Confronting a history of oppression.
We’re transfixed, all of us, looking at a collision of deadly viruses, racial hatred and a pandemic disease. Suddenly what commands attention is the black push-back, with a lot of white support, against an injustice system – sparked by yet another police killing of a helpless black man, 30 years down the video trail from Rodney King. What grips us is partly the video spectacle of cop cars burning last weekend, and mostly peaceful marches everywhere since then. It’s also this replay loop of documented brutality in the work of policemen, enforcing second-class citizenship in this endangered model democracy. The history piece is our focus, back to the abandonment of Reconstruction after the Civil War.
The trouble in the land has roots in two centuries and more of slavery, we know, and also in the way slavery ended: in a horrible civil war and then a failed attempt to reimagine and rebuild a nation of free and equal people. That re-start, less familiar in my old textbooks, was called Reconstruction. It got pushed aside after a decade for what was called Redemption. Meaning: restoration of white planter power and forced Jim Crow subjection of the former slaves. This is our unfinished history, as in James Joyce’s most famous line: history as the nightmare from which we are still trying to awake. In the turmoil around the headline viruses – COVID-19 and racism – we have a sort of thought experiment this hour: is yet another Reconstruction what we need? Can we picture it?
Hear a report from a protest in Franklin Park on June 2, 2020, by Azan Reid, with help from Conor Gillies (content warning: language):
And hear Chris’s conversation with long-time caller and friend Amber, who’s taking the bird’s-eye view of recent street protests from her home in Codman Square:
Franklin Park protest photos by Azan Reid.
Amber Bryan and Azan Reid are both longstanding friends and contributors to Open Source.
Historian at Columbia University.
Law professor at UCLA and Columbia Law School.