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Black Politics, Reparations, and Movement Building in the Era of #45

Barbara Ransby, Editor of Souls, President of the National Women’s Studies Association, University of Illinois at Chicago
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Princeton University

The election of the 45th president of the United States marks a pivot point for the ongoing Black freedom struggle in the United States, and perhaps in the world. It was an electoral season like no other: revealing deep divides, and sparking intense debates among African Americans about our historic and troubled relationship with electoral politics in general, and the Democratic Party, in particular. The 2016 presidential election took place in the wake of a period of intense Black Lives Matter (Movement for Black Lives) street protests, which gave rise to an insurgent national movement against racist police violence. Black Lives Matter and Movement for Black Lives (BLM/M4BL) organizers, as well as more established Black political leaders, were split on how to respond to a race for the White House, which offered no easy choices.

Some fell in line behind the old guard of the Democratic Party out of habit, or out of fear of what the openly racist Republican front-runner would do if elected, and an assessment that only a seasoned politician could defeat him – an assessment that did not pan out. Even many who harshly criticized Hillary Clinton for embracing neoliberalism and her past comments that denigrated some Black children as “superpredators,” voted for her anyway as the lesser of two evils.

During the primaries, however, some took the leap and supported the Democratic Socialist, Bernie Sanders, even though he too struggled to come to terms with the importance of race in the larger political context, even as he advanced a very progressive agenda on issues of class and economic justice. Others either threw up their hands and either focused on local elections only, or stayed home altogether. And a small cohort endorsed Green Party candidate Jill Stein, and her Black running mate, Ajamu Baraka. Even though they had no real chance of winning, to some, it just felt like the only ballot choice that did not feel like an unprincipled compromise.

The outcome of the election, fueled and animated by a resurgent white nationalism and harbingers of a neo-fascist upsurge, catapulted a right-wing populist into the White House. Unlike most politicians, he moved to deliver on many of his ominous campaign promises in the months following his inauguration. Not surprisingly, the climate in which all Black people live, and in which Black political organizers work, has become more difficult and dangerous. BLM/M4BL leaders have suffered intensified threats and harassment.

Along with Muslims that the 45th president has threatened to ban or expel, and Mexicans that he seeks to dehumanize and deport, Black people and public institutions (and their allies) have also been targeted. A Black student (from another campus) visiting the University of Maryland was murdered by an alt-right sympathizer for simply standing on a street corner waiting for a ride. Two anti-racist white men were killed and another wounded for coming to the aid of a Black and a Muslim teenager on a Portland train who were the victims of racist taunting and threats.

And more recently, in Charlottesville, Virginia, a Black man was viciously beaten and an antiracist white woman killed by white nationalists. At the same time, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has threatened to increase the prison population, instructing district attorneys to prosecute harshly and to seek long sentences; and callous budget cuts will cause suffering all around. This is the moment we are in, and it is sobering.

There is cause for optimism, however. The 45th president has been so universally hateful that he has created fertile ground for new forms of coalition and united front work across different racial and ethnic communities, among feminists and others, and across ideological lines as well. The campaign for Expanded Sanctuary has linked the organizations, BYP100 and Mijente, in national coalition to build “black-brown” unity. Between April 4 and May Day the Movement for Black Lives convened over 50 organizations for a national “Beyond the Moment” campaign which included marches, vigils and teach-ins. There have been a number of conferences, convenings, retreats and summits since November, 2016.

Some political activists are looking for strategies focused on the 2018 mid term elections. However, as the Democratic Party continues to bicker over an assessment of its failure in the 2016 presidential election, questions remain about its immediate recovery.

What is the state of the Democratic Party especially as it pertains to African Americans and other minorities who are in the crosshairs of the Republican Party? What are the prospects for “third party politics”? Beyond electoral politics, what kind of movement building is possible in this political moment? What are the obstacles that confront the opposition to #45 and can they be overcome? These are some of the critical questions that analysts and activists are wrestling with, and ones we hope to highlight in this issue of Souls.

Beyond electoral politics, the demand for reparations has garnered more traction in recent years. Last year, BYP100 included reparations as part of their list of demands within their policy agenda titled “Agenda to Build Black Futures.” Additionally, in 2014, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ widely discussed article in The Atlantic sparked new interest in reparations. The ongoing work of N’COBRA, who has been organizing for reparations for almost three decades, is still an anchor for this debate.

The move to demand reparations is also being played out locally. In Chicago, the victory of the City Council ordinance that won reparations for police torture survivors set an important precedent for an expanded concept of reparations. Globally, the Caricom Reparations Commission has been engaging in efforts seeking redress from former European colonial powers for the catastrophic violence of transatlantic slavery and the genocidal campaigns waged against indigenous communities. And finally, William Darity and Kristen Mullen’s forthcoming book on reparations will further amplify the debate.

Taken together, how do we view the call for reparations as a proactive strategy in these foreboding political times?

With this backdrop, and questions, in mind, Souls invites essays, interviews, policy and strategy papers that explore the dynamic 2017-2018 political landscape and the various ways in which it impacts Black life and is being navigated and confronted by those engaged in various parts of the Black Freedom Movement.

Final Submission Deadline: Midnight PST November 3, 2017

Submission guidelines and journal information are available by clicking here.

Please address questions to: Marco Roc, Souls Managing Editor,




IBW21 (The Institute of the Black World 21st Century) is committed to enhancing the capacity of Black communities in the U.S. and globally to achieve cultural, social, economic and political equality and an enhanced quality of life for all marginalized people.