This book is premised on the question of how and why the Black Lives Matter movement, arguably the most broad and successful black activism since the civil rights and black power eras, emerged during the tenure of the first black president, and what that can reveal about the prospects of building another sustained freedom movement in the United States. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor asks these questions to frame the book's larger purpose: to advocate for an independent, anticapitalist, socialist movement spearheaded by African Americans but based on intersectional solidarity among all of those victimized by the growing economic inequality and state repression in the United States. While this is not a work of academic history, Taylor's analysis and arguments are deeply historical, based on a comprehensive synthesis of the scholarship on the long civil rights movement and analysis of the structural origins of persistent racial inequality in the United States. She provides a thorough survey of the dismal economic reality lived by most black Americans, the dismantling of the welfare state and the corresponding rise of the carceral state, and never-ending state-sanctioned violence against minority communities—most visible through police brutality. Parallel to this story of ongoing and evolving forms of U.S. racial oppression is Taylor's demonstration of post–civil rights racial liberalism's failure to address that oppression. She pays particular attention to the evolution of “color-blindness” in American political discourse, which has allowed the erasure of public policies aimed at racial and class inequality and the unchecked rise in de facto racial oppression since the 1970s. Taylor blames the cultural arguments for black “pathology” that have dominated since the legislative victories of the civil rights movement for obscuring the ongoing structures of racial inequality. The book argues that these notions have gained particular purchase because they have been promulgated by the black establishment, the small minority of African Americans—President Barack Obama among them—who reaped the benefits of the twentieth-century black freedom movement. Taylor ends her book with a blueprint for black liberation. Based on her historically grounded reading of Black Lives Matter movement protests, she believes that the newest generation of African American activists are ideally situated to spur an independent, interracial, socialist movement, which will lay bare the ideological lies on which American society is based, and is the only way forward for African Americans as a minority group in the nation. This notion resonates with the thoughts and activism of so many other black leaders, including W. E. B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. The fact that Taylor starts her analysis with that point suggests that we may indeed be entering a new phase of black activism in the United States. However, only time will tell whether the novel and still-inchoate forms of organizing initiated by the Black Lives Matter movement will coalesce into a social movement up to Taylor's liberationist program. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Organization of American Historians. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Journal of American History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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