More than a moment: what did Black Lives Matter achieve?

Issue: 175

Nadia Sayed

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement of 2020 was arguably the most inspiring movement against racism in recent decades.1 It represented the largest social movement in the history of the United States and forced discussions about racism onto the agenda globally.2 However, two years on, the legacy and significance of BLM are increasingly contested. Unsurprisingly, the right has retaliated against the movement with an ideological and political backlash aimed at undermining and repressing it. Yet, criticism has also come from some on the left; for instance, black US scholar Cedric Johnson has argued that BLM is essentially a bulwark for neoliberalism, and former Black Panther Elaine Brown has dismissed BLM as merely a slogan rather than an effective movement.3

This article seeks to defend the movement’s achievements while also considering some of its weaknesses and tensions. It addresses the history and character of BLM and highlights specific debates that have emerged in the struggle that pose strategic and political questions for the movement.

There is no doubt that the 2020 BLM movement rapidly and dramatically shifted the political terrain around issues of racism. For example, just one month after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota sparked the movement, polls recorded a major shift in opinion in the US, with the number of people saying that racial and ethnic discrimination is a big problem jumping from 51 percent in January 2015 to 76 percent (including 71 percent of white people) in June 2020.4

The movement also achieved one of its primary stated goals: the conviction of Derek Chauvin, the white police officer who killed Floyd. In June 2021, Chauvin was sentenced to jail for 22 and a half years—quite an achievement given the long history of US police officers escaping punishment for violence against black people.5 However, the impact of the movement went far beyond the specifics of the Floyd case. BLM influenced all areas of social and political life, including sports, culture, education and corporate activity. Though the scale of mobilisations inevitably declined, their impact is still felt in a renewed confidence to challenge racism in many spheres of public life.

The intensity of the backlash to the movement is testimony to the extent to which the establishment feel threatened by BLM. The US state deliberately manipulated the legal system to ensure Black Lives Matter protesters received harsh prosecutions under federal laws.6 In Britain, the Conservative Party government responded to BLM with the report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, a discredited document that denies the existence of institutional racism.7 The Tories have also increased repression against protesters through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, which threatens ten-year jail sentences for destroying statues—a direct response to BLM protesters toppling a monument to 18th century slave owner Edward Colston in Bristol.

The right’s response to the movement is not just greater repression, but also comes in the form of ideological attacks. From the Tories’ invocation of “culture wars” and criticism of “wokeness” to their attempts to deny the existence of institutional racism, the impact of the BLM movement can be seen in the need felt by the political elite and right-wing forces to challenge its arguments and seek to reverse its gains.

A global movement

The BLM movement of 2020 began in the US but the demand that black lives should matter resonated across the world, often reflecting injustices specific to geographical contexts. Huge protests erupted in major cities across France, Italy, Spain and Germany. Demonstrations in France highlighted the history of racist police murders there, particularly the case of Adama Traoré, a man of Malian descent who died of asphyxiation in police custody in much the same manner as Floyd in 2016.8 In Spain and Germany, the focus for many of the mobilisations was similarly racism and police violence. In New Zealand, where black people of African heritage are less than 1 percent of the population, BLM protests brought together black communities of African and Caribbean heritage alongside Indigenous peoples such as the Maori and Pacific Islanders, along with white New Zealanders. This movement forced the government to scrap its plans to trial arming the police.9

Although this article will focus on the US and Britain, which saw the biggest mobilisations outside the US, it is noteworthy that the movement was not limited to white-majority countries. The anger and frustration at the murder of Floyd resonated across the Global South, including in many African countries, where people are all too familiar with police violence. The biggest protests in Africa were in Kenya and South Africa. Smaller protests happened elsewhere, for instance, in Accra, Ghana, and Kampala, Uganda, both ending with arrests and repression.10 This ongoing experience of repressive policing provoked criticism of the hypocrisy of Moussa Faki Mahamat, chair of the African Union, when he condemned the Floyd killing.11 His critics pointed out that, although policing in African nations today may not foster racism in the same way as under colonial domination, police continue to terrorise and inflict violence on local populations.

The origins of Black Lives Matter

When Chauvin knelt on the neck of Floyd for over nine minutes, his actions reignited a movement that had its origins in the anger that followed the acquittal of George Zimmerman in July 2013. Zimmerman was cleared of second-degree murder and manslaughter under the now infamous “Stand Your Ground” statute, having killed the unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.12 Many African Americans saw their sons, brothers or friends in Trayvon Martin, including the activist Alicia Garza. On 13 July 2013, Garza posted “a love letter to black people” on Facebook, ending with two phrases: “Our Lives Matter” and “Black Lives Matter”.13

Garza’s friend and fellow activist Patrisse Cullors turned the second phrase into the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. The two pushed out the hashtag on social media but also plastered the three words on windows and walls of businesses and shops.14 Garza and Cullors were later joined by Ayo Tometi (known at the time as Opal Tometi), a writer and immigration rights campaigner. Initially, the hashtag was little known. In the second half of 2013, for example, #BlackLivesMatter appeared on Twitter just 5,106 times—approximately 30 times a day.15 The BLM hashtag came to prominence on social media only when the movement on the streets took off. It would be the death of yet another teenage African-American, Michael Brown Jr, that would give birth to the #BlackLivesMatter movement itself.

Brown was shot in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014 by white police officer Darren Wilson, only for his body to be left on the street for four and a half hours, with his parents denied access by a police force equipped with dogs and guns. The treatment of Brown and his family immediately triggered protests in Ferguson, which the police met with a militarised response. Armed with tanks and machine guns, officers launched teargas and rubber bullets at protesters. However, instead of dispersing demonstrators, the violence against the mostly young #BlackLivesMatter protesters created a national movement, with protests spreading across the US.16

Between August 2014 and August 2015, one-sixth of US cities with populations above 30,000 saw Black Lives Matter protests, with their sizes ranging from a few hundred to several thousand. Cities where there had been a recent police-related death were much more likely to see demonstrations. Some 9 percent of cities without a police-related death had at least one BLM protest that year, compared to 44 percent of cities with at least one police-related death, and 60 percent of cities with at least one police-related death of a black person.17 This is in contrast to the 2020 BLM movement, where the protests were much more widespread and even took place in many areas without direct experience of police killings.

The BLM movement was sustained in the weeks and months that followed the killing in Ferguson by further events that fuelled anger against racism. First came the decision to clear Brown’s killer of all charges. This was delivered on 24 November 2014, only two days after 12 year old Tamir Rice was shot and killed by a white police officer in Cleveland, Ohio. An upsurge in protests was matched by social media interest, with #BlackLivesMatter used 1.7 million times on Twitter in the three weeks that followed.18 Then, on 3 December 2014, came a decision not to indict police officer Daniel Pantaleo and his accomplices after they killed Eric Garner with a chokehold on the streets of Staten Island, New York.19 Mobilisations continued following the Garner decision, but young people also took the protests into their schools and colleges. Thousands of students took part in marches, die-ins, walkouts and direct actions across the US. Even when protests were no longer a daily occurrence, people returned to the streets under the banner of BLM each time there was another murder of an African American by the police, as well as to commemorate the first anniversaries of the deaths of Brown and Garner. By the time Freddie Gray was killed by police in Baltimore, Maryland, in April 2015, BLM held national attention in the US.20 Throughout 2016, local demonstrations continued, with a national wave of protests triggered by the police killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in St Anthony, Minnesota, just a day apart from one another.

BLM also enjoyed a small but significant international response, with solidarity protests being held in various countries. The biggest were in Britain in summer 2016. Hundreds took to the streets in London, Birmingham and Manchester, where the protests coincided with the fifth anniversary of Mark Duggan’s shooting by the London Metropolitan Police.21 Smaller protests also took place in cities such as Cambridge, Bradford and Liverpool.

After 2016, the initial wave of BLM protests in the US subsided; arguments and divisions over strategy were largely left unresolved, and this in turn further weakened the movement. We will return to some of these strategic issues after considering the second wave of BLM.

The return of Black Lives Matter

The experiences of African Americans—not just at the hands of the police, but also more generally—would continue to worsen in the years following the emergence of the first BLM movement. Millions of people fell below the official poverty line during US president Barack Obama’s terms in office.22 Not only did Obama continue the George W Bush administration’s efforts to deregulate finance, but he also capitulated to pressure from the private health industry over healthcare reform, greatly limiting the potential of the 2010 Affordable Care Act.23 By the middle of Obama’s first term, household incomes were already 4.1 percent lower than when he first took office in 2009.24

After Obama, the deterioration in living conditions reached catastrophic levels with the Covid-19 pandemic under the Republican presidency of Donald Trump. Coronavirus exposed the brutal reality of class and racial inequality. Though African Americans make up only 13 percent of the US population, they accounted for about 22 percent of those who contracted Covid-19 and 23 percent of those who had died from it by May 2020.25 Some 44 percent of African Americans reported having lost their jobs in the lockdown, with 73 percent of those lacking the funds to weather this hardship.26 It was in this context that footage of Floyd being brutally killed by police triggered the new BLM uprising in summer 2020. “It’s either Covid is killing us, cops are killing us or the economy is killing us,” Priscilla Borkor, a 31 year old social worker who joined BLM demonstrations in Brooklyn, New York, told Time magazine. Her words summarised the feelings of many black Americans.27

Footage of Floyd’s last moments on 25 May 2020 was watched over a million times around the world, and protests were rapidly organised in Minneapolis, where the killing had occurred. Protests in Memphis, Tennessee, and Los Angeles, California quickly followed. Over the next few days, the protests spread—14 additional cities joined the BLM rallying call on 28 May, with protests at another 49 locations on 29 May and another 88 by the month’s end.28 Within a week, the movement had grown far bigger than those following both Ferguson and Baltimore six years earlier.

As days turned to weeks, protests continued to spread. Young people led and dominated the mobilisations; the biggest age cohort among protesters was those aged 18-29 years.29 By 2 June, the National Guard had been activated in at least 28 states in order to disperse the growing BLM rebellion, though with little success.30 Hundreds of demonstrations were being seen each day across state lines and in different cities, with turnouts ranging from a few dozen to tens of thousands.31

The protests were also far more diverse than previous BLM mobilisations, with significantly larger numbers of white people joining protests. White people made up 54 percent of protesters in Washington DC, New York City and Los Angeles.32 There was also significant participation from people with other backgrounds: 11 percent of protesters were Asians and Pacific Islanders, 7 percent were Latinx, and 8 percent were of other “non-black” ethnicities.33 Mobilisations were not limited to large urban areas but also spread to smaller, more conservative, predominantly white communities.34 Some 26 million people across 2,500 towns and cities were estimated to have participated in BLM in 2020. This included small towns and suburbs such as Bethel, Ohio, with a population of just under 3,000, where protesters answered the BLM rallying cry for the first time.35 Norwood, Colorado is another example; activists from this overwhelmingly white town of just 550 people joined the movement with a candlelight vigil for the victims of racist police violence, despite there being none known there.36 The vigil was attended by more than 40 people.

Britain saw similar shifts in the scale and composition of protests. Within days of Floyd’s death, protests began in London. The first was in Peckham, South London, on 30 May, with hundreds of locals marching. The following day, thousands marched through Central London from Trafalgar Square to the US Embassy in Battersea. Many carried homemade placards and banners. Hundreds also gathered in Manchester and Cardiff that day.37 These initial city centre mass protests were not directly organised by any single group, instead being initiated and publicised by individuals organising through social media. That lack of organisation was reflected in the first protest in Trafalgar Square, where there were no speeches, no stage, no focus—just a shared mood. People took the knee together before chanting began from the crowd, and then a march started.

More protests developed swiftly across Britain. The biggest weekend of protest took place on 6-7 June and saw activists in more than 160 towns and cities demonstrate, whether marching or simply taking the knee.38 Activists in London expected 20,000 people to march that weekend—but the turnout was several times higher.39 Big cities, including Manchester, Glasgow and Bristol, saw marches in the tens of thousands; smaller places, from Colchester to Carlisle, saw hundreds participate.40

Much like the US, what really showed the movement’s reach was the smaller towns, villages and rural areas that raised the BLM banner.41 By mid-June 2020, more than 200,000 people had protested in villages, towns and cities across Britain.42 Protests in the Welsh market town of Haverfordwest typify many of the smaller local protests that sprung up. There, 60 people initially gathered to take the knee and read out the names of black people killed by the police in both Britain and US, also giving space for local black residents to raise their own demands.43

Although the protests across Britain were about Floyd and in solidarity with the movement in the US, they did not limit themselves to these issues. The anger that drove the protests was also about the experience of racism in Britain. Protesters took up the cases of black people who had died in custody and highlighted deaths as a result of institutional racism. In particular, the movement demanded justice for Congolese rail worker Belly Mujinga and drowned 12 year old Somalian child Shukri Abdi.44 As in the US, the context for the British protests was the pandemic and the disproportionate deaths of people from black and minority ethnicities. The BLM upsurge also took place in the context of the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire in London, in which 72 people were killed after a fire in a council-owned high-rise spread through the building due to flammable cladding. The majority of those who died were people of colour and the tragedy exposed fault lines of social class as well as institutional racism in housing.45

BLM reached beyond the streets into other areas of life in both the US and Britain. In the US, sports stars took the knee before games and wore BLM T-shirts at National Basketball Association, National Hockey League and National Football League (NFL) matches. Protests quickly turned into boycotts, led by the Milwaukee Bucks, who cancelled a basketball match in response to the police shooting of 29 year old Jacob Blake in Wisconsin in August 2020.46 One sign of the growing power of BLM was the changing treatment of NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was kicked off his team and blacklisted when he took the knee against racism in 2016; in 2020, he became a lauded symbol of BLM and the fight against racism in sport. In Britain and elsewhere, professional footballers took the knee before matches. This brought a direct clash with the Conservative Party government in Britain, which refused to condemn football fans who booed at England players taking the knee.

Other industries also felt the pressure to respond to BLM, most notably Hollywood followed by film and television more generally. The revival of interest in the Black Power movement of the 1960s led to the 2021 release of Judas and the Black Messiah, a film focusing on the revolutionary Black Panther Fred Hampton. In Britain, the BBC rescreened black historian David Olusoga’s Black and British: A Forgotten History series, alongside new content on racism, resistance and black history. The ripples of BLM fed into Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series, featuring key events in black British history such as the campaign over the Mangrove Nine case in 1970, which saw Caribbean residents of Notting Hill residents falsely charged with inciting a riot, and the Brixton Uprising of 1981. Meanwhile, after right-wing historian David Starkey commented that slavery was “not genocide” as there were “so many damn blacks in Africa or Britain”, his content was buried by broadcasters such as the BBC, and he has, rightly, been dismissed from his honorary posts at Cambridge and Canterbury Christ Church Universities.47

The upsurge in struggle was also accompanied by a growing readership for books on racism. Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility: Why it’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism and Ibram X Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist topped Amazon’s bestseller list.48 Popular books varied greatly in political outlook, reflecting the diversity of the movement. They ranged from the pessimism of DiAngelo’s arguments to the more critical discussion of identity-based politics featured in Asad Haider’s Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump and Emma Dabiri’s useful intervention in What White People Can Do Next: From Allyship to Coalition.

Under pressure from the movement, big firms, including some multinationals, felt compelled to take up the slogans of BLM—although many activists criticised their hypocrisy. Amazon was among those challenged for repeating BLM slogans despite remaining silent about racism under its own roof.49 Only a few weeks before Floyd’s death, Amazon fired an employee of African American heritage who raised Covid-19 concerns about the company’s facilities.50

During the initial upsurge of protest, the BLM movement also began to penetrate sections of the organised working class. Most impressive in the US was the example of the 2020 Longshoreman Strike that marked Juneteenth, the anniversary of the end of slavery.51 The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) called an eight-hour shutdown in protest against police violence and racism.52 In Oakland, California, 10,000 dockers and their supporters marched to one of the main ports to hear from trade union activists, community leaders, and the activist and writer Angela Davis (who would be made an honorary member of the ILWU the following year).53 Though nothing on this scale was seen in Britain, BLM did have a noticeable impact on rank and file trade union members, with over a thousand trade unionists from around the country participating in an anti-racist conference in February 2021, which was jointly organised by the Trade Union Congress and Stand Up To Racism.54

The vibrancy and self-activity of the BLM movement was remarkable. However, no movement can be sustained simply through continued street mobilisations, and eventually these declined. For activists, this posed the question of how to take the struggle forward. In the US, the struggle became largely subsumed by electoral campaigns to kick out Donald Trump, a point discussed below. More generally, as mobilisations declined, arguments and tensions within the movement came to the fore. The remainder of this article will consider these debates.

What role can white people play?

The considerable involvement of white people in the 2020 BLM movement marked a significant shift in the US. However, although this increased participation was welcomed by many who saw the diversity as a strength, others responded by questioning whether white protesters could be trusted or their support was merely “performative solidarity”.55

The dismissal of white people’s involvement in the movement reflected a tendency to see racism as stemming from “whiteness”, with white people viewed as privileged relative to others or as part of a system of “white supremacy”.56 In such views, white people are often seen as inescapably racist and universally beneficiaries of racism. These arguments, sometimes given a materialist cover, often stem from privilege theory—a theoretical tradition rooted in a strand of identity-based politics, which began gaining influence in the US in the 1980s and 1990s.57

One limitation of this approach is that it confuses the symptoms and experiences of racism with its root causes. So, in this view, institutional racism can be understood to persist because it is predominantly white people with privilege who occupy positions of authority.58 The strategic implication of this position is that replacing white people with “black faces in high places” should diminish racism. However, despite a huge expansion in the number of black judges, elected officials, police officers and police chiefs in both the US and Britain over recent decades, the experience of black people at the hands of these institutions has been largely unchanged. It is the system itself that is structurally racist, rather than white people being oppressors simply by virtue of their “whiteness”. From its inception as a justification for the Atlantic slave trade to its ongoing use as a tool of divide and rule, racism has been hardwired into capitalism, playing an important role in perpetuating the system. This is why capitalism can tolerate black people in positions of power, so long as its basic structures and institutions are left intact and continue to operate for the benefit of a profit-making minority over the overwhelming majority.

It is this profit-making minority, the capitalists, who are the real beneficiaries of racism. They use racism to drive down conditions for all. Black people and minorities suffer the most, but the wages of all tend to be depressed by racist divide and rule.59 By dividing workers, racism weakens their collective strength as a class. This was recognised by Karl Marx in 1870 when he described the racism and antagonism towards Irish workers in Britain as “the secret of the impotence of the English working class” and the “secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power”.60 For Marx, despite all the strengths of the working class at that time, it was fundamentally weakened by the divisions between workers that were deliberately inflamed by the capitalist class through the propagation of anti-Irish racism.

If workers are to fight back effectively, overcoming racist divisions is an urgent necessity. Commenting on the American Civil War against the slaveholding Southern states in an 1866 letter, Marx celebrated workers in the North grasping that “labour in white skin cannot emancipate itself where black skin is branded”.61 According to the Marxist approach, white workers are not simply “allies” acting out of altruism; white working-class people have a material interest in combating racism alongside the rest of their class.

A welcome development in recent years has been the growth of a current of opinion arguing that white people have a role in the fight against racism beyond allyship. For instance, as noted above, Dabiri’s book on this subject has been read widely. There, Dabiri argues that concepts of allyship project guilt and passivity onto white people, and that we should instead look to coalition building.62 This opens the door for the Marxist argument. Of course, claiming that workers have a shared material interest in challenging racism does not mean that Marxists believe all workers are automatically anti-racist, let alone immune from racist attitudes. However, it offers a better basis on which to seek to break them from racist ideas.

Doubting the solidarity of white people (and sometimes other ethnicities too) who join anti-racist protests can weaken the force of the movement. This has been seen historically in black nationalist strategies that suggest all white people gain from racism or are inherently racist. In arguing for the unity of interests of all black people, black nationalists have often obscured class divisions among black people. The Los Angeles riots of 1992 help illustrate the limits of black nationalist analyses. The class divisions among black people were plain to see in the days following the acquittal of the police officers who violently beat African American Rodney King. In Los Angeles itself it was a black mayor, an incoming black police chief and the black chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Colin Powell, that made the decision to send troops against the young people taking to the streets during the riots. In New York, it was the intervention of black politicians, alongside black community leaders such as Al Sharpton, that prevented people from joining protests in support of the Los Angeles uprising. Both interventions show the divergent interests and actions of the black middle classes and the vast majority of Black workers.63 History shows that not all people who experience racism have the same interest in fighting it.

Arguments about the role of white people have played a significant role in BLM. For instance, attempts to organise around the 2016 BLM protests in London stalled, in part, due to extensive internal debates about whether Asian and white people could have any organisational role in the movement.64 Yet, the fight to end racism should not fall only on the shoulders of those who face racism. Not only would this be impractical in the US, where black people form a minority of the population, and even more so in Britain, but it would also mean black people denying themselves access to the power they have as part of the wider working class.

Defund the police?

Faced with opposition from the establishment, different attitudes to the state have emerged within BLM, with some activists trying to find channels to work within the existing state and others trying to challenge it from a more radical standpoint. These divisions can be seen in the debates over the question of whether to “defund” the police.

Police violence has been a recurring theme in black liberation struggles. From a Marxist perspective, the main role of the police is to protect capitalist interests. This is why crime is largely defined as something that poor people do, even when far more serious violence and injustices are carried out by the rich and powerful. As part of a racist capitalist state, the police are institutionally racist, and this influences policing strategies as well as their individual and group behaviour.65 This leads to over-policing of poor and predominantly black areas, and the racial profiling of black men in particular. Harassment and violence from the police are thus often the most direct daily interaction black people have with the state, so it is unsurprising that police violence has become a flashpoint for black resistance.

“Defund the police” became one of the main slogans on the streets in 2020, stimulating widespread debate about what defunding would actually look like. The demand also took on different meanings in different contexts. In the US, the slogan could be taken quite literally, as city authorities control police budgets and therefore have the power to divert police funds to areas such as housing, education and welfare, which is a point discussed below. In Britain, by contrast, the majority of police funding comes from central government, making it difficult to simply divert funding from one area to another.66 Nonetheless, the slogan resonated in Britain as an expression of anger at the persistence of police racism, later feeding into the response to the government’s Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Act.

In the US, many anti-racist activists had already reached the conclusion that merely having more black police officers and more implicit bias and inclusivity training was insufficient to stem police racism. Such measures had already been in place in the US since the Obama administration, yet the changes to policing promised after the first wave of BLM protests made no difference to the behaviour of officers or the experience of black people. In fact, Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed, was widely seen as having a modern, diverse police force and as a model for Obama’s reforms.67 It was led by its first black police chief at the time of the murder.

It is unsurprising then that the movement on the streets generated such a potentially radical demand, which went from debates among circles of militant activists and academics to being discussed in the mainstream during the protests.68 However, that does not mean that most of US society was persuaded by the idea of defunding—let alone abolishing—the police, and the movement was not united on what changes to the police should look like in practice.69 For many activists, wanting to see the police stripped of funds came from a growing recognition that the police cannot be reformed and an awareness that the criminalisation of poor people and black people does nothing to address social problems. The demand from many activists was therefore that funds should be channelled away from police budgets into addressing health, housing and welfare instead.70 The call to defund the police is, however, somewhat ambiguous; those deploying the slogan within BLM straddled a spectrum from calling for total abolition to asking for a limited budget redistribution.71 This ambiguity was reflected in how wider society saw the demand. A poll in the wake of the initial 2020 protests found that around 77 percent of Americans understood “Defund the Police” to mean changing the way police departments operate, with only 18 percent understanding this as a demand to abolish the police.72

Some activists argued against the slogan of defunding the police altogether, claiming it was not realistic or desirable without more fundamental change, and instead advocating for a version of community control over policing.73 There are problems with this approach—most fundamentally that it leaves the role of the police in society largely untouched. Additionally, no “community” is homogenous, including that of black people, so who decides who represents and speaks for “the community”? The demand for “community policing” was also sufficiently vague for many politicians to get behind it, including members of the current US Democrat administration.74 Joe Biden’s administration has, though, run scared of the more radical “Defund the Police” slogan, keen to reassure the establishment that the Democrats are “tough on crime” and to stave off Republican critics who have used the issue in their attempt to stoke a culture war.

Biden made clear in his 2022 State of the Union speech that he is against “defunding the police”, repeating his slogan of “funding the police”. This was an ideological intervention—the police are not actually under any practical threat, with police budgets overall increasing across the US in the preceding year.75 In a sign of how far the official BLM movement has become entwined with the Democrats, Biden’s dismissal of defunding the police met no official opposition from the main BLM organisation in the US.76

In a number of US cities, Democratic mayors did temporarily scale back police budgets in the wake of the 2020 protests, but these cuts have now largely been reversed. Biden’s administration has been vocal in supporting this reversal, for instance, by backing San Francisco’s mayor, London Breed, who announced at the end of 2021 that she was restoring the police budget in order to launch a “crackdown on crime”.77 One lesson from US cities that did reduce police budgets is that removing funds in isolation from wider social and economic change renders the strategy useless in challenging racism. In Seattle, for example, council members backtracked on an initial pledge to cut the police budget by half but did cut it by 18 percent in 2021. However, this reduction had little effect on the functioning of the police department, which managed the cuts by moving expenditure such as parking enforcement out of the police budget. There was no noticeable improvement in the lives of black and ethnic minority communities in the city, who were disproportionately affected by the same authority’s cuts to affordable housing and transport.78

Corporate funding

I return below to the issue of the relationship between BLM and the Democrats, but attempts to influence the movement do not just come from political parties. They also came with the funding that flooded into the movement at its high points, handed to organisations in the form of donations and grants. In the first two months following the murder of Floyd, more than $5 billion in corporate funding was pledged to organisations for racial equality.79 Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation (BLMGNF), the largest BLM organisation in the US, received over $90 million in 2020.80

Although many within the BLM movement questioned the motives of corporate sponsors, a section of the “official” US leadership embraced black entrepreneurship as a strategy and were encouraged by this corporate support. This reflects wider debates, for example, about prioritising support for black businesses as a method for challenging racism. BLMGNF has for several years called for support for a “Black Xmas”, a period when BLM supporters are encouraged not to buy from white-owned business and instead #BuildBlack (that is, build black-led organisations), #BuyBlack and #BankBlack.81

The long history of corporate funding of black liberation struggles is highly controversial.82 Clearly the movement can obtain much-needed money to sustain campaigns and projects but this inevitably comes at a price. Companies and foundations get two things in exchange for their funding. First, it publicly aligns them with the cause of racial justice without them having to commit to any actual structural change in their own organisations. Second, it allows them to influence the direction of the movement. A prime example of the latter is the role of the Ford Foundation, one of the largest donors to black organisations in the US, which announced in late 2020 $330 million of funding for anti-racist projects for 2020-1.83 This follows historical controversy, dating back to Ford’s efforts in the 1960s to use financial sponsorship to channel Black Power toward “community development” and “black capitalism”, and away from more radical political actions.84

Similarly, charitable, political and corporate funding was used in the early 1960s to try to steer the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee towards voter registration programmes and away from more radical and confrontational activities.85 Earlier, the Garland Foundation had been used to try to shift the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People away from its focus on racist violence towards less confrontational educational work.86 It should be noted, funding was not the only influence on the movement’s direction at the time; there was also a political dynamic internal to the black liberation struggles pushing in this direction, particularly after the class struggle approach to civil rights that typified the 1930s was wiped out by McCarthyism.

The long history of corporate attempts to influence liberation struggles led many activists to warn against corporate funding following the murder of Floyd.87 For example, Lisa Simpson, mother of Richard Risher, who was just 18 when he was shot dead by police in Los Angeles in 2016, criticised the official leaders of BLM in the US for losing sight of the fight for justice and for prioritising funding over principles, arguing: “Black Lives Matter has made this into a money game. Everybody is about money”.88

Alongside the direct influence corporate funding can exert, there is also a more pernicious way in which it influences the movement by “professionalising” the struggle. This encourages a form of activist careerism that pulls key activists away from radical and grassroots activism, exerting a pressure to stay “respectable” in order to win further funding.89 Of course, community projects and movements will always need funding, but activists are right to ask who is funding which organisations, at what cost, and who decides what is done with those funds.

The Democrats and incorporation

When faced with powerful challenges from social movements, the ruling class often responds with both repression and attempts at co-option. Writer and activist Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor notes that an important element of the Obama administration’s response to the first wave of BLM was an attempt to divide it between “pragmatists” and more radical elements, using funding and political patronage to bolster this approach. Even while blocking meaningful measures to tackle racism, the Obama administration was keen to be seen to be engaging with activists, commissioning reports and channelling the desire for change.90

The Democratic Party has a long history of absorbing the energy of social movements and incorporating struggles for black liberation. In spite of its history as the party of slaveholders and then segregationists, the Democrats today secure the vast majority of votes from African Americans, putting them in a key position to subsume sections of anti-racist struggle for their own electoral agenda. This transformation can be traced back to a phone call from John F Kennedy, then Democratic presidential candidate, to Coretta Scott King in 1960 as her husband, Martin Luther King Jr, sat in a Georgia jail. The Democrats sought to absorb the energy of the civil rights movement, winning over black voters by appearing to relate to it. In reality, the Democrats and the Kennedy administration treated the demands of the movement as a nuisance, showing no real commitment to challenging or upsetting the segregationists within the party, who continued to violently oppress black people in the US South.

Signed into law in 1964, the Civil Rights Act is often presented as having naturally flowed with the priorities of the Kennedy administration. In reality, Kennedy was forced to act after a desegregation campaign in Birmingham, Alabama, was met with the dogs and firehoses unleashed by the city’s police commissioner, Theophilus “Bull” Conner. Outraged at the police brutality, which included attacking children, there was a major struggle from the black community between May and June 1963. The Kennedy administration’s response was twofold, involving the carrot and the stick. First came the stick: sending federal troops to attempt to enforce a plan for phased desegregation agreed between more conservative civil rights activists, the courts and the local elite. Second, some weeks later, would come the carrot, as Kennedy announced on television his support for the Civil Rights Act.91 However, this endorsement was cynical; Kennedy hoped to de-radicalise the “March on Washington” organised by civil rights leaders for August 1963.92

Lyndon B Johnson, who assumed the presidency after Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, would continue his predecessor’s project of attempting to co-opt and contain the civil rights movement—in particular by hiring its most militant and experienced leaders, and channelling activists into state-sponsored community projects. Frustrations at the slow pace of change was one of the key factors in the rapid growth of the Black Power movement at the end of the 1960s, with a series of black urban uprisings across the US and many black activists breaking from the Democrats. The new attitude was summed up by leading Black Panther party member Kathleen Cleaver in 1968: “What the black community needs is real political power—black power for black people—and that will never come through the Democratic Party”.93

The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, founded in Oakland in 1966, rapidly becoming the most prominent radical black liberation organisation of the era, famous for organising open armed self-defence against the police and racists. The Panthers faced massive state repression, including the murder and imprisonment of many of their leaders. However, the establishment also responded to the growing challenge of black rebellion by attempting to create a buffer between the black urban poor and the state, funnelling cash into community programmes, bolstering the growth of black businesses and seeking to incorporate a layer of black people into the state machinery. As the movement slowed and recession hit, this approach also aligned with the interests of a growing layer of black middle-class activists who were again looking to the Democrats. The huge increase in black voters in the 1960s also increased black representation; the numbers of black state officials more than tripled between March 1969 and May 1975, and a wave of black mayors and police chiefs were elected for the first time.94

The integration of a layer of black people into political life continued as politics shifted to the right with the election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980. This period also saw increasing political polarisation among black people, including the emergence of a minority of black conservatives.95 In a number of cities, newly elected black-led administrations oversaw the implementation of brutal economic attacks, as well as the embrace of the idea that black poverty flowed from a “black culture” of guns, gangs and drugs. Many of the progressive activists looking for a way to resist Reaganism were pulled towards Reverend Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition, seeing it as a potential grassroots movement for change. For Jackson, however, this was an attempt to change the Democratic Party from within, effectively creating a liberal caucus within the rightward moving party.96 Jackson would subordinate the potential mass activism of the Rainbow Coalition to his presidential election campaigns, and the Democratic machine was, anyway, able to stifle the most radical elements of his programme.

The creation of a black elite in the US has been described as one of the most significant transformations of black life in the last 50 years, culminating in the election of a black president.97 Yet, as US academic and activist Cornel West has argued, the “black faces in high places” strategy has failed to provide concrete improvements for the majority of black people in the US.98 This argument has important implications for BLM today.

The first wave of BLM was stalled in part by incorporation by the Democrats under Obama. However, a second dynamic was also at play and fed into this. As the movement began to lose momentum at the end of 2016, it shifted away from mass actions towards more secretive actions by small groups which, due to their nature, were more vulnerable to arrests.99 As this continued, some activists rebuked others for their unwillingness to make “sacrifices”, pushing these same demoralised activists further down the road of working with the establishment.100

During the second BLM wave, the movement came under significant pressure to get behind Biden in the presidential elections and to subsume all struggles into the push to remove Donald Trump from the White House. When Biden installed Kamala Harris, a woman and person of colour, as his vice-presidential running mate, it was met with great excitement among many progressive activists. However, as US socialists Iannis Delatolas and Clare Lemlich argue, this was an attempt to have it both ways for the Democrats by “appealing to the right in policy terms, but simultaneously attempting to co-opt the anti-racist movement into the Democratic Party”:

Harris is the first woman, black and South Asian person to hold the position of vice president—not insignificant in a US context. However, the Democratic Party is less concerned with representation and more with taming Black Lives Matter.101

Harris openly opposes defunding the police, a position entirely consistent with her record of being “tough on crime” as district attorney in San Francisco and attorney general in California.

Biden initially responded to BLM with calls for community engagement and through limited engagement with activists in discussions and forums in the White House. Unsurprisingly, these have delivered nothing. Indeed, even these meetings have been fewer than those held by the Obama administration, with the main BLM organisation accusing Biden and Harris of ignoring requests to meet.102 An interview in December 2021 with Ayo Tometi, who helped launch the first wave of BLM, exposes both how the movement looks to the Democrats and how the Democrats shut activists out in practice:

The lines of communication need to be open… There are some of us who’ve had a little bit of access to Biden’s administration, but by and large we haven’t had the type of access that you would think.103

Meanwhile, the Biden administration has been surveilling BLM groups and targeting protesters with heavy federal prosecutions in order to disrupt their organising activities.104

The twin strategy of state repression and co-option is not unique to the US, and it can be clearly seen historically in black struggles in Britain. In the context of the introduction of stringent immigration controls against Commonwealth citizens in 1962 and the rise of the racist right, the black liberation movement in Britain took inspiration from the US. An upsurge of radical anti-racist struggle and urban uprisings in the late 1970s and early 1980s was met with state attempts to disrupt and undermine mobilisations and activity. For example, the police attacked the militant but non-violent march of 20,000 people for justice for the 13 young black people killed in the New Cross Fire in 1981.105 However, the state also sought to incorporate sections of the movement through sponsorship of “ethnic projects” and the creation of “community leaders”. The Scarman Report, a response to the urban uprisings of 1981, recommended state investment in community projects, despite simultaneously blaming black families for the riots and encouraging tougher measures against crime.106 The growth of state-sponsored projects and grants diverted activists away from confronting the government and towards organising more modest community self-help organisations. These projects were set up to “service” different ethnic and cultural groups, created a bidding war and fragmenting the unity between different groups who experience racism.107

With an overall decline in struggle, the logical next step for many in the movement was representation within the Labour Party, with many looking towards the “black sections”, which were set up in 1983 to challenge the lack of black representation within the party. Many activists began directing their energy towards the selection and election of black MPs, partly energised by left-winger Tony Benn’s unsuccessful bid for the party’s leadership. The 1987 general election saw a breakthrough for this project, with four black Labour MPs elected. Hundreds of black councillors were also elected in this period. However, whatever the intentions of those going into parliament or seeking a “seat at the table”, the nature of the state and its entrenched racism undermined this strategy as an effective challenge to racism. Many more black and Asian MPs have been elected since the late 1980s, but it has not ameliorated the racism within the state and society more generally.

Today, after the defeat of Corbynism, Labour does not offer the same attraction for many activists in the antiracist movement in Britain. However, the pressure of reformism remains, continuing to inform arguments about the demands and tactics of the movement. History should caution us to be wary not just of the repressive power of the state, but also the danger of incorporation that can lead to the blunting of radical movements.

How should the movement organise?

Among the strengths of BLM was its spontaneity and creativity as people took ownership in their local areas and began organising, often for the first time. In 2020, BLM spread to places it had not before reached. Take the case of Nashville, Tennessee where the first anti-racist protest (indeed, the first major protest on any issue) in years was organised by a couple of teenagers who connected on social media after finding that nothing had been called locally.108 They set up an Instagram page, teens4equality, in order to call a BLM protest, which thousands joined.109 One of them, Jade Fuller, said: “These are girls that I would’ve never thought I’d be friends with, but we are all fighting for the same cause… We want to do this for a long time, recruit other people and pass it down one day”.110 Such cases were widespread in both the US and Britain.

Yet, as the movement came under intensified pressure and began to face external challenges, debates around tactics sharpened. This is not unique to BLM. Analysing the anti-capitalist movement of the late 1990s and early 2000s, Marxist theorist Chris Harman argued:

Every successful protest movement goes through two phases. The first is when it bursts upon the world, taking its opponents by surprise and bringing joy to those who agree with its aims. The longer the time since the last great movement of protest, the greater the joy. And it seems that the sheer momentum of the movement is bound to carry it forward from strength to strength. This draws its adherents together, leading them to play down old differences of opinion and old arguments on tactics. But those against whom the protests are directed do not simply give up. Once the initial shock is over, they strengthen their own defences, seek to ensure they are not taken by surprise again and try to stall the movement’s forward motion. At this point, arguments over tactics necessarily arise within the movement, even among people who have sworn to forget old disputes in the interests of consensus.111

We saw these two phases play out with the first BLM movement. As we have seen, after initial successes, the Obama administration was ready to respond to and slow down the movement by exacerbating its divisions and tensions. As the movement struggled to sustain numbers on the streets, arguments raged as to whether to continue to call actions or to focus on utilising the space at the table that activists were supposedly being offered by politicians.

Although the movement’s lack of a centralised structure is often celebrated as a key strength, in the face of such challenges this same characteristic can make it more difficult to resolve arguments.112 Who decides which answer is legitimate? Who prevents politicians or corporations from exacerbating the divisions? By default, absence of leadership can concede actual leadership to the right wing of the movement, as the right’s ideas tend to fit with the societal “common sense”.

As BLMGNF emerged as the official face of the movement, it established, by 2016, 20 chapters across the US, with Tometi, Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza at the head.113 The organisation described itself as “a decentralised network”, drawing upon ideas from the Occupy movement that claim “leaderless”, social media-based organisation is the most democratic way to organise.114 Unfortunately, however, the movement’s decentralised nature and lack of structure and accountability meant that disagreements were difficult to discuss. Unity became difficult to sustain, particularly in the context of a culture that often treated every transgression as resulting from the worst intentions.115 Journalist Gary Younge has pointed to the weaknesses in the 2020 wave of demonstrations, describing BLM as “barely an organisation. It’s a concept”. He argues that, though the lack of structure has undoubted advantages in terms of the speed and spread of the movement, it has also made it harder to sustain its impact and focus the demands of the movement.116

With much of the organisation and discussion in BLM taking place on social media, so too have the disagreements. Social media may have proved an important tool to mobilise people, but it is not an effective medium to resolve disagreements. Likes and retweets do not necessarily translate into unified action. Those who can influence the debate the most are not necessarily the most engaged in or committed to concrete action.117

Entwined with the question of structures is that of the movement’s rejection of any “old style of leadership” and hierarchy.118 Many social media posts, blogs and articles echo one of the founders, Garza, in seeing the movement instead as being “leader-ful”.119 It is right to celebrate the movement’s creation of a new layer of activists, with people taking independent initiatives in their areas, but the reality is that leadership, whether acknowledged or not, will and does exist. The challenge is making that leadership transparent, democratic and accountable. When movements proclaim themselves leaderless, all too often the reality is that an unaccountable minority influences debates and dominates the movement. Often, this minority is made up of those with the most time to spare. Moreover, the establishment is able to choose who it promotes or with whom it does business.

Without transparent, democratic and accountable leadership, it also becomes difficult for the movement to tactically and strategically prioritise and then move decisively to achieve its goals. One defender of the “non-hierarchical” approach cites discussions at a BLM convention in Ohio in 2015 in making this case. In this convention, participants voted to decide what issues to prioritise, and these varied from organising demonstrations to focusing on policy.120 A number of attendees objected to each option. Yet, when given the option of “all of the above”, all the attendees were in consensus. Such an approach has some positive elements, making everyone feel included, but it also has serious limitations as a means of organising activity. First, it can spread activists and resources so thinly that no initiative is effective. Second, it fails to recognise that not all tactics will complement one another, and some may be in direct competition.

As Harman noted, the anti-capitalist movement ran into similar difficulties with its decentralised, non-hierarchical nature. He cites author and activist Naomi Klein’s discussion of demonstrations outside the World Bank and International Monetary Fund headquarters in Washington.121 Klein describes how protesters had been blocking all entrances since 6am to prevent delegates attending a summit meeting. Upon realising that some delegates had managed to slip through the police barricades an hour before, a decision had to be made as to whether to maintain the blockade or to join a larger march happening nearby. Opinion was split, and so the decision was taken that people should do as they wanted; if people wanted to continue to block delegates coming out of the conference, they could do so, and if they wanted to join the march, that was fine too. The result of this was that neither action was effective; those who left for the march left in “clusters”, and those left blockading were dodged by delegates using now unblocked exits.122

There will always be key junctures where tactical prioritisation will be necessary to move forward. Sometimes there will be a need for fast and resolute decisions if the movement is to respond to challenges effectively. Having leadership that is democratic, accountable and transparent becomes necessary in these moments.

The future of the movement

All great social movements, including those for black liberation, eventually come into conflict with the power of the state and so face tensions and debates over how to sustain the movement and move forward. This was true for past waves of black liberation struggles in the US and Britain.123 Debates and arguments are not themselves a problem—they are inevitable in any genuine mass movement. What matters is the outcome of these debates, especially as the movement faces retaliation and attempts to roll back its gains. So too with the experience of BLM.

In Britain in particular, BLM has left a lasting impact but little in the way of organisation. Despite this, it has dramatically transformed the terrain for fighting racism. This can be seen in determined campaigns to “decolonise” education, the bravery with which cricketer Azeem Rafiq has challenged the institutional racism at Yorkshire County Cricket Club, and the protests in Hackney, East London, following revelations about the violent and humiliating strip search of a 15 year old black student, Child Q.124 BLM has energised local campaigns such as that led by Dorset BLM and Stand Up To Racism calling for reparations for slavery from the local MP, Richard Drax, who still profits from the estate of a former slave plantation in Barbados.

However, we remain a long way from overcoming racism; police violence continues, immigration controls are being increased and institutional racism is barely dented. This is why the question of how we understand racism and the strategy to fight it are so important. The rallying cry of BLM can encompass a wide range of political outlooks. This is one of the reasons why Cedric Johnson is wrong to dismiss BLM as a neoliberal movement.125 It is a movement containing many currents and political strategies, including one orientated on class politics and radical anti-racist mobilisation. Johnson is right, however, to point out that politics based purely on black unity can obscure important class and political divisions—and therefore distinct material interests—among black people. An attempt to organise as a unified “black community” can therefore empower the more conciliatory, “respectable” voices in the movement.

Class shapes the way people experience racism. The disproportionate deaths among black people and those of other minority ethnicities at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic was not merely a product of racism—it also resulted from class, and the way that this interacts with racism. It exposed the socio-economic position of black people, who are more likely to engage in frontline work and to live in overcrowded housing. The fusion of the anger at systemic racism and the anger at the treatment of working-class people as a whole during the pandemic made the BLM movement of 2020 a greater threat to the ruling class than the previous BLM wave.

Effectively challenging racism in a way that is lasting and thorough necessitates tackling economic and structural injustices. This means fighting the capitalist state, not just looking to carve out a bigger space within it. Racism remains fundamental to maintaining capitalism, which draws its profits from the exploitation of workers. We should support and celebrate the struggle of black people for liberation, whether they fight alone or as part of a multiracial movement. However, black people alone do not have the numbers and power in the Global North to challenge and overcome systemic oppression and exploitation. This can only be done as part of the wider, multiracial working class. The only economic power that the majority of people have access to is their potential to fight in the workplace, which arises from being part of the working class.

The impetus for class unity cannot come solely from black people. White workers must also actively fight racism in all its manifestations. The 2020 strike of longshoremen briefly demonstrated the potential power of workers, with the ports brought to a standstill for eight hours. Yet, history provides warnings too. Strategies to challenge racism that do not base themselves on the power of the working class have meant that even the most inspiring and radical black liberation organisations have been unable to break the power of the state. This was one of the factors that proved fatal for the Black Panther Party—a self-identified revolutionary organisation. The Panthers were born out of the radicalisation of the 1960s and galvanised a generation of people in opposition to the racism of the capitalist system. Though the leadership of the Panthers were in favour of alliances with “white radicals”, their emphasis on organising armed self-defence—based on the “brothers on the block”, the poorest and most disenfranchised sections of the black population—meant overlooking the millions of black and white workers who had the potential power to successfully challenge the might of the capitalist state. Despite their enormous courage, the state was eventually able to decimate the organisation, jailing, exiling and killing many of its activists.126

The BLM movement has shown the desire for change that exists among millions around the world. It has shaken governments, inspired new and old activists, and changed what is possible in the struggle against racism. In order to protect and expand the gains of BLM, we must recognise what has changed, learn the lessons of previous struggles, and seize the new opportunities to strengthen and renew the movement to dismantle racism. Crucially, however, we must base our strategy on mobilising the power of the working class if we are to ensure BLM is not merely a moment, but rather the beginning of a movement that delivers fundamental change.

Nadia Sayed is a member of the Socialist Workers Party in London who was actively involved in the Black Lives Matter movement in Britain in both 2016 and 2020.


1 Thanks to Esme Choonara, Joseph Choonara, Judy Cox, Sheila McGregor, Ken Olende and Yuri Prasad for comments on earlier drafts of this article.

2 Buchanan, Bui and Patel, 2020.

3 Johnson, 2022; Prasad, 2022.

4 Monmouth University Polling Institute, 2020a.

5 Social theorist Vivek Chibber contrasts the conviction of Chauvin to the attempts to win legal justice for Rodney King, which were thwarted even after video footage showing him being brutally beaten by police officers in 1991 was broadcast repeatedly on TV screens around the world—Chibber, 2022.

6 Associated Press, 2021.

7 Pilkington, 2021.

8 Zahir, 2016.

9 Silverstein, 2021.

10 Campbell, 2020.

11 Hayden, 2020.

12 Garza, 2016, p24.

13 Garza’s post ended: “BTW stop saying we are not surprised. That’s a damn shame in itself. I continue to be surprised at how little black lives matter. And I will continue that. Stop giving up on black life. Black people: I love you. I love us. Our lives matter”—Cobb, 2016.

14 Carney, 2016.

15 Anderson, 2016.

16 Taylor, 2016, p154.

17 Williamson, Trump and Einstein, 2018.

18 Anderson, 2016.

19 Taylor, 2016, pp169-170.

20 Taylor, 2020a.

21 Francis, 2021.

22 Fording and Smith, 2012, p1162.

23 Callinicos, 2012.

24 Callinicos, 2012.

25 Altman, 2020.

26 Lopez, Rainie and Budiman, 2020.

27 Lopez, Rainie and Budiman, 2020.

28 Dave, Friedson and others, 2020, p7.

29 Barroso and Minkin, 2020.

30 Altman, 2020.

31 Buchanan, Bui and Patel, 2020.

32 Fisher, 2020.

33 Fisher, 2020.

34 McAdam, 2020.

35 Buchanan, Bui and Patel, 2020.

36 Muller, 2020.

37 BBC News, 2020.

38 Mohdin, Swann and Bannock, 2020.

39 Adams, 2020.

40 Robinson, 2021.

41 Brewis, 2020.

42 Mohdin, Swann, and Bannock, 2020.

43 Thompson, 2020.

44 Joseph-Salisbury, Connelly and Wangari-Jones, 2020.

45 Socialist Worker, 2020.

46 Walker-Khan, 2020.

47 Sullivan, 2020.

48 For more on this, see Richardson, 2020.

49 Barenblat, 2021.

50 Day and Soper, 2021.

51 Juneteenth commemorates the proclamation of freedom for enslaved people in Texas on 19 June 1865. President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had been issued two years beforehand on 1 January 1863, but its implementation depended upon the successful advance of Union troops through the Confederate states during the US Civil War. Texas was the most remote Southern state and thus the last in which slavery was abolished.

52 Sparling, 2020.

53 Kern and Farr, 2020.

54 Bennett, 2021; see also Ringrose, 2021a.

55 Patton, 2020.

56 De Genova, 2021.

57 For more on the origins of privilege theory, see Choonara and Prasad, 2014.

58 Choonara, 2020.

59 On the impact of racism on wages, see Szymanski, 1976; Reich, 1978; Callinicos, 1993.

60 Marx, 1870.

61 Padover, 1972, p275.

62 Dabiri, 2021.

63 Callinicos, 1993, p53.

64 This was described to the author by several activists involved at this time.

65 For an analysis of racism in the US criminal “justice” system, see Moody, 2022. Moody responds convincingly to Cedric Johnson’s claims that policing should be understood as purely about class and not race. For more on institutional racism and racial profiling, see Choonara, 2020.

66 Fleetwood and Lea, 2022.

67 Henderson, 2020.

68 Taylor, 2020b.

69 Bates, 2021.

70 Vitale, 2020.

71 See, for example, Kaba, 2020; Taylor, 2020b; Sunjata, 2021.

72 Monmouth University Polling Institute, 2020b.

73 See, for instance, Pan-African Community Action, 2021.

74 Oladipo, 2022.

75 Bouie, 2022.

76 Miranda, 2022.

77 Nelson, 2021.

78 Levin, 2021.

79 Murphy, 2020.

80 Morava and Andrew, 2021.

82 Oliver, 2020.

83 Ford Foundation, 2020. In addition, Google pledged over $350 billion, including grants for black business owners. Walmart pledged $100 million for a racial equality centre—Paul, 2020; Davis and Warren, 2020.

84 Taylor, 2019.

85 Morris, 1984.

86 Francis, 2015.

87 Parmar and Choudhury, 2020.

88 Wilson, 2021.

89 Taylor, 2019.

90 Taylor, 2019.

91 Selfa, 2008.

92 See Prasad, 2018.

93 Cleaver, 2022.

94 Marable, 2007, p117.

95 Taylor, 2016.

96 Selfa, 2008.

97 Taylor, 2016.

98 Schwartz, 2020.

99 Taylor, 2019.

100 Milkman, 2017.

101 Delatolas and Lemlich, 2020.

102 Major, 2020.

103 Jarvis, 2021.

104 Associated Press, 2021.

105 Choonara and Prasad, 2012.

106 Choonara and Prasad, 2012.

107 Sivanandan, 1990.

108 Hineman and Bartlett, 2020.

109 Hineman and Bartlett, 2020.

110 Hineman and Bartlett, 2020.

111 Harman, 2000.

112 Ransby, 2017.

113 Hong and Peoples, 2020, p4.

114 Taylor, 2016.

115 Taylor, 2019.

116 Al-Khalaf, 2020.

117 Zulli, 2020, p200.

118 Ransby, 2017.

119 Keating, 2020.

120 Barrón-López, 2020.

121 Harman, 2000.

122 Klein, 2000.

123 For more on the history of black liberation struggles in the US, see Prasad, 2013.

124 Ringrose, 2021b; Rhoden-Paul, Bryant and Olulode, 2022.

125 Johnson, 2022.

126 See Prasad, 2013.


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