[Blackstudies-l] Gary Younge on race and politics in America

Maria Lima lima at geneseo.edu
Sat Jun 6 08:50:45 EDT 2020

“It’s worth remembering that things can always get
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*On the NYR Daily this week*

As the deadline for this newsletter was looming, we were working on an
essay by the British author and journalist *Gary Younge* about how the mass
protests in the United States over the police killing of George Floyd look
from Europe. It soon became obvious to us that this should be our featured
subject this week—even though that meant departing from custom and practice
by highlighting a forthcoming article, rather than drawing attention to one
recently published.

Younge, now living in London with his family, worked in the US for *The
Guardian* for a dozen years until 2015 (by way of disclosure, he and I were
colleagues at the newspaper for as long). He has also been a longtime
columnist for *The Nation*, has made TV, video, and radio programs, and has
recently been appointed professor of sociology at Manchester University.
And he has been back to the US since relocating: his 2017 video interview
<https://email.nybooks.com/t/y-l-uduucd-tllljthykj-j/> with the white
nationalist leader Richard Spencer became an Internet sensation, as well as
a teachable example for aspiring young journalists on how to conduct an
extemporaneous interview with a slippery subject.


All of Younge’s five books take off from his reporting on race and politics
in America—the most recent, in 2016, being the tellingly resonant *Another
Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives*
<https://email.nybooks.com/t/y-l-uduucd-tllljthykj-i/>, about ten children
and teenagers killed by gun violence over a twenty-four period whom you
probably never heard about. In his new piece for us, Younge writes from the
perspective of having witnessed the rallies and demonstrations in Britain
and across Europe that mirrored, in many ways, those that have rocked the
US in the wake of Floyd’s murder.

“From the vantage point of a continent that both resents and covets
American power, and is in no position to do anything about it, African
Americans represent to many a redemptive force: the living proof that the
US is not all it claims to be and could be so much greater than it is,” he
writes. But while many Europeans admire and take inspiration from Black
America, Younge sees a blinkered self-approval in much liberal European

If Europe has a proven talent for anti-racist solidarity with Black
America, one that has once again come to fore with the uprisings in the US,
it also has a history of exporting racism around the world. De Tocqueville
was right to point out that “No African came in freedom to the shores of
the New World,” but he neglected to make clear that it was primarily the
“Old World” that brought those Africans there. Europe has every bit as vile
a history of racism as the Americas—indeed, the histories are entwined. The
most pertinent difference between Europe and the US in this regard is
simply that Europe practiced its most egregious forms of racism—slavery,
colonialism, segregation—outside its borders. America internalized those

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But that’s sufficient spoiler. The full essay will be appearing on the
Daily as soon as possible. In the meantime I caught up with Younge by email
on Friday, and asked him what had so drawn him to the American experience.
“The attraction was racial really,” he told me.

As a teenager, my politics had me more interested in Europe in general and
the Soviet Union in particular. I studied French and Russian and lived in
Paris and in the former Soviet Union for a bit. But as I grew more racially
conscious, in my late teens, I turned to the US.

With the exception of music, the Caribbean and Black Britain just couldn’t
reach me in the way that America could—from the *Beverly Hills Cop* and *Sesame
Street* up through *The Color Purple*, *Brown Girl, Brownstones*, and so
on. Initially, my fascination was with Harlem because of the Harlem
Renaissance. I grew up in a very white town and then went to study in
Edinburgh—not much blacker. So the notion of a whole crew of black people
hanging out and being creative was extremely exciting.

My attention then shifted to the South—music, food, and politics took me
there. I’m still interested, and my interests still pull me back there. But
I have embarked on a project on Black Europe more recently and it’s
exciting to get into so much new material.

I noted that his second book, published in 2006, was subtitled *Encounters
in the Disunited States*
<https://email.nybooks.com/t/y-l-uduucd-tllljthykj-k/>. How does that
disunion look to him now, I asked.

Even greater. That collection of articles was released halfway through the
Bush years. You thought it couldn’t get any worse. Not just the politics
but the rancor. Both the right and the left talked in such apocalyptic
terms—and yet, here we are. Feeling very much on the
brink. It’s worth remembering because things can always get worse. It’s
troubling to think but we may not yet have reached bottom.

With that thought, I wanted to return to the events of past days. The
nationwide protests against police brutality, coming amid the Covid-19
pandemic and all that has revealed about America’s faultlines of
inequality, have given many here hope that the moment can be a catalyst for
real, meaningful change to structural injustice. Is he as hopeful?

It looks both horrific and exhilarating in equal measure. To see so many
people take to the streets in defiance and what looks like
a significant multiracial presence is encouraging. But there is significant
trauma in situations like this: they’re as energizing as they are
polarizing; and the government’s response, such as it exists, has been
horrendous. It’s impossible to know where these moments of conflict and
tension will land. The Sixties ended with Nixon.


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McKeon and me at daily at nybooks.com; we do write back.

Matt Seaton
Editor, NYR Daily


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