Book Review — “The Devil You Know: a Black Power Manifesto,” by Charles M. Blow


the devil you know book cover


Progress is the wall behind which white America hides. (Even many Black leaders have absorbed and regurgitate the progress narrative.) White liberals expect Black people to applaud their efforts. But how is that a fair and legitimate expectation? Slavery, white supremacy, and racism are horrid, man-made constructs that should never have existed in the first place. Are we meant to cheer the slow, creeping, centuries-long undoing of a thing that never should have been done?


I started reading Charles Blow’s work when I subscribed to The New York Times online. When his memoir about his time growing up in the Deep South, “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” was published in September, 2017, I bought and read it. When word was out that Blow’s latest work was coming out January 26, 2021 I ordered an advance copy. I finished reading it a few days ago.

The first thing I want to say about the book is that it has been meticulously researched from myriad sources. In my large print edition there are 47 pages of source notes for 260 pages of content.

Charles starts with the history and context of the two great migrations that Blacks made in the US. The first, from 1910-1940, saw 1.6 million Blacks move North. From 1940-1970 another 5 million migrated both North and West from the South. Labor shortages from the World Wars brought Blacks to Northern destination cities to find better employment and to a better quality of life, away from Jim Crow laws, racist ideology and widespread lynching.

What many didn’t take long to discover was that the North had its own brand of racism. Blow puts forth the idea that the lynching of the South was replaced with police surveillance, harassment and brutality, and mass incarceration in the North.

What Blow proposes is that there be a reverse migration of Blacks back to the South to a band of states that he feels, based on much research, would be the best place to attempt to cultivate a Black region of the country where actual political clout at specifically state level could be realized. His rationale discusses other ways Blacks have tried to be empowered, validated, and valued as equal citizens and how each one has been ineffective, including protests, violence, and a seemingly infinite amount of patience. I’m 99% sure that the states he is proposing reverse migration to are: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. Blow himself has relocated from NYC to Atlanta, fully committed to the ideas proposed in his book.

I learned so much from reading: white women’s roles in systematic racism, historically and currently [e.g. ‘Karen calls’ to 911;] “ ‘Black codes’ enacted the same year The Civil War ended … laws to ‘regulate the Domestic Relations of Persons of Colour’ … [that] forced freedmen into contractual labor agreements … with white farmers [where it] stipulated that ‘all persons of color who make contracts for service or labor, shall be known as servants, and those with whom they contract, shall be known as masters.’ “; how current local governments operate a ‘debtor’s prison’ around traffic and other court fines, costs, bail, etc.; how the “Black elite get drafted into white-adjacent privilege;” and much more.

The crux of Mr. Blow’s book is why he believes Blacks need a place of “consolidated State power.” He makes an educated, seasoned, and balanced case for it. His writing style is clear, eloquent, and embodies organic passion.

Click here to take you to another book review at NPR by Hope Wabuke.

Rating on a scale from 1-10:  10


7 Comments Add yours

  1. Benn Bell says:

    Good review. May I recommend Caste, by Isobel Wilkerson. It is a real eye opener.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. msjadeli says:

      Thank you, and I’ll add it to my list. Thanks for the recommend.


      1. Liam says:

        I was also going to recommend Isabel Wilkerson’s works, Caste, and her earlier book on the Great Migration, The Warmth of Other Suns.

        I’ve added The Devil You Know to my reading list.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. msjadeli says:

          Glad for the endorsement. I went to Goodreads last night and read a synopsis. Looking forward to your thoughts on TDYK.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review, Lisa. I, too, am from the Deep South, and even as a small child, I despised the ever-present heavy hand of prejudice there. Of course, I’ve thought a lot about white privilege over the past year, and learned a lot about systemic racism in this country. Such sad comments on the human condition. How could the white man’s instinct lead him to such violence and neglect of other human beings? It’s no wonder that the Earth & other animals are often treated with such contempt and disregard. “You can’t hold a man down without staying down with him.”
    ~Booker T. Washington 🌞

    Liked by 1 person

    1. msjadeli says:

      Thank you. The book covers a lot of turf. I’ve lived in MI all my life and have seen more than my fair share of institutionalized racism. We have got to stop the madness! Interesting you mention BTW as he’s discussed at length in the book, and not always in the best light.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. memadtwo says:

    I like Charles Blow’s columns in the Times. I think this last Senate election in Georgia shows the strength and possibilities of consolidating and getting out the Black vote. Racism is everywhere–no place is exempt. But there is power in numbers. Mass incarceration is a continuing scar that seems to have no end. (K)

    Liked by 1 person

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