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  • From #BlackLivesmatter to Black Liberation by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
  • Adam Szetela
FROM #BlackLivesMatter TO BLACK LIBERATION. By Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor. Chicago: Haymarket Books. 2016.

Similar to Herbert Marcuse's An Essay on Liberation (1969), Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's latest contribution is a timely and much needed intervention. Both intellectually rigorous and accessible, From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation is a historical exposition of the conditions that contributed to the reemergence of Black radicalism in the United States. It is also a persuasive case that #BLM's fight against racism must also be a fight against capitalism.

In chapter one, Taylor looks at the mutually reinforcing ideas of American exceptionalism and "culture of poverty." Through a meticulous analysis of public policy and political rhetoric, she explains that the manufactured connection between Black poverty and Black culture allows conservatives and liberals to portray America as a country where anyone can make it. The oppression experienced by Blacks is imagined as a failure of the Black family and Black role models, not a failure of the state. This absolves the federal government from intervening through social welfare.

In chapter two, Taylor locates the emergence of "colorblindness" as a reactionary political theory. For Taylor, this "ideological tool, initially wielded by conservatives in the Nixon era to resist the growing acceptance of 'institutional racism' as the central explanation for Black inequality," denies structural racism and perpetuates a politics that blames Blacks for their own suffering (17–18). With a careful attention to Black history, [End Page 114] Taylor looks at the ways that this narrative became dominant in the late 1960s after the decline of the radical Black power movements.

Chapter three, "Black Faces in High Places," makes the convincing case that more Black people in positions of power will do nothing to alleviate the institutional racism that permeates America. As she historicizes the rise of Black politicians, police chiefs, and elites Taylor evinces the reality that this "progress" has not blunted mass incarceration, police brutality, the destruction of public housing, and other areas where Black Americans suffer disproportionality. Chapter four elaborates the specifics of "The Double Standard of Justice" that exists in America. While chapter five, "Barack Obama: The End of an Illusion" builds on chapter three with an examination of Obama's failure to address "critical issues facing African Americans" (19). Chapters six and seven look at the rise of #BLM under the first Black president as a sign that Black Americans are again embracing "institutional racism" as a schematic for understanding reality. They are also engaging in forms of activism that diverge from party politics.

A central strength of #BlackLivesMatter is Taylor's meticulous demystification of the meritocratic myth that pervades American culture and politics. Like Michelle Alexander and Cedric Johnson, she utilizes demographic statistics, rhetorical analysis, and comparative-historical analysis to illuminate the new guises of institutional racism. Most importantly, she targets not just conservative politicians, but liberals like Obama and Al Sharpton who propagandize American exceptionalism, "culture of poverty" narratives, and meagre reformist policies that can be assimilated into a political-economy of racism and class privilege. Taylor's intelligent rebuke of prominent antiracist author Tim Wise alone makes her book worth reading.

Ultimately, Taylor makes a compelling final argument that antiracist movements must also be socialist. Capitalism is a system that disproportionality exploits minorities, but it is also a system that exploits people of all races and ethnicities. For Taylor, police are the repressive state apparatus that recreates class power as it systematically disem-powers and persecutes the poor. As Black Americans are overrepresented among the poorer classes, it is unsurprising that they are disproportionality targeted at a higher rate than whites. Yet, while it is important to recognize these disparities, such differences do "not say much about who benefits from the inequality of our society" (212). For Taylor, a political-economy built on slavery, mass incarceration, the destruction of the social welfare state, and wage slavery—"the pivot around which all other inequalities and oppressions turn" (206)—will not be disrupted by Black elites who represent the interests of the ruling class. It will only be challenged by an intersectional politics that sees Black liberation as part...


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pp. 114-115
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