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Black Grief, White Grievance

In the United States, the racial divisions among us seem to be deepening, fueled at least in part by political opportunists who prey upon fear and emotion.

Our Lean to the Left podcast guest is Juliet Hooker, a leading thinker on democracy and race and author of a new book, Black Grief, White Grievance. Her book examines racial politics and argues that both White and Black communities must learn to accept loss – for different reasons and to different ends.

"Political loss has been unequally distributed in the history of the United States," she says during the interview. "Because of White supremacy, Black people, in general, have had to shoulder a disproportionate number of losses and Whites as a group have been able to avoid loss more because of their position as the dominant group, politically, economically, socially.

"This uneven distribution of loss has consequences for democracy," she asserts, "because it means that some citizens are making more sacrifices on behalf of the stability of the country than others. And in democracy, everyone is supposed to lose, right? That's the definition of democracy. There's change, there's rotation, no one wins all the time. And so that's one of the overall arguments."

The Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol by Donald Trump's MAGA supporters is a perfect example of the "White grievance", says Professor Hooker.

"I think it is," she says. "Of course, there are a number of different things that were going on that fueled January 6th, but I think We one way to think about or one of the factors is definitely this mobilization of the sense that that certain people aren't supposed to lose right in the US that they are the true Americans, right?"

About Professor Hooker

Professor Hooker is the Royce Family Professor of Teaching Excellence in Political Science at Brown University, where she teaches courses on racial justice, Black political thought, Latin American political thought, democratic theory, and contemporary political theory.

Before coming to Brown, she was a faculty member at the University of Texas at Austin. She also is the author of Race and the Politics of Solidarity, Theorizing Race in the Americas, and editor of Black and Indigenous Resistance in the Americas: From Multiculturalism to Racist Backlash.

Here are some questions we explored with Professor Hooker as she discussed Black Grief, White Grievance.

Q. First, tell us about your book, its premise, and what prompted you to write it.

Q. In the promos for your book, it says that in democracies, citizens must accept loss; we can’t always be on the winning side. But in the United States, the fundamental civic capacity of being able to lose is not distributed equally among the races. Please explain.

Q. In your book’s introduction, you write that “Black grief and white grievance are linked because white grievance obscures and supplants Black grief and is often mobilized in response to it. Please explain.

Q. How did the Trump administration exacerbate this?

Q. Trump, of course, refuses to accept the loss of the 2020 election and the January 6 attack on the Capitol was the result. Is that an example of White grievance?

Q. What about Trump’s attacks on immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S?

Q. You also write that “while Black grief has historically been mobilized by Black activists in service of Black freedom, we must reckon with the loss this entails.” What do you mean?

Q. You write that Black citizens are “expected to protest only in the most civil, nondisruptive ways in order for their losses to be legible. Refusals to contain Black rage are said to be counterproductive because they alienate potential white allies.” Are you saying that violent, disruptive protests are justified?

Q. Many of the January 6 protestors have received lengthy prison sentences for their actions. But you write that “armed white antimask protesters at various state capitals and white insurrectionists at the Capitol received kid-glove treatment compared to the heavy-handed, violent, repressive tactics unleashed on racial justice protesters.” Do you believe justice is being served in these January 6 cases?

Q. Do you believe Donald Trump will face justice for his actions regarding the election and January 6? Why or why not?

Q. What about police shootings of unarmed Black people? What needs to happen to end such actions?

Q. You write that “Despite recurring anxiety that Black rage at ongoing loss will fray the bonds of the body politic, it is in fact white refusal to accept legitimate political loss that is the most profoundly antidemocratic force in US politics.” Please elaborate.

Q. How can these continuing racial tensions be eased in the U.S.?

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