Black Lives Matter and the Paradoxes of U.S. Black Politics: From Democratic Sacrifice to Democratic Repair
This essay seeks to understand the complex response to the current Black Lives Matter protests against police violence, which pose deeper questions about the forms of politics that black citizens—who are experiencing a defining moment of racial terror in the United States in the twenty-first century—can and should pursue. When other citizens and state institutions betray a lack of care and concern for black suffering, which in turn makes it impossible for those wrongs to be redressed, is it fair to ask blacks to enact “appropriate” democratic politics? These questions are explored via a reading of Danielle Allen and Ralph Ellison’s meditations on the problem of democratic loss and Hannah Arendt’s critique of school desegregation battles in the 1960s. I suggest that there is a conceptual trap in romantic historical narratives of black activism (especially the civil rights movement) that recast peaceful acquiescence to loss as a form of democratic exemplarity.