Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Naming the four waves of fighting racism and sexism

It's easy to discuss the first three waves of feminism because the movement has had a single name since Charles Fourier coined the word in 1837. Feminists argue about whether there's a fourth wave of feminism—as you'll see below, I believe there is.

Opposing racism hasn't had one name. The first wave in the US was generally discussed as abolition or equal rights; the second, as civil rights, and the third, as antiracism. For convenience's sake, I will use "antiracism" to parallel "feminism", but remember it's ahistorical: the Oxford English Dictionary says the word first appeared in 1938, and it was almost never used before 1985, and it's less popular now than it was. Properly, it's the name of the third wave only.

1. Separate but equal.

First wave feminism and antiracism culminated in voting and property rights, but the law let the worlds of men and white people remain segregated. Employers could pay workers less because of their social identity, and businesses could treat customers worse.

2. Integration, or civil rights.

Second wave feminism and antiracism fought to end the impossible goal of "separate but equal" by ending unfair treatment in the work place, the market place, and schools.

3. Identitarianism, or social justice.

Third wave feminism and antiracism saw economic differences persist despite the victories of the first and second waves. Second-wave champions like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X blamed capitalism for that, but identitarians believed human nature was responsible. Much of their rhetoric, such as the idea that racism is America's original sin, came from churches, as did the religious concept of social justice.

4. Democratic socialism, or economic justice.

Democratic socialist feminists and antiracists see that social equality and economic equality cannot be separated, and that politicians' economic policies matter more than their social identity. The clash between the third and fourth waves is being played out now in the Democratic Party, as Clinton supporters from the third wave compete with Sanders supporters from the fourth. Clinton won the primary battle, and we won't know until the end of the month whether her supporters will win the battle for the leadership of the Democratic Party, but we know who will ultimately win: More young people voted for Bernie Sanders than Trump and Clinton combined — by a lot.