New York Times | Time for a New Black Radicalism

Chris Lebron, New York Times:

By radicalism I mean the explicit intention to use strong, nonconventional and unsanctioned means to effect systemic change by either disrupting the status quo or reinstating a preferred previous status quo. If the convention in a capitalist society is for the tech industry to charge for all services and you offer yours for free on the principle that “knowledge wants to be free,” you are a radical; if you’re a state legislator who cuts against the separation of church and state by lobbying to make the Bible the official book of the state, you are a radical.

It would be a disservice to the diverse tradition of black thought and activism to present the black radicalism monolithically, but we can identify a central motivation across its various iterations: to secure for blacks, against the history of white supremacy and the persistent racial oppression it has spawned, a degree of respect and dignity by means that directly confront and reconfigure both the discourse of and policies around racial justice. This is typically done with an eye toward not merely rationally persuading white Americans, but to intentionally unsettle and dislodge them from the comforts of white privilege.

We don’t typically assign the term “radical” to people like the computer programmer or the legislator described above, for a number of reasons. First, radicalism, especially in the political sphere, is thought to necessarily entail violence. Second, radicalism is often used as a substitute for “fundamentalism.” Lastly, radicalism is thought to represent (some form of) insurgency as a way of life or lifestyle. This last reason when combined with the first is what makes the idea of radicalism, especially black radicalism, alarming to many Americans. Yet it turns out that all of these reasons for treating radicalism as a dangerous doctrine are wrong.


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