The Corner

Politics & Policy

Ayanna Pressley’s Ideological Phrenology

Rep. Ayanna Pressley at a House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Human Services hearing, July 10, 2019. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

Representative Ayanna Pressley (D., Mass.) is the fourth member of “the squad,” that four-headed hydra of congressional freshmen rattling the cages of Nancy Pelosi and her centrist cohorts in the Democratic party. Pressley is more Ringo Starr than Paul McCartney in the Squad’s internal hierarchy; compared to her outspoken co-cavaliers Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar (and, to a lesser extent, Rashida Tlaib), Pressley is an afterthought, the obligatory fourth member of the quadrangle in Congress’s lower chamber.

Even Ringo had a few singles; Pressley, too, has had moments that serve to justify her inclusion in “the squad” that, as if overnight, has become a proper noun.

Speaking at the NetRoots Nation Conference on Saturday, Pressley called on minority legislators to hew themselves to political opinions she deems appropriate for a legislator of their racial makeup, calling upon “brown” legislators to “be a brown voice” and “black” legislators to “be a black voice.” Her antediluvian remarks in full:

If you’re not prepared to come to that table and represent that voice, don’t come, because we don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice. We don’t need black faces that don’t want to be a black voice. We don’t need Muslims that don’t want to be a Muslim voice. We don’t need queers that don’t want to be a queer voice. If you’re worried about being marginalized and stereotyped, please don’t even show up because we need you to represent that voice.


A few layers to unpack here: if “brown/black faces” are compelled to be “brown/black voices,” and Muslims and “queers” are compelled to have “voices” that attend to their religious and sexual preferences, do the actual constituents who elected these individuals to public office get a “voice?” Or are they electing generic racial/religious/sexual “voices,” whose relative propriety as such is determined by Ayanna Pressley and supine approval of white liberals at the NetRoots Nation Conference? What even is a “black voice,” and who appointed Ayanna Pressley to decide?

Call it ideological phrenology, if you like: To be authentically black or brown, legislators must pledge their total and abiding obedience to Ayanna Pressley’s campus-radical flavor of politics. The new phrenologists, no less obsessed with racial purity and authenticity than the wooden-toothed clodhoppers they abhor, have simply replaced cranial measures with ideological ones.

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