Racism is alive and thriving in the New World. It is ubiquitous for all of us to see but not many of us pay attention when a Black life is taken in the street by mostly white police. Not all white Americans think alike any longer. Every now and then there is a gruesome murder of a Black man that shakes the conscience of everybody. In The Devil You Know, acclaimed journalist Charles Blow powerfully argues that Black people should bring about the change themselves instead of leaving it to the white people – the way they brought the change in Georgia.
Blow says that when George Floyd was killed callously in the streets of Minneapolis in the full light of day, the nation erupted into protests. The gruesome murder shook the nation’s conscience. There are others killings of black people but his was one of those that unleash popular anger and disgust. Millions of people poured into the street to assert that Black lives matter. The majority of them was young and white. They demanded police accountability and reform as well as racial justice and equality.
A Pew Research Center report in June 2020 found that 6 percent of American adults said they attended a protest or rally that focused on issues related to race and racial equality in May 2020. It is about fifteen million people. It is surely an astonishing number. The percentage of protestors who were white was nearly three times the percentage who were black. Even the percentage of Hispanics was higher than the percentage of Black people. Racist monuments and statues were brought down and supportive placards went up. People painted murals in the streets. Companies committed to changing the Black faces on bottles of syrup and bags of rice. Athletes protested and boycotted and race car drivers held a racial solidarity parade. They held a quasi-social distanced redux of the March on Washington.
States like New York and California passed police reform legislation, and scores of individual departments banned or restricted chokeholds and strangleholds and required officers to intervene when their colleagues used excessive force. Blow argues that national progress, even on the issue of police accountability and reform, remained elusive. The slate of police reforms passed by the House quickly became bogged down in the Senate. In other words, most of the action amounted to feel good gestures that cost nothing and shift to power. They created little justice and provide little equity. Even the House bill, with its de minimis slate of reforms, would basically punish the nation’s soldiers without altering the system itself. It would make the officers the fall guy for their bad behavior while doing little to condemn or even address the savagery and voraciousness of the system that required their service.
Blow argues that the bill stalled as the protests began to dwindle. People were then forced to consider whether many of the people who marched and carried signs were truly committed to Black lives and Black liberation or whether some, deprived of rites of passage, parties, and proms, had simply developed a cabin fever racial consciousness, using the protests as congregational outlets, treating them like a social justice Coachella, a systemic racism Woodstock. Against this background, they Black people did bring about an unexpected change – in Georgia. Although Biden carried Georgia by only about twelve thousand votes, Georgia became the model for how Black people can potentially experience true power in this country and alter the political landscape.
The Devil You Know is a much-needed addition to the existing literature on the question of racism in America and how we can undo centuries-old injustice meted out to Black people. In this compelling and accessible volume, Charles M Blow powerfully argues that it would be done by Black people themselves. He bases his argument on the premise that white liberals have miserably failed in going beyond their rhetorical support for Black people. The Devil You Know provides new perspectives. He explores how and why white backlash has further made Black Americans’ lives vulnerable. It is well-argued and brilliantly written. The Devil You Know is an actionable manifesto to build a better future.