The black freedom struggle has entered a more radical phase ever since the murder of George Floyd and the thousands of street-level protests that followed. According to Gaye Theresa Johnson and Alex Lublin, in their edited book, Future of Black Radicalism, “Black radicalism refers to demands and articulations of freedom by Black activists, artists, and intellectuals on behalf of everyone’s freedom.”
Radical protests by blacks have centered on demands such as paying poverty wage workers a living wage, defunding the police, reinvestments in education, urban infrastructure, black communities, and local economies, guaranteeing access to quality and affordable housing, healthcare for all, environmental justice, and ending food insecurity.
In response to black radicalism, the right has intensified its long-standing opposition to the black freedom struggle through denying the reality of systemic racism and opposing the expansion of social safety net programs such as Obamacare that blacks also happen to disproportionately benefit from. Targeted attacks on black’s voting rights through tactics such as mandating photo ID’s, shortening the days for or the elimination of early voting, and defending felon disenfranchisement flow from the same anti-black playbook.
Republican lawmakers believe that stroking anti-blackness by, for example, linking the progress made by some blacks in the post-civil rights era to the declining social and economic status of working- and middle-class whites is key to rallying white support for their candidates and capturing and maintaining state power. Their broader goal is to paint white Americans as the primary, if not sole, victims of open borders, so-called “reverse racism,” and the decades-long growing trends of social and economic dislocation caused by the out-migration of industries due to globalization, austerity cuts to critical government programs, and neoliberal economic policies embraced by office-holding elites in both political parties.
Republicans embrace racist policies while denying that they will have a racist impact. Tapping into the latent forms of anti-blackness that always bubbles near the surface throughout American society is key to their strategy.
The current fixation on critical race theory and the 1619 Project are two of the most recent examples of how Republicans strategically use anti-blackness to stroke white’s deeper fears of broader demographic and cultural shifts occurring in America. The National Republican Senatorial Committee recently conducted a poll, finding that although it ranks below the economy, taxes, government spending, and energy policy, CRT angers many people in its mostly white base. Although most Republican voters have no idea what CRT is, the party plans to use it to rally support for their candidates during the 2022 midterm election (along with other cultural wedge issues such as the rights of transgender athletes and the so-called attacks on Christianity).
Black radicalism is a threat to the status quo. The reason for this is because the black freedom struggle has always been and continues to be an effort to abolish all forms of oppression, not just that which is experienced by black people. Black radical protests and the demands being made by such groups as Black Lives Matter is the continuation of black’s centuries long challenge to white supremacy and racial capitalism.
Given what’s at stake, the extreme right-ward shift of the Republican Party to counter black’s demands for freedom should come as no surprise. Those who defend white supremacy will continue to organize and assert their political influence and power and so too must those who want to end all forms of oppression.
Black freedom is freedom for everyone.