Activism undertaken under that name has contributed significantly to focusing public attention on patterns of police abuse and broader miscarriages of justice in the criminal justice system. However, from the perspective I indicate, extrapolations from that fact to broader claims that BLM is a substantial political movement are hyperbolic or aspirational. Birch and Heideman may operate with a different understanding of what constitutes a political movement. They seem to accept proclamation by the self-appointed spokespersons — including those who claim not to be spokespersons while obviously adopting that role — press releases, demonstrations and other staged events in the mass-mediated including social media pageantry of protest as adequate evidence.
Birch and Heideman say as much themselves:. The protests of the past two years are hardly the first to focus on questions of police violence or racism. And like many movements today, Black Lives Matter suffers from chronic volatility and organizational weakness. Contemporary protests have found broad support among liberals, black nationalists, socialists, clergy, politicians, civil liberties advocates, and urbanites…Of course, there are different ideological tendencies operating within the movement for black lives.
Broad acceptance of black ethnic politics, however, facilitates the very brokerage politics that many activists dislike about older black civil rights organizations. One signpost of this possible outcome is the growing fissure among activists over school privatization and futile attempts to reconcile those differences with romantic calls to black unity…Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrice Cullors gives a sense of this problem, when she says that she will continue to work with black neoliberals because of their common bond as blacks.
We can, in fact, agree to disagree. We can have healthy debate. The answer, steeped in circular reasoning, is the ones that Birch and Heideman want to believe are consistent with their transhistorical, preformationist notions of how movements grow. Prior to BLM, Occupy and, more cynically, the Tea Party were the most highly publicized illustrations of this phenomenon, which is similar to an ad agency approach to movement-building. The point of these performances is to project simulacra of popular insurgency, which then become justification for issuing press statements and manifestos and, depending on the mood of the moment and skills of the operators, being recognized as spokespersons for the fictive movement.
Proliferation of this Kabuki theater politics among leftists stems in part from the dialectic of desperation and wishful thinking that underlies the cargo-cult tendency; it is commonly driven by an understandable sense of urgency that the dangers facing us are so grave as to require some immediate action in response. That dialectic encourages immediatist fantasies as well as tendencies to define the direct goal of political action as exposing, or bearing witness against, injustice.
Occupy, for instance, proceeded from premises at least overlapping a tendency I have described as the Myth of the Spark, 20 the notion that single events or dramatic acts can in themselves galvanize mass mobilization. That was also the dream that too many enthusiasts crafted for themselves about the Sanders campaign. Fetishization of the power of social media feeds the fantasy that movement-building can be automatic and instantaneous.
That disposition is exacerbated in a context in which organizing as a project of deepening and broadening an actual base through building solidaristic relationships around shared interests is not part of an activistist culture in which radicalism is more posture and performance than strategic pursuit of a program.
From that perspective, one of the most revealing and chilling features of the BLM phenomenon has been the unself-conscious clarity with which Alicia Garza and other of its prominent personalities represent, and no doubt genuinely understand, crafting and projecting their individual personae as identical with advancing political objectives.
What we get instead are shopworn calls to distinguish the really authentic BLM voices — i. The only clue we have is that McKesson embodies the former.
Yet a year ago he embodied the latter! This kind of political differentiation grounded on claims to racial authenticity rehearses the product cycle in the hip-hop industry in the s, in which an act started out packaged as authentic or hardcore, attained success and became crossover and thence became a target against which those that follow proclaim their own real authenticity. Overestimation of the political significance of protest and a related, all too familiar problem of confusing militancy and radicalism contribute to exaggerating the significance of eruptions like those associated with BLM.
Militancy is a posture; radicalism is linked to program for social transformation, and protests do not necessarily challenge power relations at all. In some ways, as political scientists have pointed out for generations, they can validate existing power relations insofar as they appeal to established authority to accommodate their demands and pursue more effective incorporation into extant governing coalitions.
They show no knowledge or understanding of the relation of black political development to the growth of the large national, state, and local public-private anti-discrimination and diversity apparatus, or of the broader incorporation of black people into the various distributive regimes, market-based and not, that constitute and reproduce hegemonic neoliberalism. Granted, the Road Home is an extraordinary policy intervention, and this is a trivial illustration.
This sort of public-private, outsourced, marketized or semi-marketized activity is a node in an ever-expanding and reorganizing array of opportunity structures generated through neoliberalism and that contribute to its legitimation as everyday reality. People reproduce their material existence, not to mention pursue the entrepreneurial dreams that attest to the extent of Thatcherite ideological victory, through such nooks and crevices in the social administrative apparatus, whose public and private extrusions become ever more difficult to disentangle. The fact is that black people not only have access to these opportunity structures; they also participate in the processes that generate, shape, and legitimize them.
The black political regime that emerged out of contestation and negotiation over the terms on which the victories of the s would be consolidated institutionally was rooted from its inception in the dynamics simultaneously articulating market-driven pro-growth politics from the municipal level through national Democratic politics. Race-conscious black political discourse and practice, grounded on underclass ideology and a sharply class-skewed communitarian rhetoric of uplift and self-help 26 and racial redistribution — anti-disparitarianism — as the crucial metric of social justice helped to define the left wing of Democratic neoliberalism over the s and s.
Moreover, black people participate as active and committed agents in the processes of neoliberalization, public and private — charterization of public education, devolution and outsourcing of the social service sector, direct and indirect attacks on public goods and labor standards in the name of individual enterprise e. Any serious left critique of black politics has to take those dynamics into account and must proceed from examining the actual complexities and contradictions, including class contradictions, in contemporary black political life.
This is not simply a formal flaw. Those formulations impose an idealist coherence, what is in effect a racial supra-consciousness or the teleological equivalent of a vanguard party, that obscures the history of political differentiation among black Americans and its significance for understanding both past and present. This presumption that a deeper racial truth, constant across historical and social contexts, guides black politics requires diminishing the significance, and often enough necessitates the procrustean erasure, of the historical specificity of political dynamics involving black Americans at any moment in order to sustain the teleological narrative of fundamental continuity.
This problem and its counterproductive implications are apparent in the many versions of tortured analogy — e. As I have argued, a key effect of that commitment to race-first political interpretation is to shift the fulcrum of debate from examination of the discrete, contextually specific dynamics that reproduce inequalities to the label we must attach to them. Entrenched elites were often explicit in casting their class commitments in racial terms. In the run-up to the South Carolina primary, former civil rights movement icon and fifteen-term U.
Clyburn opposed it partly on the ground that, in expanding the options available to students, in this case black students, it would disrupt the captive market currently sustaining the tiny, fiscally precarious HBCU on whose board he sits. Lewis was more blunt and combative in expressing his commitment to neoliberal principles, attacking the very ideal of non-commodified public goods:. We all have to pay for something. Education is not free.
Health care is not free. Food is not free. Water is not free. Antiracist activists took another tack. In some instances, e.
Some interventions reasonably raised suspicions of Clinton campaign sabotage activity. The discourse of racial disparity is, when all is said and done, a class discourse. Even the best of the studies analyzing the racial impact of the crisis, for example, in focusing on racial disparity in subprime mortgage markets and foreclosure rates, sidestep a chance to interrogate the very limitations of the hegemonic commitment to homeownership altogether. More generally, automatic adoption of the racial disparities approach avoids having to conduct the detailed work that would situate ascriptive status within the neoliberal regime of accumulation that mitigates its influence.
Repetitiously noting the existence of segregated neighbourhoods and how they decrease property value real and perceived and increase the likelihood of subprime mortgage is to identify a result, albeit one that is surely repellent. Because those formulations diminish the significance of historically specific tensions and conflicts in favor of an idealized transhistorical truth of black politics, they generate no grounded criteria for evaluating differences among black political actors at any point in time.
Like Black Power and other nationalist discourses, the sole standard for judgment in this frame of reference is authenticity. To be fair, though, I should address some of the more original political and interpretive pathologies Birch and Heideman display. As many scholars have shown, moreover, no matter how prominent racialist tendencies may have been in emergence of regimes of durable inequality, they may be no more than marginally relevant for maintaining and reproducing, or undoing, those inegalitarian regimes.
Apparently they find that phrase deeply meaningful, as they repeat it several times in ways that suggest that it explains something. I believe they consider themselves responding to an articulation of my argument that race should be seen as one of a class of ideologies of hierarchy based on ascriptive differentiation, that is based on what people purportedly are rather than what they do.
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These ascriptive hierarchies mediate and manage regimes of stratification. From this perspective, race appears as a social category that has evolved to denote an especially durable kind of ascriptive civic status in the context of American capitalism and the political and ideological structures through which it is reproduced as a social order.
Although the race idea began to take coherent shape as a metric of hierarchy by the eighteenth century, in the ways we currently presume to understand it, both substantively and evocatively, race became fully delineated within a more general pool of discourses of ascriptive differentiation only in the middle to late nineteenth century. For much of that period so also was classification as a habitual criminal. The latter status seems to be making a comeback, led by the classification of sexual predator.
As a consensually commonsensical Other and who could even for a breath imagine not suppressing sexual predation, itself a usefully ambiguous and ideological category? The political and ideological work of stabilizing capitalist hierarchy that we now associate with race would be done by other categories of ascriptive differentiation that could appear all the more plausibly as natural because they had been shorn of a lexicon of race rendered less effective through successful contestation over time.
This is not an entirely fanciful possibility. It would be a realization of an ideal and social vision that has underlain a strain of black civil rights activism since the consolidation of the Jim Crow regime at the end of the nineteenth century. This purported refutation both misses the point and reveals more than its authors may intend. The foundation of my argument is that the active ingredient, as it were, that makes race a meaningful category of distinction among people is that it is a species of a genus of social hierarchies based on ideologies of inherent difference that define populations arbitrarily and mark them for assignment to distinct niches in systems of civic worth and entitlement.
As I also argue, ideologies of ascriptive hierarchy are most effective when they are naturalized and accepted as unthinking common-sense truth.
Successes in challenging racial and gender hierarchies over the past half century or more have rendered those discourses more contentious and thus less effective. Birch and Heideman make clear that they have no sense of racialization as a process and that they succumb to taxonomic fetishism regarding what qualifies for the race label.
Human Centered Design. Provisional Republic. The resulting Thermidorian Reaction shuttered all of the Jacobin clubs, removed all Jacobins from power, and condemned many, well beyond the ranks of the Mountain, to death or exile. In six departments no executions were recorded; in 31, there were fewer than 10; in 32, fewer than ; and only in 18 were there more than 1, Significant civil and political events by year. The left, sat on the highest benches, were known as the "Mountain".
The latter are plastic and evolve over time and context. It is possible to contend that only the familiar, phenotypically based taxonomy can qualify for the race label if and only if one reifies that historically specific taxonomy as reflecting an essential reality and accepts a primordialist — i. No amount of pro forma rehearsal of belief in social construction will make that move other than what it is.
No matter how elaborate, clever, absurd or heroic the efforts or how genuine and powerful the will to do so may be, it is simply not possible to square that fucking circle. It is genuinely difficult to find an appropriate way to characterize their extraordinary misreading of Walter Benn Michaels as a Beckerite. After much reflection on the question, the most charitable terms that come to mind are willful or dishonest. The likelihood that they collaborated on it conjures the image of Beavis and Butthead. No one except rabid neoclassical ideologues, and certainly not Michaels, believes that market forces will dissolve either discrimination or entrenched disparities on their own or denies that anti-discrimination measures, more or less broadly conceived as compensatory, are necessary to reduce those disparities.
That has been the thrust of a half century of civil rights enforcement at federal, state, and local levels. By absurdly linking Michaels and thereby me by implication to Becker, and by not addressing that history of civil rights enforcement, they apparently believe they can assert with a fog of bluster that mechanisms intended to smooth and enhance market dynamics are indeed — through a deep-structural relation that only they can see — challenges to market capitalism.
Come to think of it, willful and dishonest are not mutually exclusive.
Their contention that pursuit of asset-building strategies for black Americans to equalize the racial wealth gap is a radical anti-market intervention requires a claim that approaches the point at which fanciful crosses the threshold into stupid. They seem not to recognize that pursuit of economic equality through increasing household assets is about as far away from challenging capitalist market forces as can be.
It would be the equivalent of redistributing the chips at a casino crap table. One wonders what they think capitalism is and how it works, how it is reproduced on a daily basis. In addition, the issue of wealth disparities is more complex than they make out, and some apparent racial disparities stem from more complex sources. Here as well it may have been helpful if they bothered to engage with the arguments Chowkwanyun and I make about this issue.
They also resort to a really threadbare antiracist sleight-of-hand in adducing remedies for the wealth gap that can be and are pursued without any reference to anti-disparitarian ideology. I would be remiss not to take the opportunity Birch and Heideman provide to address the C. James cult in a public forum.