After Donald Trump’s presidential victory, many left-leaning politicians and commentators started considering what sort of message would help them regain political power. Given the clear racial subtext to the 2016 campaign—Trump stereotyped Mexican immigrants and Muslim families, and Hillary Clinton spoke openly about systemic racism—and who ultimately won, some concluded that Democrats should stop using so-called “identity politics” to try to win elections. The argument went that this approach would alienate some largely white swaths of the country that would be crucial to the party’s future electoral success.
If politicians heed this call, one potential result could be that they would move toward policies that direct attention away from race and instead focus broadly on economic mobility. The past 100 years, however, hold a few lessons about the consequences of enacting intentionally or unintentionally race-blind policies.