right to vote along with white women during the Suffrage Movement, to prevent Indigenous people from exercising their treaty rights by pitting predominantly white environmentalists against Native Americans, to prevent Proposition 8’s repeal in California, and to create a divide in countless other examples of movements throughout history.

The hard thing to recognize is that we all play into wedge politics. White LGBTQ organizations often shy away from connecting LGBTQ rights and racial justice, many people of color-led organizations fail to include LGBTQ people and issues in their organizing, and many LGBTQ people of color avoid engaging in either community because of the pain that is often experienced in those spaces. While we have different reasons for responding in the ways we often do, it is important to realize that we are all doing exactly what the power elite wants us to do.


Recognizing the strategy of the power elite does not let us off the hook for falling victim to their tactics. We must look as deeply inward as we do outward to build effective solutions to the complex problems our communities face. If we will ever gain liberation for anyone, it must include full liberation for all of us. This requires us to understand the wedge strategy used to divide us so we can be conscious of the moments it seeps into our psyches. This requires us to be as intentional and strategic as the power elite around race and LGBTQ issues in our social change work, rather than just defaulting to what is comfortable, convenient, or reactive. This requires us to respect the intentionality of segregated spaces for people to develop their identities but not accept default segregated spaces that result from a lack of thoughtfulness and strategic thinking. Perhaps most important, this requires that we learn to really understand that all of these issues are interconnected and that we can understand this not just intellectually but on emotional, spiritual, and physical levels as well.

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