Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor is a longstanding International Socialist Review columnist. This book is a small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution, which begins by charting the similarities and significant differences between the civil rights movement and the current #BlackLivesMatter (BLM).
In a concise, readable text, Taylor traces BLM to its under-credited LGBTQI San Francisco activist origins. In the first two chapters she provides new insights on the systematic racist exclusion of African Americans from the 1930s New Deal – which was why President L B Johnson had to concede civil rights, welfare and housing acts in the 1960s in acknowledgement that black people were made poor by institutionalised white privilege and racism.
Taylor highlights today’s US as the product of the historic legacy of internal containment and control applied most brutally to African Americans and
Latino/as. She gives a detailed analysis of its racial and class origins in chattel slavery, Jim Crow racism and the exclusion of Chinese labour, as well as the conquest of the west through ‘manifest destiny’ expansion and stripping Mexico of its richest states. In doing so, she subverts the standard view of anti-black violence being a ‘southern’ thing, and is clear on the material roots of inequality and violence at state hands as a systemic and multi-faceted poverty issue.
Taylor highlights the failure of black middle-class empowerment and office-holding to end institutionalised racism for the working-class majority or to stem the death toll. Her analysis helps explain why, after 50 years of civil rights integration, African Americans are still unequal, despite thousands of black officials in city halls, courthouses and sheriff offices. Quite simply, they are second-class citizens and they know it, which is why BLM is a powerfully anti-systemic movement.
One by one, Taylor traces the origins of concepts such as ‘culture of poverty’, family breakdown and so on – and demolishes them as examples of ideological reaction against the threat of civil rights to establishment power.
Finally, she uses a Marxist analysis to link race and class, taking up Martin Luther King Jr’s demand for ‘radical reconstruction’ of America against the triplet of ‘racism, materialism and militarism’. She sets up her case for a socialist approach, arguing that we have ‘entered a new period of black protest, black radicalisation and the birth of a new black left’.