All posts filed under: BLM

Who Speaks for Black Lives Matter? The Answer Can Be Complicated

On October 2nd, the New York Times ran a profile of Hawk Newsome, the Bronx-based co-founder of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York. “At over 6 feet tall and 300 pounds, often wearing a bulletproof vest beneath his shirt and puffing on a Padron 1964 Anniversary Series cigar, Hawk Newsome is hard to miss,” wrote reporter Derek M. Norman. “When [he] is not speaking with the news media or organizing events, Mr. Newsome, 43, can be found at marches from Charlottesville, Va., to Minneapolis to New York City. ‘The first thing I do is open up my Bible to see what the scripture of the day is,’ Newsome told the Times. ‘If there’s anything I want back more than anything from before, it’s church. Every Sunday I’d go, twice.’” Aside from wearing a bulletproof vest, Newsome also rents multiple cars, so he can “switch them up because it’s safer and nobody could keep track of what I’m driving.” He also told the Times that when he attends protest events, “Usually, I’ll have one or …

The Prescience of Shelby Steele

I have long believed that race is a mask through which other human needs manifest themselves. I think we often make race an issue to avoid knowing other things about ourselves. ~Shelby Steele, Seven Days In Bensonhurst Shelby Steele is experiencing a revival. For over 30 years, the controversial black American essayist and culture critic has consistently produced some of the most original insights to be found on the precarious issue of race in America and has been met with reactions that range from reverence to revulsion. Usually, it’s one reaction or the other. To his critics, Steele is a race traitor, a contrarian black conservative who makes a living assuaging the guilty consciences of whites at the expense of his own people. To his admirers, he is a lone voice of clarity in the chaos of America’s racial discourse who, at 74 years of age, continues to speak uncomfortable and disconcerting truths to power. But his greatest strength may turn out to be a knack for anticipation. As the social upheavals inspired by America’s …

Radicalized Antiracism on Campus—as Seen from the Computer Lab

The campus battle over what I’ve previously called the equity agenda has recently shifted almost completely from a focus on gender to a focus on race. This has been accompanied by a series of surreal spectacles at the University of Washington in Seattle, where I teach. In the aftermath of the George Floyd protests, student activists have made new demands upon the school’s administration, while scathingly denouncing anyone they perceive as dissenters. Just consider our university president, Ana Mari Cauce—a Latina lesbian whose activist brother was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan. One would imagine that she’d command a certain level of respect from even the most puritanical social-justice enthusiast. But there is little evidence of that: Student protestors have marked the campus with slogans such as “Anti Black Ana,” denounced her as a “Poo Poo Pee Pee Head,” and a “white woman” (a term of abuse, obviously). The background to this is a petition containing seven demands put forward by the university’s Black Student Union, including a call to remove a statue of George …

Black Lives Matter and the Mechanics of Conformity

The death of George Floyd in May, circulated in a bystander’s excruciating video clip, reignited furious and sometimes violent protests demanding reforms to address police brutality against ethnic minorities. According to the Center for Police Equity’s 2016 report “The Science of Justice,” black Americans are disproportionately affected by the amount of force used against them by police, such as being tasered. Additional investigations have found that black suspects are more likely to be manhandled, pushed to the ground, handcuffed, threatened, or pushed against a wall during a police interaction than their white counterparts. Bias against the black community appears to extend in all kinds of directions, from the courtroom to the maternity ward, where black women are 10 times more likely than white women to have their newborn baby taken from them if they test positive for an illicit drug. The apparently inequitable use of force against ethnic minorities, meanwhile, has unleashed a torrent of emotion and allegations against police departments across the United States in the wake of Floyd’s death, spurred on by celebrities …

Anti-Racist Structuralists and Non-Racist Culturalists

As the long hot summer of 2020 draws to a close, many Americans may feel as though they are living through an unraveling: an uncontrolled pandemic, collapsing faith in public institutions, apocalyptic rhetoric, violence and looting, and—if the rhetoricians of Black Lives Matter are to be believed—a race war. The racial dimension of this crisis is particularly disturbing because Americans cannot agree on what racism is, still less how to oppose it. A new wave of activists insist that we must reject the approach adopted by the 1960s civil rights movement, best understood as non-racism. Non-racism encouraged integrated neighborhoods, inter-racial marriages, and equal opportunity in education and the workplace. It is what finally made Barack Obama’s presidency possible, 45 years after the March on Washington. Notwithstanding these advances, 38-year-old author and activist Ibram X. Kendi disdains non-racism because it is “neutral” and even illusory in the “racism struggle.” If you wish to oppose racism, he tells readers of his 2019 book How to Be an Antiracist, non-racism is insufficient: “The opposite of ‘racist’ isn’t ‘not …

Police Violence and the Rush to Judgment

In the days and weeks following George Floyd’s death in May, activists flooded the streets with placards and slogans to denounce racism and police violence. But the zeal with which they mobilized support for their cause frequently clouded complex issues and events that demanded greater scrutiny than conviction and piety provide. For partisans on social media, hearsay and rumor became grist to ideological mills and facts were only relevant if they were politically useful. An inquisitorial climate developed in which everyone was expected to take a side without unseemly hesitation. Are you on the side of social justice or are you on the side of racial oppression? Silence on this question is violence, we were told. As a result, a rush to judgment is disfiguring how we consume and understand reports of events unfolding rapidly in confusing circumstances. The political biases of the loudest voices may be obvious and their manipulations may be crude, but doubt and restraint risk accusations of callousness and racism, which is often motivation enough to declare one’s allegiance before the …

Will Corporate Social-Justice Initiatives Be More Than Just a Fad?

On June 16th, PepsiCo officials tweeted the details of their newly launched “Journey to Racial Equality”—a multi-part $400 million campaign that includes everything from “mandatory unconscious bias training” to adding “100 black associates to our executive ranks.” Previously, the company marketed itself with sunny slogans such as “Joy of Pepsi,” “The Choice of a New Generation,” and “For Those Who Think Young.” But its modern corporate mission, as announced in 2019, is far more ambitious, and requires Pepsi to “integrat[e] purpose into our business strategy and brands whilst doing more for our planet and people.” And while it’s not clear how selling sugary drinks and salty, high-carb snacks serves any particular purpose (except high profits), the company promises that its recent announcements are “only the beginning. Over the next few years, we will expand our pursuit of racial and social justice in communities around the world.” We’re committed to doing our part to help dismantle the systemic racial barriers that block social + economic progress for Black people in this country. Today we’re announcing a …

Exploiting a Woman’s Deadly Fall to Smear Toronto’s Police

A few years ago, when I did ride-alongs with Toronto-area police officers, I saw how much of their job involves dealing with mental-health and addiction issues. Most of the incidents these officers responded to were rooted in troubled households, and the protagonists typically were well-known to the arriving officers: an autistic adult son whose outbursts overwhelmed aging parents, a wife fearful of an alcoholic husband, an agitated elderly man who’d become convinced his neighbours were spying on him through his devices. Most of these incidents required therapists as much as (or more than) police officers. But since the threat of violence hovered over all of them, at least in theory, it was the police who got the call. As I wrote at the time, the officers mostly played the role of social workers with a badge. The stereotype of police as violent, poorly trained hotheads is sometimes borne out on YouTube, which now functions as a highlight reel for every bad apple wearing a uniform. But the reality—at least in Canada, where I live—is that …

Flannery O’Connor and the Ideological War on Literature

On June 15th, Paul Elie—a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and a frequent contributor to upscale magazines—published a 3,800-word essay in the New Yorker bluntly accusing the acclaimed Southern Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor (1925–1964) of racism. The essay, which has since gone viral, is ostensibly a review of Radical Ambivalence: Race in Flannery O’Connor, a new book by Angela Alaimo O’Donnell, an O’Connor scholar at Fordham University. O’Donnell surveys O’Connor’s two novels, numerous short stories and essays, and voluminous correspondence (most of which was published following her untimely death aged 39 of complications from lupus) and concludes that O’Connor was “a walking contradiction when it came to matters of race.” O’Connor’s dark and mordantly humorous fiction was written as the civil rights movement tore through the South dismantling Jim Crow during the 1950s and 1960s, and it frequently mocks Southern whites for their condescension and rudeness toward blacks. However, O’Donnell also argues that “racism” is the correct description of O’Connor’s privately expressed views about black people in …

The Piety of the Impious

Writing with not a little insight, commentators have observed a deeply intriguing dimension to the protests currently convulsing the United States: Percolating beneath the callow progressivism lies a kind of spiritual fervour, which animates a great swathe of the demonstrators. It’s not simply the case that some people have been driven by prior religious convictions to respond to the killing of unarmed African Americans by police; rather, it’s that much of the outpouring of grief, activism, and even violence triggered by the death of George Floyd is itself quasi-religious in character. Popular opinion holds that the United States remains a bastion of piety within the community of Western nations; although European states long ago settled into an easy secularism, the pulse of vital religion still beats strongly on the other side of the Atlantic. It’s true that the US remains an outlier in this regard, although the reality is far more complicated than common narratives suggest. Moreover, statistical evidence indicates that the country may be on the same trajectory towards secularisation as the Continent. But …