In Baltimore it was Freddie Gray. In Ferguson it was Michael Brown. On Staten Island it was Eric Garner.
And in many other places, poor black men and boys have died in confrontations with police. On this week’s DecodeDC podcast, we talk with author, journalist and historian Isabel Wilkerson, who says the social unrest we’ve seen in some of these places shouldn’t be shocking at all—it’s absolutely predictable.
“What we’re seeing right now when we look at Ferguson or we look at Baltimore in this moment, we have to remind ourselves that this is a screenshot at the end of a very long running movie that is still not over,” Wilkerson said.
Wilkerson spent 15 years researching and writing her book, “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.” The book is among the most important ethnographies of the 20th century experience, which is the story of nearly 6 million African Americans who migrated out of the South.
Wilkerson’s book describes the Great Migration and the families who sought lives and opportunities they thought would be more readily available outside the grip of the South’s rigid Jim Crow caste system. But Wilkerson says that in some ways, African Americans found a mutation in the North of the resistance and hostilities they experienced in the South.
“We still live with the after effects of assumptions and stereotypes of structural inequalities that grew out of that era,” Wilkerson said.
Wilkerson says we have to take a hard look at the lessons from the Great Migration, or we’re bound to repeat history, and the social unrest will continue.