Who gets to tell the story? This is a question implicit in the work I do as a historian. But the question I have been wrestling with lately is more immediate: Who gets to shape the narrative, define the history-makers, and capture the words and images of the current black-led, anti-state violence movement evolving in the United States right now?
Even the act of naming a movement like this has its power. Last month The New York Times Magazine bestowed part of the defining privilege on a young former sports writer, Jay Caspian Kang. Kang reduced the growing movement to the personal story lines of two young, earnest and committed social media activists, DeRay Mckesson and Johnetta “Netta” Elzie. While their work has made a critical contribution, Kang frames that work in a way that misrepresents the larger movement. With a narrow range of sources, Kang’s piece concluded that “Twitter is the revolution,” that “our demand is simple: stop killing us,” and that the emergent movement is “leaderless.”