“Sam Dubose. Sandra Bland. Freddie Gray. Eric Garner. Michael Brown. These names are now a part of the rallying cry of the Black Lives Matter movement. Not famous for their lives. Tragically, they are famous only in wrongful death.” [HuffPo] and altogether too many others.
It’s been interesting to watch the white American reaction to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and the range of those reactions. From the white’s-right end of the spectrum came the #AllLivesMatter theme – including, we presume, those of white officers being charged (or remaining uncharged) for their excessive use of force or poor professional judgment. No sooner did the #BlackLivesMatter signs appear than there was an all too predictable white backlash:
“A Saint Louis-area minister, for example, wrote of a “Black Lives Matter” sign being defaced with “All Lives Matter” written on the front and a racial slur written on the back. The fact that “All Lives Matter” is being used to argue against the idea that Black lives matter is proof that (1) People spreading that slogan don’t really believe Black lives matter, at least not equally, and (2) It’s therefore not true that all lives do matter equally in their eyes. The statement’s use belies itself. If all lives matter, then black lives matter, so why the argument? Why the comeback? The comeback proves that statement false, and proves it for what it is — a response born of fear and racism.” [Schade, November 2014]
The point has been made repeatedly that the response “All Lives Matter” is (1) a way of diluting the sting of direct allegations of police brutality, use of excessive force, bias, discrimination, and/or profiling; after all, “white lives” matter too? Right? The problem, of course, is the disproportionate use of force against people of color. [ProPublica] and (2) a theme useful in an attempt to appear “post racial.” The erasure of “race” is as silly as it is counter-productive.
Another form of reaction comes from those writers and pundits who opine that the #BlackLivesMatter movement is congenitally flawed, based as it is on whether or not Michael Brown raised his hands, or if a flight from an officer constitutes a defiance of law and order, or if the individual victimized had in some way been the instrument of his or her own destruction.
This utterly misses the point. The individual character flaws of individual actors – real or speculative – is not the origin, nor the basis, of the movement.
“To even lightly advance the idea that Michael Brown’s alleged transgressions make him incapable of being a symbol of the movement is to entirely miss its point. When people say Black Lives Matter, they mean every single life. If Michael Brown committed a petty crime and behaved disrespectfully to a member of a police office department that has been since proven to be predatory to its Black residents, it has no bearing on the fact that police officers across this country have bad habits that they disproportionately dish out on people of color.” (Michael Arceneaux)[NewsOne]
In addition to the backlash trap, and the basic flaw trap, there’s the dilution trap.
If #BlackLivesMatter then what of the unborn, the animals, the lives affected by climate change? Okay, fine – but those are separate issues entirely. The wailing and whinging is ear splitting – why are people so upset about police assaults but not about abortion? – why are people so enraged about the killing of Cecil the lion but not about the deaths of African Americans? First, and obviously, people have different personal interests and agendas. If one is an environmental activist that doesn’t necessarily include or preclude one’s participation or support for #BlackLivesMatter. If one is opposed to abortion that, too, doesn’t include or preclude interest in #BlackLivesMatter. If a person is opposed to trophy hunting for exotic animals that doesn’t automatically include or preclude interest in #BlackLivesMatter. Purity can be a lovely thing, but even Ivory Soap was forced to advertise that it was 99.44% pure (pure what they never told us?)
If the #BlackLivesMatter advocates can wade through the backlash, the “basic flaw,” and dilution fever swamps, there’s at least one more to go. It’s the “What Do You Want?” trap. Evidently, by modern media standards, a movement must spring full born from the Head of Zeus, complete, and replete, with convenient press releases and position papers outlining precisely what the organization wants. Detailed, of course, preferably with bullet points, for easy translation into quick copy. The #Occupy movement was battered by the media for not being “well organized,” and too amoebic for translation into action, it never occurred to some media lights that perhaps there was a wide range of individuals uncomfortable with and opposed to the various implications and results of corporatism?
The basic concept behind #BlackLivesMatter is to make it stop. “It” being the excessive use of force against people of color. Beyond and beneath that aspiration isn’t a bedrock of easily digestible sound-bites, but a plethora of less specific topics we need to discuss; for example, the recruitment, training, and professional development of law enforcement officers. Another element is the possible restructuring of judicial systems such that officers with dubious records in community relations aren’t pre-judged innocent before being held accountable for their actions. Still another, the implementation of community policing strategies and programs. Complex issues don’t lend themselves to sound-bite solutions, and racism in American life is an extremely complex issue.
Nothing better illustrates the racism implicit in the opponents and critics of #BlackLivesMatter than the institutional reaction to their organization. “ZeroFox,” a cyber-security firm was hired to provide surveillance of the #BlackLivesMatter leadership, whom it deemed a “high” threat, and potentially “physical.” [MJ] If this is reminiscent of the FBI tracking Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. then we should note that it was the FBI who recommended ZeroFox to the city of Baltimore. According to at least one source, the DoJ has been monitoring the movement since the demonstrations in Ferguson, MO. [FL.org]
Could this be because African Americans are “emotional,” “violent,” and easily led to acts of destruction? If that construct informed any of the surveillance and subsequent reporting, then we do, indeed, have a long way to go in removing institutional racism from American governance. Did some observers or officials find such surveillance and reporting “comforting,” assuaging as it might the biases underpinning notions like Blacks are Destructive unless kept under close watch and control? If so, we haven’t moved far enough away from the Slave Patrol mentality of the 19th century – and that needs to be discussed. The reports on possible graffiti knitting ought to make fascinating reading?
Perhaps we’ll get,”Twelve parking meters were assaulted (read: covered) with 100% acrylic Red Heart fibers (read: knitting yarn) overnight in the east metro suburb of Keenpeele. Profilers tell us the possible perpetrators are female, between the ages of 15 and 95, carrying sharp needles.” Meanwhile, we’d not want to give away the location(s) of those ladies who are crafting scarves, sweaters, and baby booties while discussing how to improve race relations in the U.S. of A., and inviting other women to join their productive efforts.
Seriously, the #BlackLivesMatter movement could do with more support and less surveillance. More understanding and less pontificating analysis. More serious discussion and fewer sound-bite sensationalism pieces. More honesty and much less rationalization on the part of its critics and opponents. More focus on the extent of the problem and less narrow focus on the individuals actors involved. We do need to talk instead of appropriating and misappropriating the #BlackLivesMatter topic.