Notes: From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

My brief notes are below on Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation. If anyone hasn’t read this book, please, please read it.

I’m 42, and From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation is the best I’ve read for explaining and understanding where we all are in the world, the lies of neoliberalism, the problems of the past, the promise and potential for the future, and the need to imagine in order to be able to build a better world together. Normally, I blog notes on sections that I’m likely to quote; however, when the whole book is this relevant, this is complicated for notetaking. This post has been updated, and likely will have other updates as I process through this in my way. From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation is highly readable and incredibly important.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor. From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2016. Buy the book from Haymarket, and see their study guide.

Main boook pagination, for reference:

  • Introduction: Black Awakening in Obama’s America, 1-20
  • Chapter 1: A Culture of Racism, page 21-50
  • Chapter 2: From Civil Rights to Colorblind, 51-74
  • Chapter 3: Black Faces in High Places, 75-106
  • Chapter 4: The Double Standards of Justice, 107-134
  • Chapter 5: Barak Obama: The End of an Illusion, 135-152
  • Chapter 6: Black Lives Matter: A Movement, Not a Moment, 153-190
  • Chapter 7: From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, 191-220

3: “In fact, it is impossible to understand the intense policing of Black communities without putting it into the wider context of the decades-old War on Drugs and the effects of mass incarceration.”

23: “There are constant attempts to connect the badges of inequality, including poverty and the rates of incarceration, to culture, family structure, and the internal lives of Black Americans.”
Within chapter 1, covers the racist ideas that have been generated/wielded for racist policies for oppression/control. Reminds of Stamped. Speaks directly and immediately to the lies of the “culture of poverty” and calls it out for the truth of the US culture of racism.

25: “[I]deologies do not work when they are only imposed from above. The key is widespread acceptance, even by the oppressed themselves.”

35: On leftists who worked in federal government, who were extremely effective and who, per Storr “‘shared a commitment to building a comprehensive welfare state that blended central planning with grassroots democracy.'”

36: “In 1959, liberal anthropologist Oscar Lewis coined the term ‘culture of poverty’ to describe psychological and behavioral traits in poor people in underdeveloped countries[…] These were overwhelmingly psychological descriptions, highly malleable and certainly not endemic to the condition iof the people themselves outside of any larger economic context. […]The ‘culture of poverty’ in its original incarnation was viewed as a positive pivot away from ‘biological racism,’ rooted in eugenics and adopted by the Nazi regime.”

39: “The civil rights movement had much clearer targets in the South; the means of discrimination in the North, such as housing and job discrimination, were legal and thus much harder to change.”

45: “The Panthers, who were deeply inspired by Malcom X, linked the crisis in Black America to capitalism and imperialism. Racism could not be separated from the perpetual economic problems in Black communities. In fact, the economic problems of Black America could not be understood without taking account of racism.”

47-48: “A concerted effort continues to link Black poverty to Black culture and the Black family. As always, both conservatives and liberals make these arguments. It is not hard to understand why. There can be significant political disagreements between them, but the shared limits of their political imagination follow the same parameters as the existing society. They cannot see beyond that which exists. To really address [48] the systemic and utterly destructive institutional racism throughout the country would have two immediate consequences, both of which would be unacceptable to liberals and conservatives alike. The first would be to fundamentally undermine America’s continual efforts to project itself as the moral leader of the world. […] The second would be a massive redistribution of wealth and resources to undo the continuing damage.”

52-53: “colorblindness” as “not the benign, long-sought absence of ‘race’ from the legal strictures governing the United States. […] Instead, ‘colorblindness’ aided politicians in rolling back the welfare state, allowing Congress and the courts to argue that the absence of racism in the law meant that African Americans could not claim [53] racial harm.”

55-56: “silent majority” claim by Nixon. “In 1969, Nixon advisor Kevin Phillips wrote a book titled The Emerging Republican Majority, which essentially argued that elections are won by focusing on [56] people’s resentments.”

72: “Colorblindness is a critical weapon in the arsenal of the politically powerful and economic elite to divide those who have an interest in uniting to make demands on the state and capital to provide the means for a decent quality of life.”

117: in 1965: “Officials also focused on ‘professionalizing’ the police, whose profession at this point was not highly regarded.  The average salary for the police in small cities in the late 1960s was $4,600, lifting them just above the poverty line. In 1965, only four states mandated any police training, and more than twenty states did not have minimum education and literacy requirements. There was so little training that ‘barbers and beauticians, on average, were required to train more than and three times as long as the average American cop.’”

118: after explaining extensive work in the 1970s and 1980s for increased professionalization and diversification of law enforcement: “These dramatic changes in composition and professionalization have not had the effect of mitigating the tensions between police and Black communities.”

119: “The most diverse police forces in American history have not altered more than a century’s worth of violent, racially discriminatory, and unfair policing.”

119: “There have been three distinct periods of policing in the post-civil rights era, each building on the previous: Regan’s War on Drugs, Clinton’s crime regime, and the era of the ‘War on Terror.’ These overlapping periods have culminated in the phenomenon of ‘mass incarceration,’ including increased scrutiny, surveillance, policing, and imprisonment of all working-class people, but especially African Americans. […] As cities have become more financially independent from the federal infusions of money and have been forced to generate their own sources of income, the police have also become agents of gentrification, and municipal revenue collection. This transformation illustrates the degree to which law enforcement is an armed extension of the state, regularly wielded in the interests of the rich and powerful. It is well known today that the United States houses 25 percent of the world’s prisoners even though it accounts for 5 percent of the world’s population. In 1971 there were fewer than 200,000 inmates in the United States. Since then the prison population has risen by 700 percent, bringing the number of the incarcerated to 2.4 million, ‘with another nearly five million under an increasingly restrictive system of correctional control in lieu of or after incarceration.’”

124: “The social consequences of austerity budgets have effectively made the police stormtroopers for gentrification, as cities compete to attract businesses and young white professionals with disposable incomes. This is obvious from the new rules, ordinances, and laws that criminalize public displays of poverty. In more than half of the cities in the United States, it is a crime to sit on the sidewalk. […] In 43 percent of cities, it is illegal to sleep in a car.”

124: “’broken windows’ theory […] There is no empirical evidence for its effectiveness, but it has created a pretext for aggressive policing of poor and working-class people, who are more likely to be seen engaged in such ‘nuisance’ activities because their neighborhoods are more likely to be patrolled.”

125: CompStat

137-138: Obama speech on racism and race in March 2008; individual responsibility.

139: Katrina; Jena, Louisiana.

141: Oscar Grant

142: “Only half of the Blacks said Obama’s policies had improved the nation’s economic condition. For African Americans, Obama’s presidency had been largely defined by his reluctance to engage with and directly address the ways that racial discrimination was blunting the impact of his administration’s recovery efforts. Obama has not shown nearly the same reticence when publicly chastising African Americans for a range of behaviors that read like a handbook on anti-Black stereotypes.”

143: “There is something disingenuous in focusing on poor and working-class Blacks without any discussion about the ways that the criminal justice system has ‘disappeared’ Black parents from the lives of their children.”

145-146: “The Occupy movement, by contrast, would develop into the most important political expression of the US class divide in more than a generation. The slogan ‘We are the 99 percent’ and the movement’s articulation of the divide between the ‘1 percent’ and the rest of us [146] offered a materialist, structural understanding of American inequality. In a country that regularly denies the existence of class or economic inequality, this was a critical step toward making sense of the limited reach of the American dream.”

147” “The murder of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, in the winter of 2012 was a turning point. Like the murder of Emmett Till nearly fifty-seven years earlier, Martin’s death pierced the delusion that the United States was postracial.”

153: Ferguson (2014)

155: policing for revenue generation through fees in Ferguson

159: “The civil rights establishment had overlapping and competing goals.”

162: “The young activists were beginning to politically generalize form the multiple cases of police brutality and develop a systemic analysis of policing.” Relation to discussions outside of this on coercive control and crimes against liberty (kidnapping, controls on personhood).

163: “politics that could not be constrained by a narrow agenda of voter registration or a simple electoral strategy.”

165: “Black women have been central to every significant campaign for Black rights and freedom.”

165: “Across the United states, 1.5 million Black men are ‘missing’—snatched from society by imprisonment or premature death.”

175: Barbara Ransby quote, and Asha Rosa on “the need to be not only radical but organized”.

176: “In some ways, this decentralized organizing can actually narrow opportunities for the democratic involvement of many in favor of the tightly knit workings of those already in the know.”

178-179: NGOS

181: “there is also a danger of submerging reforms that are attainable now into a much broader struggle to transform the very nature of American society.  In other words, fighting around the demand to be ‘free’ does not clarify the steps it will take to achieve that goal. Demanding everything is as ineffective as demanding nothing, because it obscures what that struggle looks like on a daily basis.”

182: [reform] “Those are the building blocks that can lead to larger and more transformative struggles. In the process, people in the movement develop politically, gain experience and expertise, and become leaders. It is impossible to conceive of leaping from inactivity to changing the world in single bound.”

182: “narrowing the demands of the movement in order to retain focus does not mean narrowing its reach.”

183: “The best example of this involves the struggle of low-wage workers to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.  Twenty percent of fast-food workers are Black and 68 percent of them earn between $7.26 and $10.09 an hour.”

186: “The challenge for the movement is transforming the goal of ‘freedom’ into digestible demands that train and organize its forces so that they have the ability to fight for more, the movement must also have a real plan for building and developing solidarity among the oppressed.”

187: “In the contest to demonstrate how oppressions differ from one group to the next, we miss how we are connected through oppression—and how those connections should form the basis of solidarity, not a celebration of our lives on the margins.”

193: Quoting Harry Belafonte Jr. on integration: “’We have fought hard and long for integration, as I believe we should have, and I know that we will win. But, I’ve come to believe we’re integrating into a burning house.’”

194: “The fires consuming the United States are stoked by the widespread alienation of low-wage and meaningless work, unaffordable rents, suffocating debt, and poverty. The essence of economic inequality is borne out in a simple fact: there are 400 billionaires in the United States and 45 million people living in poverty. These are not parallel facts; they are intersecting facts. There are 400 American billionaires because there are 45 million people living in poverty. Profit comes at the expense of the living wage. […] The struggle for Black liberation, then, is not an abstract idea molded in isolation from the wider phenomenon of economic exploitation and inequality that pervades all of American society; it is intimately bound up with them. ”

194: “Black liberation is bound up with the project of human liberation and social transformation.”

195: “King himself had come to locate the crises confronting the United States in the ‘triplets’ of racism, materialism and militarism.’”

200: “Specificity always helps to illuminate the issues.”

200-201: unpacks critiques over the left and who is in it and goals of struggle, with, 201 “the least charitable way to describe these debates is to reduce many differing political viewpoints and organizations into the generic category of ‘class reductionist leftist activist.’”

205: “At the height of McCarthyism, socialists and communists were so identified with the antiracist movement that antiracist organizing was automatically assumed to be the work of communists.”

211: “The poverty rate among working-class whites has grown from 3 percent to 11 percent since 2000.[…] This does not mean the experience of whites and people of color are equal, but there is a basis for solidarity among white and nonwhite working-class people.”

214: explication of false arguments that “reduce these real issues to an abstract accusation of ‘privileging’ class over race.”

215: “Instead, the concepts of solidarity and unity are reduced to whether or not one chooses to be an ‘ally.’ “There’s nothing wrong with being an ally, but it doesn’t quite capture the degree to which Black and white workers are inextricably linked. It’s not as if white workers can simply choose not to ‘ally’ with Black workers to no peril of their own. The scale of attack on the living standards of the working class is overwhelming. […] In this context, solidarity is not just an option; it is crucial to workers’ ability to resist the constant degradation of their living standards. Solidarity is only possible through constant struggle to win white workers to antiracism, to expose the lie that Black workers are worse off because they somehow choose to be, and to win the white working class to the understanding that, unless they struggle, they too will continue to live lives of poverty and frustration, even if those lives are somewhat better than the lives led by Black workers. Success or failure are contingent on whether or not working people see themselves as brothers and sisters whose liberation is inextricably bound together. Solidarity is standing in unity with people even when you have not personally experienced their particular oppression.”

216: “No serious socialist current in the last hundred years has ever demanded that Black or Latino/a workers put their struggles on the back burner while some other class struggle is waged first. This assumption rests on the mistaken idea that the working class is white and make, and therefore incapable of taking up issues of race, class, and gender. In fact, the American working class is female, immigrant, Black, white, Latino/a, and more. Immigrant issues, gender issues, and antiracism are working-class issues.”