Eh, I don't think you're fully wrong, but I think there's a bigger issue here: COVID. Every plague in history has ushered in social unrest. This one was no different.

I live in Minneapolis. The riots here weren't really about change. Much of it was bored, pandemic-anxious people glad to finally have some excuse to do something, see their friends, and vent a bunch of nervous energy. The bulk of the rest was mass hysteria. I'm talking upper-class black women who own highly successful businesses and are friends with the mayor suddenly having panic attacks because they're convinced they're going to be shot if they step outside. I'm talking multiple professional meetings with people having literal, hysterical, sobbing breakdowns over some dude they'd never met and wouldn't have had a lick of sympathy for if he'd been begging on the side of the street.

This isn't a political movement, which is likely why it was so easily captured. Political movements have actual concrete goals that aren't amorphous crap like "re-imagine society". Political movements have adherents that don't burst into sobbing fits whenever they're questioned.

Expand full comment

If BLM were run by the most grass-roots and the most caring, pro-Black people alive, it would still have failed to meet the goals of its initial founding for one very simple reason: the police in the US, in the aggregate, simply aren't going around killing Black people in any disproportionate manner. Ancillary to this, Black people are arrested more - again, in the aggregate - because they commit more crimes, particularly violent crimes, on a per-capita basis than anyone else does. (Shockingly so, in fact.)

But as Freddie says, it went beyond the police and to a fundamental re-organization of society, at least in spirit. Scratch the surface of our society, however, and it becomes a large case of 'be careful what you wish for'. Freddie laments the "toothlessness" of police reform and then laments, seconds later, that failure to prosecute will result in a reactionary backlash. Both true, in isolation. Yet they are toothless because - and Freddie knows this full well - the people who actually live in the cities don't want wholesale police reform; and the reactionary backlash to which he refers comes in large part from the Black people who have to live in crime-riven neighborhoods.

It's an obvious racial truth in our society, so naturally you can't say it out loud, so naturally a lot of people have never even considered it: Black people are among the strongest advocates for visible, active policing in their neighborhoods because their neighborhoods are where the crime is. White liberals, on the other hand, can go literally their entire lives without even witnessing violent or property crime, much less being personally affected. The three variables here - White, Black, and crime - only coexist in a very small number of places in the country, affecting a decimal point of the country's population and an insanely tiny percentage of its geography - parts of San Francisco, parts of New York, very small parts of Chicago. That's really it. So when White liberals are instructed by media culture, NY-driven as it is, to disband the police, it's an easy call for them because they haven't needed the police in their lives and probably look down on them for being poorly-educated anyway (in a way that they wouldn't do of, say, postal workers.)

So let's reverse the question - why would you *expect* success of an organization founded on a fraudulent basis, and with goals antithetical to even the most basic aspects of harm mitigation among the community it purports to elevate? A fool and his money etc.

Expand full comment

I have a thought that will surely be controversial: what if so many social justice movements lose momentum not merely because of professionalization, but because in many cases, for the majority of people, absolute conditions just aren't that bad anymore?

Media coverage of certain phenomena make it *feel* as though certain conditions are as horrible as ever, but they're not really. If every town in America had one murder of an unarmed black man every year at the hands of police, perhaps the urgency would remain. Its not that people don't care; its that George Floyd is the exception, not the rule.

This will also be unpopular, especially coming from a liberal, but how is gang-related crime and drugs related crime going to go anywhere but up if all the focus is on "systemic" injustice? Just a few weeks ago we had a tragedy in our town: A 15 year old Black boy was murdered at school by a 16 year old Black boy in gang related retaliation. These boys had families (the one who died lost his father when he was an infant, also to gang related retaliation), they went to a good school in a middle class or even upper class neighborhood.

This is horrific and gut-wrenching. The police chief and the sheriff (both Black, incidentally; one male one female) were closely involved from the get go, and they both showed obvious heartache. How would defunding or abolishing the police serve this family? What systemic injustice describes the root of this tragedy?

Expand full comment

Last year was an op connected to trying to defeat Trump in the 2020 election. Under a Democratic president BLM just merges into the foundation world and is no longer visible on the street. It will again become visible closer to the 2024 election when useful to defeat a Republican again

Expand full comment

BLM ('racism is a crisis!') should be understood as another post-modern spectacle put on by failing institutions just like the the Trump 'crisis,' current hysteria with COVID, and, my guess for what is up next, the climate 'crisis.'

All of these issues are real (racism, Trump's unique incompetence, COVID, climate change), but they have been repurposed to suit institutional, economic, ideological, administrative, and cultural needs.

The organic social protest movements against class disparities during early industrial capitalism, the inequities of colonialism, and true systemic racism that the Left venerates (as it should) are long dead and gone. The sooner we all realize the state of hyperreality politics operates in and start using appropriate language and conceptual frameworks, the better. Perhaps we should all be reading our Foucault and Baudrillard.

Expand full comment
Oct 4, 2021Liked by Freddie deBoer

Just noting that here in Atlanta, one of the front runners of our upcoming mayoral election is Kasim Reed and his number one issue is crime with a pledge to address it by hiring 750 more police officers.

Expand full comment

In Graeber's Bullshit Jobs, one of the five types of bullshit jobs is the "box-checker" - someone who makes an organization feel like they're doing something that they're not actually doing. This goes well beyond diversity, of course. I work in data science, and the majority of my job isn't gaining insight from data, it's making different leaders look or feel like they're using data. These people think that making PMC roles more diverse or garnering an anti-racist statement qualifies as actual work because similar things earn them plaudits at their actual job. I mentioned this in the digest post: my career prospects improved a lot when I focused less on my actual job and more at appearing competent and strategic. I have to wonder how many people in the diversity spaces share a similar cynicism. As in, would these diversity consultants take a job at Fox News tomorrow if it increases their salary.

Expand full comment

The premise of this piece is that there's a "pre-professional" or "authentic" BLM which became "corrupted" (by those nefarious white progs!). But the donations and elite-level message-amplification of BLM began not in 2020, but in 2014. BLM's status went up by an order of magnitude (or even two) in 2020, but theyd been invested in as a promising, potentially useful, activist bloc for a number of years. In 2020 they became useful, mainly as a way of browbeating white normies into voting for Biden, and were used. It worked pretty well I'd say. In 2021 they're not so useful again, so they've been put back on the shelf for a while. In a few years they'll probably be deemed useful yet again.

Expand full comment

Whither BLM? It's not really all that complicated.

Six months before the probable re-election of a President who is hated with a historically unique intensity by the opposition party [I have theories as to why, but they're not germane to this post], race riots "spontaneously" break out in major cities controlled by opposition-party-affiliated local governments. The stated aims of these riots are enthusiastically endorsed by the opposition party, who implicitly (and in a few cases, explicitly) state that the riots will continue until the opposition party wins the upcoming election. The opposition party proceeds to win the election (under extremely dubious circumstances, I might add) and, lo and behold, the riots stop. Agatha Christie this ain't.

You don't need a degree in political science [or even marine cartography) to draw a line between point A and point B.

This wasn't intended to be subtle, even by the people who did it. The message was very clearly heard by everyone who doesn't receive a paycheck to pretend they didn't: "We have the power to create riots in major cities, and we have the power to end them. We have demonstrated this power, and we will use it again, if you ever dare to elect a politician whom we consider to be an existential threat, or even anyone outside our party at all."

This seems to me to be a terribly compelling reason to never vote for this party ever again, even if I might share significant policy agreements with them.

[Something something something don't need to burn the Reichstag once you've been elected to it something something.]

Expand full comment

The thing is, I knew all this was gonna happen too. I knew last summer we wouldn't achieve any substantial police reform. Given the trajectory of the culture war in the Trump years, I knew right then and there that all we would get from Summer 2020 is a giant religious-esque moral panic from liberals and even more vicious enforcement of Social Justice politics.

And lo and behold, that's exactly where we're at.

Expand full comment

"The nonprofit industrial complex is not in the business of selfless altruism." That's right. But what needs to be recognized is that most times you're seeing an apparent "groundswell of protest," that protest is itself a department of the "nonprofit indistrustrial complex" -- i.e. it's the "protest-industrial complex." This is a very bitter pill for good-faith radicals to swallow, they want to think that all protests map onto their romantic ideas of the IWW a century ago; but if they don't start to think about this problem clearly and honestly, their good faith will always be misapplied, again and again and again.

Expand full comment

“… my sense is that a large-scale redistributive program that is not racially targeted at all does not qualify as anti-racist for many.”

It is strange that structures and policy resulting in disparate impacts between racial groups (even when unintended) are seen as racist systems when POC don’t benefit disproprtionately, but not as anti-racist systems when they do benefit disproportionately. Even if this is the intent.

Expand full comment

Two thoughts. One, I think it's interesting that in a short period of time we saw three (two and a half?) social movements get coopted by elites. First was Me Too, which actually seemed like a real social movement before it turned into whatever the fuck abomination it is now. Then BLM (although BLM was primarily a Nike marketing campaign prior to becoming a jobs program for black directors and writers). Then, in record time, Stop Asian Hate (remember that one?) became about grievances in getting more MCU roles for AAPIs. I'd always seen protest movements get corporatized, but the speed and pervasity deserves remarking on.

Two, I find myself as hopeful as my fellow Marxists (like Freddie) about the BLM protests. I suppose because "ending racism" or whatever is a vaguely leftist concept we're supposed to be excited about them. But they were, as I referred to them at the time, nothing but Biden rallies. They were a complete mess that probably did more harm (in terms of their actual physical destructiveness) than good. They resulted in laughably embarrassing gains. And they were always doomed to failure for the simple fact that they had no leadership - outsourcing it either to fringe feckless lefties or the local Democratic Party establishment - and no programmatic goals. I'm not saying we needed All Power to the Soviets, but gimme some Peace, Land, Bread at least. The closest we got was Defund the Police which means anything you want (and is a horrible policy!) so it's pretty useless.

But, hey, it built up a lot of anger and discontent with Trump and since modern day Marxism and socialism is mainly a brand of the Democratic Party, mission accomplished.

Expand full comment

It’s really a shame that the momentum of June 2020 was squandered on an unpopular demand (“defund the police”) and performative gestures. “Things MUST change” became about elites so fast, in part because self-interested individuals capitalized on the moment in a way you almost have to admire – using a literal murder to demand more professional opportunities and accolades for themselves. Robin Diangelo is probably a billionaire by now.

The biggest long-term impact seems to be the removal of statues. It’s great that we got rid of some odious monuments, and it was fun to watch the vandalism and toppling in real time. But removing a statue doesn’t change the behavior of police, obviously.

I don’t believe anything can truly change until we improve the conditions in poor neighborhoods. Poverty = gangs, narcotics, gun violence, theft. Then we send police into these neighborhoods with guns and say, “Stop the crime.” Of course it gets hostile and violent when two groups with opposite interests clash every day, and everyone has guns, and everyone feels threatened.

Training, reform, cameras, etc. are nice—we should do all that stuff. Perhaps it will make monsters like Chauvin hold back out of fear for their freedom. But when drugs and liquor are the economy, this is still going to happen, because there are countless heated confrontations every day, that happen much faster than the Floyd murder.

I know an older cop who told me he could think of eight different times when he could have fired his gun, and the shooting would have been ruled justified by the department. Because the person was waving a knife or had a visible gun or whatever. Cops are in these situations all the time. It’s never going to stop unless we change the conditions, which means investing financially in these communities.

Expand full comment

I was wondering if you were going to bring up Occupy ha. I think the structurelessness issue applies to the BLM protests as well. Watching the evolution of BLM has convinced me that hierarchy and leadership is a requirement for any social movement. There was very little leadership of the events last summer (basically whoever had a megaphone), and what leadership did exist was essentially just social media influencers. I think that showed itself in the lack of real demands. There were surprisingly few straightforward demands from the protests except the police should stop killing people (reasonable of course) and "abolish the police" (not so reasonable to most people). Like...disarming the police wasn't even a demand was it? I would love that, but I never heard those words at the many protests I went to.

That said, I think one outcome has been just cranking up what were already existing police and prison reform campaigns and maybe getting more liberals on board at least rhetorically. There was already quite a bit of momentum around prisons particularly but also policing in NYC, and now it's almost certainly going to be an issue in next year's Council. Deblasio was forced to leave his house and visit Riker's the other day! He hates doing any work at all, so he must have been facing serious pressure. Quite a few City Council and State level pols in New York are on board with DSA's Defund agenda, although I don't expect it to become law.

And maybe that's just how it works. The professional orgs have campaigns, and a small percentage of the people that were out in the streets last year will stick with it and join a more professionalized org and be outside City Hall next year when the next budget vote happens, and maybe it will be enough to cut the NYPD budget or close Riker's. It's not as fun as the radicalism in the streets or tweeting about elevating black artists or whatever but at the moment I'm pretty convinced that the lame stuff is what works.

Expand full comment

I work in a university. We had a fairly strong Office of Diversity before summer of 2020. Since since summer 2020 the Office has added staff and is giving a lot of zoom trainings and sending a lot of e-mails to faculty. More speakers are on the university speaker docket. Same for my professional association. There is a lot of overlap (of speakers). Most journals have had special issues. Many CFP on these topics. What I really need tho is funding for grass roots student recruitment and I haven't been able to sort through that maze. If I had one speaker fee for those "on the circuit." I could do a lot of good, but "the professionalism" gets in the way of a ground game. No, I can't write a paper or give a talk about going to community meetings to talk with support staff about careers because I want to do the work, not get academic credit for it. If only these activities could be seen as intrinsically valuable on their own and not a means to have another conference or juried paper.

Expand full comment