Black Americans have rarely faced a moment of such swirling currents and counter-currents as this period in history. If we go back to the hope associated with the election of Barack Obama; then consider the harrowing, ugly backlash represented by the Electoral College victory of Donald Trump; if we proceed through those years examining the way the Great Recession hit Black America, and how the notable police killings of Black Americans like Michael Brown galvanized and divided the nation; if we consider how brutally hard the pandemic hit Black America; if we look at the second moment of hope after the ghastly murder of George Floyd; and perhaps most of all, as we bear in mind the continued conservative assault on Black Americans’ voting rights . . . we see two warring narratives coursing through our civic bloodstream, two warring ideas about where Black Americans fit in our project of nationhood. One fulfills this country’s best but all-too-rarely lived up to ideals; the other is a grim dystopia that offers Black Americans a qualified citizenship at best. Which will win?
For this symposium, we asked a distinguished range of contributors to ponder these questions and more in several specific areas: voting rights; criminal justice; the pandemic; the racial wealth gap; the housing crisis; the controversy the right has created around Critical Race Theory; the food and nutrition crises; and finally, what it all means historically. Each essay considers progress and setbacks, challenges and opportunities, making plain the stakes and the work we have in front of us to make our country live up to its stated aspirations for all its people. We thank Russell Davidson for his generous support for this symposium.