Table of contents
In Martin Luther King Jr.'s final work, 'A Testament of Hope,' written in 1968, he emphasized the need for a continuously powerful political affiliation, believing that it could empower black opportunity. Despite significant progress since the Civil Rights Movement, this book highlights that there is still a long way to go before achieving a truly impartial society. From the roots of black poverty in slavery to police brutality against blacks, this article will explore the politics and racial disparities that have shaped America into its current state. While some may remain partially blind to these issues, systemic bias can be found in various aspects, from government assistance cuts to the criminalization of black individuals. However, amidst these challenges, a new black liberation movement is on the rise. This summary of 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation' by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor will shed light on how even Obama perpetuated the myth that black issues resulted from a flawed culture, how the concept of a 'colorblind' society conceals racial division, and what the Black Codes of 1865 entailed and how they led to black criminalization.
Unraveling the Misidentified Issues
Taylor discusses the misidentification of issues operating within the black community, which are often labeled as social problems rather than fundamental ones. The abolition of slavery during the Civil War in the southern United States was indeed a significant milestone. However, even almost a century later, President Lyndon B. Johnson recognized that "freedom isn't enough" and that equality was still lacking. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed under Johnson's administration, prohibiting racial or color-based discrimination. However, it failed to address deep-rooted issues like poverty and crime within African-American communities. The problem lies in attributing these issues solely to cultural deficiencies. Politicians like Republican Representative Paul Ryan and President Obama pointed fingers at the black communities, portraying their problems as a result of poor choices and a lack of work ethic. This narrative shifts the blame to black individuals rather than addressing the true causes of poverty and inequality. In reality, black poverty has been ingrained in American culture since the era of slavery, and this is the real issue that needs to be confronted. America's economy and democracy were founded on the exploitation of slavery to support industries such as cotton, sugar, rice, and tobacco. After slavery's abolition and the fight for civil rights, black suffering did not come to an end. For decades, black individuals have faced unemployment, underemployment, inadequate housing, and poor education. Furthermore, during the Nixon and Reagan administrations, social welfare programs were significantly defunded, which continues to impact black communities negatively to this day. Racism persists long after the Civil Rights Movement, fueling the emergence of a new black liberation movement.
The Dangerous Myth of a "Colorblind" Society
Chapter 2 delves into how politicians propagated the dangerous message of a "colorblind" society to advance their harmful agenda. Believing that any legislation passed by Congress could lead to a "post-racial" America is a serious misconception. This notion of a "colorblind" society denies the existence of racism that is still prevalent in America. Moreover, it serves a more significant purpose – to uphold a political agenda that keeps black communities oppressed. By asserting that racism is no longer an issue, it suggests that the real causes of poverty and unemployment lie within black culture and cannot be addressed through social welfare programs. The Nixon administration adopted this approach, implementing discriminatory economic policies that aimed to put the blame for poverty and crime on individuals and their choices. Nixon emphasized that these issues were beyond the scope of economic and social solutions, making it clear that ameliorative measures were not worth pursuing. Consequently, Nixon increased the country's police force, which disproportionately affected black communities, leading to a legacy of mass incarceration that continues to harm America's black population. While the government targeted all liberal organizations with increased police powers during the 1970s, black communities suffered the most. The next chapter will explore how the rise of a new black elite during the 1980s failed to halt the ongoing criminalization of the black population.
Real Change Eludes Black Politicians
Despite the advancements of black politicians, real change has failed to take place. One notable incident that showcased the persistent racial inequality in the United States was the death of 25-year-old Freddy Gray on April 19, 2015. Freddy Gray died from injuries sustained after being arrested and brutally beaten by Baltimore police officers. Gray was unarmed and not a violent criminal, yet he was stopped by the police merely because he was black and poor. This tragic event led to protests against Baltimore's city leaders, some of whom were black. Even with black politicians in prominent positions, the conditions among the poorest citizens remained unchanged. Since Carl Stokes was elected as Cleveland's mayor in 1967, becoming the first black mayor of a major US city, black politicians have made significant strides in politics. Cities like Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, and New York have been led by black mayors at various points, and Barack Obama became the first black president in 2009. Despite this progress, the system continues to be stacked against them, hindering efforts to uplift black communities. During the 1980s, the Reagan administration cut social program budgets, leaving city leaders without federal aid to combat poverty and unemployment in black neighborhoods. The political system has constrained black officials, resulting in no significant improvements in housing, health, poverty, and unemployment rates. This disillusionment with black leadership led to the emergence of a new era of activism.
The Criminalization of African-Americans
The legal and justice systems have perpetuated the criminalization of African-Americans. Although the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in 1865, Southern states found other ways to keep black populations in servitude. Black Codes were enforced in many places, restricting the freedom of black people. These codes were abolished in 1866, but the idea of limiting the freedom of black individuals persisted. Convict leasing became a means to exploit prison labor, enabling plantation owners and businesses to "lease" prisoners for day labor. As the Southern economy heavily relied on this workforce before the war, it continued to depend on convict leasing. By the turn of the twentieth century, the majority of Southern prisoners were black, and the situation was not much better in the rest of the United States. The black community faced double standards in the legal and justice systems. Black men were routinely arrested and detained without charges, while police failed to protect them from attacks by white individuals. This injustice has persisted over the years, as evidenced by the fact that black people are still ten times more likely to be arrested than individuals of other races. The next chapter will delve into the failure of black leadership and the rise of a new era of activism.
The Emergence of a New Era of Activism
The continued cases of police violence and the failure of black leadership launched a new era of activism. Many hoped for change with Barack Obama's electoral campaign and his eventual victory in the 2008 presidency. However, disillusionment arose when Obama's administration proved incapable of addressing systemic violence and racial inequality. After the 2008 financial crisis, which disproportionately affected black working-class communities, the unemployment level of black workers increased to over 13 percent. Despite this, Obama approved a bailout for the banks responsible for the crisis. The limits of Obama's power were even more apparent following the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012. The killer was not indicted for the murder, which sparked protests across the nation. Obama's reminders of living in a "nation of laws" were met with frustration, as the legal and judicial systems continued to work against the black population. This frustration gave birth to a new movement, initiated by community organizer Alicia Garza. The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter gained significant momentum, uniting protests against police violence and injustice. The movement garnered widespread support and inspired numerous activist organizations like Dream Defenders, BYP 100, Hands Up United, Ferguson Action, and more. This new generation of politically engaged black activists brings a fresh perspective to the black liberation movement, advocating for different political actions to achieve meaningful change.
Uniting Against Bigotry and Capitalism
The final chapter emphasizes the need to recognize the connection between bigotry and capitalism and unite the working class. Looking back at the fights during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, it becomes evident that the struggle for equal rights also entails fighting against the forces of capitalism that have oppressed black individuals. During the 1960s, there was a clear understanding of how capitalism led to hardship for the black population, while communism offered a potential alternative to improve society and race relations. It is crucial to recognize the deep-rooted connection between racism and capitalism. Capitalism relies on the exploitation of the many by the wealthy few, requiring a political system that justifies holding certain people down – hence the prevalence of racist ideologies. This exploitation further divides white and black working-class individuals, preventing them from joining forces against their common oppressors. When slavery ended, the concept of "racial oppression" emerged to unite the white working class with powerful industry leaders, solely based on their shared race. This united front upheld the ruling class. To bring about real and positive change, it is essential for white and black working-class individuals to come together and demand genuine transformation that the government cannot ignore.
In conclusion, understanding the history of black liberation is crucial for creating a truly equal society. The persistence of racism and inequality long after the Civil Rights Movement led to the emergence of a new black liberation movement. To effect meaningful change, it is vital to recognize the root causes of the issues faced by black communities, and to unite against systemic racism and capitalist exploitation. By acknowledging the past and working together, a brighter and more equitable future can be achieved for all.
- Taylor, K. Y. (2016). From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation. Haymarket Books.
- Obama, B. (2007). The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. Crown Publishing Group.
- Alexander, M. (2010). The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. The New Press.
- Du Bois, W. E. B. (1903). The Souls of Black Folk. A. C. McClurg & Co.
- Johnson, L. B. (1965). We Shall Overcome. Remarks at the Signing of the Voting Rights Act. Washington, D.C.
- Gilmore, R. W. (2007). Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California. University of California Press.
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