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“The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner, because

The revolution will not be televised, brother” 

  -Gil Scott Heron


     Gil Scott Heron’s words ring as prophetically true as ever in this cultural moment, where the massive kinetic shift of human beings and social attitudes has exploded onto our streets. No one knows where we are headed, but we have already experienced the predictable blossoming of conflicting narratives. Along with the familiar polarization, we also saw the commodification of the revolution in real time. During the week of #amplifymelanatedvoices, corporations rushed to swear their allegiance to the #BLACKLIVESMATTER movement, with varying levels of tone-deafness and performative ad copy. We, as consumers and citizens are forced to recognize this as progress. Afterall, a capitalist system only understands incentives, so direct action movements like “Pull Up for Change” have been inspiring to watch. The campaign asked companies to #pulluporshutup, forcing companies to publish their diversity numbers, instead of just giving us woke platitudes on social media.  It remains to be seen if we will get any substantial policy reforms out of our government. 

     We live in a time where it is vitally important to confront and state your principles. Language is more important than ever, and yet language remains fundamentally flawed. We must, at all times, accept the paradox that language is an imperfect vehicle for expression, but that it’s the best tool we have. Sometimes it feels like trying to defuse landmines with more landmines. 

     Navigating the complex social upheaval we are currently experiencing requires identifying our values and learning to express them clearly. For example: I am white, but I am pro-black. With regards to the movement for black equality and justice, that’s as directly as I can say it. And I think it’s necessary for white people to become comfortable expressing themselves in this way. To confront and deprogram their discomfort around race, so the cultural conversation can progress. A “revolution” is a turning over of the soil, and a chance for new growth. 

     We should all want to live in a just society, free from the kind of rampant judicial and economic inequality we still see as a result of 400 years of oppression. The racist systems we encounter today were established deliberately, and therefore must be dismantled deliberately, by all of us. 

     The morality of the problem is crystal clear, but the conversation around the issue of race is reliably clouded by confusion and bad faith. In order to make progress, we have to converge on identifying the problems, and the solutions. We must collectively evolve to understand that a movement of human beings inherently consists of different viewpoints, and that we don’t need to agree with every scribbled sign slogan to support its ideals. 

     So what can we agree on? What is unambiguously true?  Racism still stains our society, and its impacts are felt most acutely in the unequal distribution of wealth, and in the criminal justice system. This issue is not political, it’s factual. Black people have 1/10 of the wealth of white people in this country per capita. The American economy was built on free black labor, and the reparations that were promised never happened. 40 Acres and a mule for each freed slave would be about 6.4 trillion dollars today, but only a fraction of the wealth generated by enslaved labor. Economic deprivation of black people continued throughout Jim Crow and the redlining process. Black people were denied wealth building opportunities at several crucial junctures in American history. When we say “NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE” you must realize that peace will not come to this society until economic justice is delivered.  

     The criminal justice system also needs massive reform, and we need to remove partisan politics from this process. I’ll go first: some of the worst policies resulting in mass incarceration were enacted during the Clinton presidency. It’s important to recognize this, not only because both parties have produced racist policy outcomes, but we also need to recognize that not everything is a residual effect of slavery. We are capable of doing incredible damage or delivering justice with the policies we enact today. Instead of reflexively dismissing the concerns of black protesters, the “#alllivesmatter” crowd should join up in solidarity. As they are fond of saying, police kill white people too. Dismantling a system of racist and authoritarian policing isn’t about right and left. It’s about right and wrong.  

     So don’t worry so much about the excesses and contradictions of "woke culture" on Twitter. Stop looking for the movement to have one spokesperson. Likewise, let’s not excessively celebrate the symbolic advertising victories, and how we brought our corporate overlords to their knees with the power of our hashtags. But let’s acknowledge progress made, and that we’ve used market forces - the tools of the system, to create a market for equality. Supply and demand justice. Someone just threw a brick through the window of the marketplace of ideas. And it happened in real life. The revolution will not be measured in likes, comments, or retweets. So at the end of the day, companies selling us back our own slogans on t-shirts and cereal boxes doesn’t have one fraction of the power of our real voices, crying out for change. Given the enormous amount of public support for the cause, we now need to channel the energy into specific policy objectives, and the reforms need to go far past symbolic actions like banning chokeholds. In some better future, we will look back and say we were here, that we lived through this time. But for now, there’s still work to do. 


     As Mr. Heron so eloquently stated,  

              “There will be no re-runs brother. The revolution will be live.”

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