The unrest that erupted in late May 2020 started in Minneapolis, my hometown, with the death of George Floyd in police custody. In the protests and riots that followed, Black Lives Matter and Antifa were the shock troops, “police brutality” the rallying cry. It seemed at first an uprising from below, accompanied by common criminality as stores were looted and businesses torched. But with lightning speed, our nation’s elite—leaders of Ivy League universities, major media outlets, and Fortune 500 corporations—seized on the BLM cause. Over and over they reiterated the claim that Floyd’s death revealed “systemic racism” in America. Mainstream figures pledged solidarity with activist groups bent on the wholesale transformation of our society. They assured us that the protests, the statue-toppling, and even the looting expressed the justifiable demand that we face up to our racial sins.
To accept the claims of the new “woke” movement requires ignoring the extraordinary progress America has made in overcoming the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. Sixty years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964—and despite decades of affirmative action, massive social welfare spending, and a two-term black president—the movement’s adherents maintain that our society remains captive to “white supremacy.” Few citizens dare to disagree publicly, which is no surprise. Attacks on dissenters in the press and social media have been ruthless, and some of the targets have lost their reputations and livelihoods.