The last decade’s cycle of uprisings and protests has demonstrated more than a confrontation with white supremacy; it has been the most explosive articulation of a crisis in Black politics.
One night last summer, I saw a police van go up in flames, and I allowed myself to feel hope, something that had become quite foreign to me after the year’s many stupefying months. For a number of us who went out in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder and the sacking of the third precinct in Minneapolis, it was the first time we had encountered our friends with bigger fears than our breath. “When someone put their arms around me to pull me out of the way of a swinging baton, that still counts as an embrace,” I joked at the beginning of June. The speed and force with which the rebellions multiplied across the country triggered, surprisingly, an outpouring of support. Faced with a recurring display of police repression and lacking leaders to negotiate with, broad swathes of American society fell in line, either joining the protests themselves or, in the case of many corporations, donating large sums to various Black organizations. By July, the marches were still going, but the heat of the uprisings had dissipated. In these days of blacked-out Instagram squares and “Black Lives Matter” painted on city streets, a cry went up—listen to Black people. In most cases I prefer to be heard when I speak, but there are some 47 million of us now. It would have been prudent to specify which ones.