Charles Blow's own declaration of radical thought — for Black Americans to reconsider their Great Migration North and imagine new possibilities of Black political might ... Blow's main point is this: Racism is everywhere — it's just about what kind of racism you can live with. And for Blow, Southern racism is preferable to its Northern cousin. In cogent arguments bound together by his customary incandescent prose, Blow explores how the white backlash towards the Great Migration that never really ended has created a situation where racism in these Northern 'destination cities' of the Great Migration makes life untenable for Black Americans. Through research undertaken by Project Implicit, Blow found there is no difference between anti-Black bias in the North and the South. There are only the ideas that people will admit to out loud. In other words, writes Blow, 'white people outside the South say the right words but many possess the same bigotry.' ... Weaving together deeply thought out analysis and in-depth sociological and historical research, Blow details how, as Black folks migrated North, 'white people in Chicago found a way to formalize and ensure segregation: restrictive covenants' that made Black people unable to lease, buy, or even use property in certain areas of the city ... It is also important to note the space Blow gives here to Black women social justice leaders who are often ignored, spending time with the mothers of the murdered black children — Samaria Rice, Sybrina Fulton; honoring the work of the great Shirley Chisolm; honoring the work Stacey Abrams. Indeed Abrams' work, like Belafonte's call to action, is an impetus of sorts for Blow's book ... Blow does not call himself an activist and does not admit to any political aspiration; since starting his first newspaper in high school he has thought of himself as a newspaperman through and through. His job, writes Blow, is this: 'I bear witness. I interpret the world. I record history in real time.' But for Blow, Belafonte's call still comes through loud and clear. Imagining free Black futures requires radical thought.
His is a familiar argument, revitalized by the South’s recent political developments ... But Blow instead builds upon the political thought of the freethinking white hippies who moved to Vermont in the early 1970s with the intent of transforming the state’s conservative electoral politics. They succeeded, he says; young Black people today should follow their blueprint ... The weakness in Blow’s plan is that it requires faith in a political system that has consistently failed Black Americans at nearly every turn ... Stories like this fuel the book’s searing account of police violence, systemic racial disparities and social unrest in cities like New York, Minneapolis and Portland. This is where Blow is at his best ... As a historian, I wish he had spent more time exploring the nuances of the Black migration framework the book hinges upon ... A strength of The Devil You Know is its affirmation of Black Americans as a formidable political bloc with whom the nation must reckon. The book is a helpful introduction for those seeking to make sense of fractious political debates about race and voting.
The distinguished New York Times columnist offers a daring but utterly sensible plan to advance Black civil rights ... Valuable as a thought experiment alone but also an 'actual plan' for effecting lasting political change.