2016 is the Year of Identities

john a. powell

Director
This post is reprinted from a letter he penned for our Fall 2015 newsletter that was published in May 2016

THE ELECTION OF PRESIDENT OBAMA as the nation’s first African American president was heralded by many as the beginning of a new post-racial era in American life. Yet, in this final year of the Obama presidency, any pretense of a post-racial era must surely be discarded.

That is not to say that race matters more than it did before the election of Barack Obama, but rather that America has a less sanguine understanding of race than before. Many more Americans became aware of the presence of discrimination in American life as the shocking veil of police brutality was exposed and the protest movement spearheaded by the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter took root and began to shape discourse all the way up to those who would be our next president.

More Americans of all races acknowledge that race shapes life chances in ways that are not only unlawful, but inconsistent with our values and ideals. Even the Supreme Court, in upholding a part of the Fair Housing Act this past year (in an opinion citing a brief we filed on behalf of the plaintiffs), acknowledged the continuing role of race in this way and the persistence of segregation in our metropolitan regions. 

Some called 2015 the year of identity. As a nation, we not only developed a deeper understanding of race, but also the complexity of gender, sex, citizenship, religion, and more. If 2015 was the year of identity, 2016 may well be the year of identities.

We must now seek to understand not just the fluidity of identity categories and the role those categories play in our lives, but their interplay as manifested in our structures, culture, and society.  

The Haas Institute is perhaps uniquely situated to help us understand the intersectionalities that define group and individual life chances. One of our major focus areas, Othering and Belonging, provides a broadly inclusive framework for understanding how marginality manifests across the full range of human differences. Our affiliated faculty cluster members, researchers, initiatives, and projects explore these intersectionalities in critical ways.

Our forthcoming Inclusiveness Index report examines and measures nation states and US States by inclusivity along a range of dimensions, including gender, race, religion, and more. We are also exploring these intersections in terms of their potential for real-world engagement. One of our newest publications, “We Too Belong,” examines the inter-relationship of incarcerated populations and immigration populations, and promising practices at the state and local levels to promote inclusivity. 

Even as we work to challenge and transform structures that would marginalize immigrants, communities of color, religious minorities, people with disabilities, and many more, we must also remember that our work cannot be subjected to only the rhythms of the presidential election, however loud they might be. We must not only look beyond the election for deep social change, but we must also look locally and globally for opportunities to advance inclusive practices and to build networks for transformative change.

The end of the Obama era does not mean the end of hope, but rather a more realistic, and hopefully, stronger foundation from which to advance our work.

The ideas expressed on the Haas Institute blog are not necessarily those of UC Berkeley or the Division of Equity & Inclusion, where the Haas Institute website is hosted. They are not official and not of one mind. Thoughts here are those of individual authors. We are committed to academic freedom, free speech and civil liberties.