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NEAR TRUTHS:
REFLECTIONS ON A WINDOW

Black History Month has often served as a 28-day (or 29-day) window for institutional pieties about the contributions of Black people to American history and culture. But Black creativity and commitment must be recognized year-round, 24/7, as the achievements of Black Americans continue to transform our lives in myriad ways.

Black music controls the present marketplace; hip-hop and R&B remain not only the dominant genres for listeners of all stripes but the primary musical forces in the cultural conversation. Black storytelling in film, TV and literature sculpts the narrative. Black activism is reshaping the notion of citizen power.

Still, as we find ourselves gazing in horror at Trump’s acquittal, despite his obvious guilt in driving the violent events of 1/6, we see how entrenched and rabid white supremacy remains. The gaslighting doublespeak of his defense team only underscores the depths to which racists will sink to justify themselves. It will require gargantuan effort to defeat them and their fascist hordes. And that’s what it took to win the most important victories of the past.

The Civil Rights Movement of the 20th century is often saluted without sufficient acknowledgement of how vitally disruptive it was, and how violently the white establishment resisted it. Even the most hidebound reactionaries in our government now pay annual tribute to Dr. King, but he was once targeted as a dangerous subversive and an existential threat to the order that Hoover’s FBI and kindred authoritarian machines strived to maintain. They sought kompromat to discredit him. They deployed fire hoses, bombings, shootings, tear gas, dogs and more in hopes of stopping the social wave he helped build. After MLK’s death, Nixon and his allies tried everything possible to crush the spirit he’d awakened.

They failed, however. Protest had ignited the culture and America would never look quite the same again.

Now imagine how terrified these agents of the status quo were of the Black Power Movement and the Black Panthers, whose messages of resistance, community mobilization and empowerment were not tempered for delicate white sensibilities. A piece of that story is currently back in the foreground with the film Judas and the Black Messiah, which details how the FBI plotted the murder of charismatic Chicago activist Fred Hampton.

One day the efforts of the Black Lives Matter Movement may be regarded much as the marches, sit-ins and bus boycotts of the ’60s are now, and it will largely be forgotten how desperately the power structure attempted to neutralize, brutalize and scandalize it into submission. BLM marchers were labeled vandals and thugs and movement figures portrayed as agents of violence and anarchy.

Again, though, the power brokers failed. In the wake of George Floyd’s death and countless other instances of police murder and daily violence, “Black Lives Matter” became the most resounding rallying cry in American streets since “Hell no, we won’t go.”

Just as the overlords of white supremacy feared, this momentum spread into politics. The apathy upon which conservatives have long relied to maintain their grip on power morphed into mass voter registration, phone-banking and a blue wave that flipped multiple states, gave Joe Biden and Kamala Harris the White House and handed Democrats a Senate majority—the latter courtesy of a January runoff that swept Georgia’s first-ever Black senator into office. Election-strategy superstar Stacey Abrams and countless volunteers mobilized a huge cohort (with Black women playing an outsize role), altered the national discourse and definitively moved the needle.

Harris’ presence on the ticket was, in many ways, more crucial than Biden’s. As the first woman VP and the first veep of color, as the child of a South Asian immigrant and an outspoken voice for justice, she represented not only the hope and aspiration of millions but also a thundering rebuke to the willful ignorance, misogyny, xenophobia and power-worship of Trumpism.

BLM, in addition to mobilizing the opposition and contributing mightily to Dems’ return to power, has served as a cultural catalyst. In the biz, we’ve begun exploring painful territory we’ve studiously avoided. The recent raft of industry task forces, action groups, teach-ins and alliances addressing racism and inclusion would have been unthinkable without the cries of protest and massive marches that roiled cities and towns across the U.S.

But there is grave danger in deluding ourselves into thinking we’ve made more progress than we have, in breathing the sweet aroma of the perfumed bubble we inhabit and imagining we’ve cleared the air. The window we crack every February must be thrown open—and stay open.

 

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