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Radical Black Feminist Pragmatism
Scholars Maneesh Arora, Christopher Paul Harris, Sidney Tarrow, and Deva Woodly discuss Woodly’s new book on Black Lives Matter
January 20, 2022
In this special issue of Public Seminar, New School professor of politics Deva Woodly presents her new book, Reckoning: Black Lives Matter and the Democratic Necessity of Social Movements (Oxford University Press, 2021), and leading scholars share their responses.
“Reader, I was never under any impression that the election of Barack Obama would usher in a so-called post-racial society, but I did think, ‘We have come so far.’ I did hope that it would be the beginning of something good, the clearing of a path forward, the sign that the American polity might be ready to become what it had always claimed to be. But the next eight years showed that this hoped-for future had not arrived after all.” In this excerpt from Reckoning, Deva Woodly retraces the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer and the emergence of the movement that would become known by the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. (January 17, 2022)
Today, the Black Lives Matter movement’s key accomplishments include new policies around the country that attempt to hold police more accountable. But as Maneesh Arora notes, policy change is only part of the larger transformation the movement is working toward: “The national and regional chapters of the formally organized Movement for Black Lives emphasize eradicating white supremacy, engaging in “cooperative economics,” and developing a more just society among other goals that are not primarily policy focused.” (January 18, 2022)
“For every movement towards racial justice in American history, there has been an often violent and usually more powerful counter-movement. This is what occurred in the wake of Reconstruction, when a coalition of Democratic Party officials and white thugs in capes and hoods destroyed the rights that African Americans had won after the Civil War. It also occurred in the wake of the civil rights movement of the sixties, when a coalition of small government conservatives, anti-tax supporters of private academies, and outright racists came together in a New Right coalition to challenge and eventually insert itself in the Republican Party.” Sidney Tarrow makes the case for a cautious approach in evaluating the movement’s successes. (January 18, 2022)
Christopher Paul Harris considers the challenges of growth and what “post #BlackLivesMatter” movement should look like. “In noting the ways M4BL has innovatively intervened in American political life through the ‘re-politicization of the public sphere,’ and the possibilities this opens for the future, as Woodly does in her book, we must also take stock of why 2020 ended up being a watershed moment for a different kind of reckoning. This reckoning, a series of ruptures years in the making, saw organizers in the M4BL ecosystem, along with those observing from beyond, conclude that the movement, as represented by the M4BL constellation of leaders and groups, had lost its way.” (January 19, 2022)
Finally, Deva Woodly responds to the commentaries of Arora, Tarrow, and Harris, and invites us to look past perceived dichotomies. “This movement works in both cultural and policy spaces. The world as it is requires applying creative pressure at multiple sites, if the movement is to transform the existing structures of power and privilege in ways that lessen suffering and restrain domination. Dismantling of white supremacy, racial capitalism, and heteropatriarchy only underlines the necessity for diverse modes of creating political energy, both through the pressure of protest, and the persuasive power of concrete policy proposals.” (January 20, 2022)
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