Friday, December 19, 2014

We Have the Nation's Attention

This, out from Gallup today, is fascinating:

I wrote earlier this month that this is the best moment for "race relations" (a horrible term) in decades. The American public might not describe this moment in such cheerful terms, but it appears that many agree that it is at least consequential.

The brief spike you see in the early 1990s is the Rodney King verdict and subsequent violence in Los Angeles. Other than that brief moment, more Americans currently say "racism/race relations" is the biggest issue facing the country than at any time since the 1960s.

What do these numbers mean? Three quick things:

1) Racial injustice is invisible to Americans unless highly publicized--usually violent--spectacles bring it to light. Schools did not suddenly become more segregated in December, 2014. The justice system did not turn on a dime and start brutalizing Black people. Poverty did not take an unexpected racial turn this December. These are longstanding issues that impoverish and kill and cause misery and heartache. They are invisible under normal circumstances.

2) The movement is accomplishing something meaningful. Don't get me wrong. We need much more tangible accomplishments. But this poll represents a dramatic shift in public consciousness that we've only seen once before since the death of Martin Luther King. This is not sufficient in itself, but it may be a necessary precondition for the more tangible changes that need to occur.

3) This will surely be, like the 1992 eruption you see in the graph, just a brief spike before a return to the normal baseline, unless we continue to organize, protest, disrupt, and bring our concerns before the nation in a way that it cannot ignore. Our activity does not need to stay in the same form. Less important than any specific means of protest is our ability to craft an overall posture of protest such that we are increasingly organized, increasingly specific, increasingly assertive. We must develop a large, sustainable movement capable of escalating over time. The media will come and go, as will the nation's attention. We know this. We must be organized in such numbers that we can bring justice back onto the national agenda repeatedly and reclaim the nation's attention until substantive change is achieved.

Going to a protest this week is nice, but making plans to be on board for the tough years ahead is more important.

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