Radical Social Movements Are Love Letters: An interview with Robin D.G. Kelley.

AuthorStockwell, Norman

Robin D.G. Kelley is a distinguished professor and the Gary B. Nash endowed chair in U.S. history at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of more than seven books, including Yo' Mama's Disfunktional!: Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America (Beacon Press, 1997). The revised and expanded edition of his 2002 book, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination, will be released by Beacon Press on August 22. We spoke by telephone on June 28.

Q: In the foreword to the new twentieth-anniversary edition of your book Freedom Dreams, poet Aja Monet writes, "Twenty years later, the truths revealed remain relevant and necessary especially in the thick paralyzing despair of a global pandemic." Where do you see the truths of today?

Robin D.G. Kelley: You and I are talking shortly after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, in what looks like the beginning of a rightwing, Christian-fundamentalist-driven agenda.

If there's a main lesson in the book, it's that many of these dark moments of repression are actually responses to rebellion, opposition, [and] resistance to other kinds of possibilities.

In other words, what we're witnessing now from the Supreme Court is its rightwing turn in response to the opening of democratic possibilities going back to the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. In many ways, it's almost as if the right was simply able to outmaneuver a lot of us. They were trying to shut down something.

Clarence Thomas has been on the court for a very long time, and this is probably the most active he's ever been. He's been waiting for this moment. But keep in mind, when we use terms like rollback, [it] means that we made some progress someplace. Something had to happen for them to roll it back. What we're witnessing now is a rollback....

[Here] in the United States, no one really could [have] imagined twenty-six million people on the street around the killing of a Black man, who himself was a formerly incarcerated person. That was unimaginable.

What I always remind myself, and my students and comrades, is that what's possible now is far more visionary and expansive than what we thought was possible. That's what Freedom Dreams is all about: trying to imagine something beyond that, rather than trying to go back to the status quo.

Q: You referred to the Black Panther Party as the one model of a successful organization that your students focus on. But that really was about a response to conditions. I think that what you're talking about in...

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