things to read about the protests against white supremacy

But as an historian of black social movements, my view is that as widespread and destructive as the 1968 rebellions were, neither their size nor the challenge they posed to the American political system approached what the U.S. has seen over the past two weeks. …

More than the number and size of the protests, though, what makes the 2020 uprisings unprecedented are the ways that they have pulled together multiple currents within the U.S. protest tradition into a mighty river of demand for fundamental change in American society. …

The point is not, as others have argued,* that it is the level of involvement of whites in the protests that distinguishes them from previous high points of anti-racist protest. There is in fact a long history of white support for, and participation in, black protest movements. …

[What is distinctive is the reform agenda.] Despite, or perhaps because of the protests’ decentralized and leaderless nature, they have managed to put on the table the broadest and most comprehensive set of social and economic reforms since the Poor People’s campaign that followed on the heels of Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968.

Matthew Countryman, “2020 uprisings, unprecedented in scope, join a long river of struggle in America

I want to emphasize that I think white Americans have gone through quite radical changes in their attitudes, and that we’re talking about a more likely 25 percent of Americans who are hardcore racist, but I think most Americans have quite decent views about race.

But sociologists have argued that while some whites may have liberal views, a lot of them are not prepared to make the concessions that are important for the improvement of black lives. For example, one of the reasons why people have been crowded in ghettos is the fact that housing is so expensive in the suburbs, and one reason for that is that bylaws restrict the building of multi-occupancy housing. These bylaws have been very effective in keeping out moderate-income housing from the suburbs, and that has kept out working people, among whom blacks are disproportionate, from moving there and having access to good schools. Sociologists have claimed that while we do have genuine improvement in racial attitudes, what we don’t have is the willingness for white liberals to put their money where their mouth is.

Orlando Patterson, “Why America can’t escape its racist roots” [Not a good headline, because his piece is quite optimistic]

The situation is dire. The causes for personal anger many. In my own case, incandescent rage has blocked my capacity to think for several days. For me, prayer helps.

There is something we can do.

First, choose peace. Revolution never succeeds unless it rides on the back of a deeper commitment to the process of constitution. The goal has to be to build. These things can be done only on the basis of a commitment to peace. We need a better normal at the end of this. Not a new normal, a rinse and repeat of the old but with face masks. We need peace. …

Second, choose self-government. Societies can resolve their problems through only one of two mechanisms: authoritarian decision or self-government. Self-government delivers the sturdier foundation for human flourishing — a foundation that permits people to craft their own life courses and develop their full potential. To choose self-government, however, means to choose the institutions of collective decision-making. Voting, running for office, working through committee processes to identify and implement policy solutions. …

Third, channel the energies of protest directly into governance even through our imperfect institutions. We need a transformed criminal-justice system. Yes, it is good that the officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck has been criminally charged. But the problems we face are not solved one case of police violence at a time. We need a systems-level goal.

Here is what we should choose: reduce our reliance on incarceration from 70 percent of the sanctions imposed in our criminal-justice system to 10 percent. This is not utopian. …

No justice, no peace, we often say. It’s also true, though, that without peace, there is no justice.

Danielle Allen, “The situation is dire. We need a better normal at the end of this — and peace

*including me, on Saturday evening, during a 5-minute interview on KCBS-San Francisco.

See also: Everyday Democracy: racism, policing, and community change; insights on police reform from Elinor Ostrom and social choice theory.

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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.