by Jaime-Jin Lewis.....
Four weeks ago, I sat next to Ivanka Trump at a bar. It was her 35th birthday and she was celebrating with a few cocktails and a small group of friends at a Mexican restaurant near my house. (The irony of the restaurant being Mexican is not lost on anyone.)
I was enjoying a drink with two friends when the server pointed out our odd company. I contemplated saying something but in the end never did. In part, this is because I am a Liberal in the New York City bubble who didn’t take the Trump candidacy seriously, and I didn’t see Ivanka or her father as a threat to me, until it was too late.
If I had known then, what I know now – that her father would win, that 53% of white women would vote for him, that she would be the reason for this, and that he would go on to stack his staff full of first wave misogynists – I would have been more likely to speak up.
But, what do you say to Ivanka Trump?
Ivanka Trump poses a dilemma for women and for feminists, which is precisely her job. On one hand, she is clearly an ambitious woman trying to succeed within a hyper-patriarchal family, to put it lightly. On the other hand, she represents a dangerous ideology – one that is sympathetic to sexism and misogyny and de-legitimizes calls for structural change, particularly from those less privileged.
In this election, she activated an entire segment of women that came to be known as the “Ivanka Voter.” This segment, while perhaps rightfully concerned by economic issues, was able justify a campaign that demonstrated blatant hostility towards Black Americans, Latinx Americans, Muslim Americans, Americans with disabilities, queer and trans Americans, and people like themselves: ambitious women – specifically women under whom he had direct power. Activating this segment under the guise of righteous feminism and supporting “women who work,” Ivanka succeeded at ushering in a regime that is bent on rolling back decades of progress for women’s rights.
This trope is not new; it’s sometimes called the wedge and it is not unfamiliar to me as an Asian American. A wedge is a member of a marginalized group who is offered some of the perks of privilege in exchange for further denigrating other marginalized groups and upholding the power structure of the dominant group. Asian Americans have been strategically used by white people in positions of power to deny the existence of structural racism and pit us against other communities of color. We have been labeled the “model minority” and are propped up as proof of the American Dream and to trumpet the absence of racism in our country.
In the end, however, wedges never receive the full protection of privilege. We are required to cut out key pieces of our identity – from language to culture. Only the parts that concede and assimilate are accepted, as long as they're useful to maintain the status quo. While this can be beneficial to in the short run, it is damaging to ourselves and those whom we’re pitted against in the long run. It prevents groups of people with common interests from working together to create the real types of social and economic change we need.
As an Asian American, I refuse to be the wedge dividing Asians from other people of color and upholding white power structures. As a woman, I refuse to perpetuate the wedge between white and wealthy women, and women of color, low-income women and trans and nonbinary people. I refuse to tacitly endorse structural sexism, glass ceilings, cat calls and non-consensual grabbing of any sort.
I am lucky that I get to work everyday at Caring Across Generations, a campaign that brings together hundreds of thousands of working women, aging Americans, and professional caregivers (who are predominantly immigrant women of color) to build a new system of caregiving in this country. My team knows the importance of not creating wedges in our organizing, advocacy and culture change work.
All of us are sewn together by multiple identities, including race, class, religion, ability, age, education level and geography. It is critical in this moment to examine where we might be a wedge unknowingly and uphold a status quo that isn’t inclusive of all people. This doesn’t mean we have to be silent about the challenges and struggles we face. We should identify the root causes of these challenges and work alongside others who share our struggles to undo them.
Almost three weeks after the election, I am still not sure what I would have said to Ivanka that night at the bar. If I had an hour of her undivided attention, could we have co-strategized ways to use her position to call out the tacit objectification of women? To fight for the most vulnerable in our society rather than criminalize them? To not accept the fleeting guise of protection as the wedge for the real work of creating justice and equity for everyone?
What I do know is that I don’t have the luxury of staying silent – as I did that night – and being used as a wedge for the four years to come.