DO YOU support the Black Lives Matter movement, or do you merely think Black lives matter? There’s a big difference.
Let me explain, in case you’re confused, as it’s a confusing topic, and only recently did I begin to understand, myself.
Each and every American should agree with the statement “Black lives matter.” It’s a straightforward slogan, clear in its meaning.
It’s a simple message; we’re reminded that Black people suffered under slavery and Jim Crow segregation, and continue to suffer. The implication is that Black people’s lives should matter just as much as anyone else’s; a further take-away is that this has not been the case, even as our society has steadily become more liberalized and progressive over past decades.
The message transcends politics and is really about taking a compassionate stance toward Black people and the issues they continue to face in our society. It’s positive.
Life for Black citizens is not as bad as it was in slavery times, and not nearly as troublesome as when segregation was still the rule in the South, just a little over fifty years ago. But it would be impossible to deny that this history of generations of ill treatment by the larger society has propelled Black Americans along a dangerous and difficult trajectory.
“Black lives matter” is a phrase worth repeating. Too many young Black kids get the wrong message, from the media, from popular entertainment like music and influencers, sometimes from members of their very own communities. Black kids, like all kids, need to know that applied effort and focus can bring almost unlimited opportunity. And, education is key. Too many Black citizens undervalue the significance of learning, and the value of an education is an idea that can’t be repeated enough.
Until all of us are uplifted, none of us really are. The culture of gangs and materialism is rampant in some Black communities; again, blame the industries that profit by bringing these memes to Black youth, just to increase their own market share. It’s not cool to tote a gun and sell drugs. Why not reinvigorate the hip-hop of yesteryear that pushed a message of hope and positivity and establish a hip-hop Renaissance, of sorts?
BLM As A Social Movement
Black Lives Matter is also the name of a social movement. You may not agree with its goals, or even the means it might use to attain such goals, yet still agree with the statement that Black lives matter.
Black Lives Matter, or BLM for short, has a stated mission to, “eradicate White supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.” Fighting for “Black liberation” is not as clear a notion as it was in the 1960s; for the most part, institutions like apartheid have all but disappeared. And, while segregation remained illegal after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the practice persisted in a myriad of forms, including discrimination in housing and education. Drug sentencing disparities, such as differences in crack and powder cocaine, are yet another.
Inequality became practically invisible, yet remained very real. Overt forms of racism had been mostly destroyed, yet racism continued in many ways.
Racism against Black people persists in pockets across the U.S., to this day. While we have programs like Affirmative Action and strict laws against hate crimes, some Americans still practice bias against Black people. They do this while in their community. They do this while at work. And, the War On Drugs invariably targeted disadvantaged people, of which young Black men comprised a sizable portion, many of whom live in our country’s blighted urban areas.
Transforming society is a clear goal of BLM. “We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure,” the BLM website states. But isn’t mass incarceration of Black men already accomplishing this goal, with disastrous effects? Of course, BLM clarified by stating that extended families and “villages” are the answer to the plague of the nuclear family. But one might argue that restoring the Black man’s stature within society will do more to help than anything.
Black people, for the most part, already enjoy strong extended families. Most Black people have a tradition of the family BBQ, grand gatherings of aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and family friends. Most Black citizens remain involved in one another’s lives, perhaps more than most White folks. And, the idea that “it takes a village” is already part of Black culture; neighbors care about neighbors in many areas, and that concern for one another’s children does not fall strictly along racial lines. We must all care about each other, and banding together as socially constructed racial groups is not a better solution, but rather a worse one.
BLM claims its fight is against, “rampant and deliberate violence inflicted on us by the state.” However, statistics do not bear out this claim; Black people are no longer lynched for merely looking at a White woman or trying to read a book. If police target an unarmed Black person minding their own business, it’s a big deal. It makes national headlines. It’s now the exception, rather than the rule, a far cry from our collective past. Of course, BLM’s activism is partly to thank for this; there’s no denying their actions have called greater attention to instances where unarmed Black men have died while in police custody.
Decriminalizing sex workers is another social goal of Black Lives Matter. Not all Black people, many of whom are Christian, Muslim, and extremely Conservative, feel this is a worthy goal. While legal sex workers whom are periodically tested help keep the spread of diseases like HIV, syphilis, and other plagues in check, it’s just not something that everyone can agree is a good idea. Some feel that it’s a woman or man’s choice to sell their body. Others feel it’s inherently demeaning and should be discouraged in all instances.
Black Lives Matter also stands for trans-people’s rights. Why? Trans Black women are 0ften the target of violence. That is a known fact. Even if you don’t agree with the lifestyle, as a moral human being, you should agree that safeguarding their rights, and their safety and security, are noble endeavors. However, you may have issue with advancing a cause you disagree with on, say, religious grounds, while still wishing to help keep trans people out of harm’s way.
Combating food insecurity is also one of the group’s worthy goals, even though we have many publicly funded government programs that make sure no one goes hungry, whether Black, White, or any other race. Even so, it still happens. There are also many nonprofits and charities that fill in the gaps where government-funded programs fail, but some Americans go hungry each night, even still.
BLM As A Political Ideology
This brings us to BLM in its third form: An organization with definite political aims.
There’s even a website and formal leaders. It’s an organization, a nonprofit called Black Lives Matter Foundation, Inc. There’s even an “official” tee-shirt. It was founded in 2013 by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi.
Cullors is a protégé of Eric Mann, a member of the Weather Underground, a group with a decidedly Marxist-Leninist viewpoint, and was declared a terrorist organization in 1969 by the FBI. That isn’t merely the case of the F.B.I. playing fast and loose with definitions; the Weather Underground was responsible for bombings within the borders of the U.S.
BLM is therefore a communist organization, and in the U.S., it’s absolutely your right to laud communism. Praise Ernesto “Che” Guevara, if you want. However, many more Americans are not quite into this ideology, and that’s their right, too.
The BLM website implores readers to, “Join the Movement to fight for Freedom, Liberation and Justice.” That sounds like a worthy cause, one that no good American would ever choose to denigrate or work against, however the movement is undeniably political, and not all Americans might support BLM’s political views, yet still strongly advocate for social change and the further advancement of Black peoples.
“Defunding” the police is one such political aim of BLM.
Undeniably, policing is not perfect, but one would be hard-pressed to find “state-sanctioned violence and anti-Black racism” in 2020. Black people are, without a doubt, a free people. Chanting “Pigs in a blanket, fry ’em like bacon,” only serves to further polarize relations between the Black community and police; perhaps a better approach would be to rally for changes in laws that benefit all people, such as marijuana legalization, and incentivizing young Black men and women to join their local police force.
Right-leaning author, commentator, and political activist Candace Owens, has this to say about this concept, in an interview on Sunday with Ben Shapiro on his YouTube show:
“They’re operating under the guide of common sense…Black lives matter…we know that all across America, in major cities, Black crime rate has gone up, Black homicide rate has gone up…I hate everything to do with Black Lives Matter…I…speak out against…what is…a big lie. This is all built upon the idea that Black Americans are being gunned, unarmed by police officers…we’re just doing our business and a police officer sees us and they come up to us, they want to kill us, and that’s a lie.”
Statistics support her views; for going against the Liberal ideology, many have called her an “Uncle Tom” and far worse.
Practice such as “stop, frisk, and question” can take guns off the streets. It’s a proven fact. However, there are two serious issues with this. Firstly, it makes people in low-income neighborhoods feel as though they’re living under the thumb of an occupying force. And, it’s a good point. Such programs must be instituted with extreme care.
Secondly, while it is effective for finding unlicensed handguns, and removing them from the streets, many kids had been caught up in such operations and ended up in the system with an arrest record for simple marijuana possession.
While many other young people were also using marijuana in high numbers, they were not doing so in areas where this practice of having passersby empty the contents of their pockets in front of the police, was in place. And so, rates of arrest for marijuana-related crimes soared in areas where Stop and Frisk was employed. We can have a return of this program in the future, but without cannabis law reform, the same thing is going to happen all over again. And, that’s just not fair. There must be equal protection under the law.
In fact, the entire War on Drugs, an invention of the Nixon White House, has been a dismal failure, has not lowered the use of drugs, and is keeping Black America down more than anything else. Rethinking this policy is long overdue. Police can attend to more important matters if drugs were dealt with as a public health crisis, rather than merely as a criminal issue.
The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, explores this possibility in Cato’s Letters A Quarterly Message on Liberty, Winter 2011, Volume 9, Number 1. In an essay entitled “How the War on Drugs Is Destroying Black America,” John McWhorter, associate professor of linguistics at University of California, Berkeley, presents this revolutionary idea. He is a Black man, and understands how the War on Drugs is the primary driving force tearing Black families, and communities, apart.
From Professor McWhorter’s text, considering the effects of the cessation of the Drug War, “…No more gang wars over turf, no more kids shooting each other over sneakers, no more ‘Stop the Violence’ rallies, no more agonized discussions about gun possession in the inner cities.”
And, the effects would be to strengthen the nuclear family, rather than lessen its significance, quite the opposite of BLM’s stated goal, “No more glum speculations about the extent to which Black women’s romantic choices are shaped by a ‘shortage of Black men,’ no more scholarship showing that women in the ghetto get pregnant out of wedlock because they don’t see the men they know as marriageable.”
As for getting more Black people “on the job,” that’s always a worthy goal. Young Black kids need police they can look up to and identify with; while being of the same race doesn’t automatically mean better relations within Black communities for law enforcement, it can only help. New York City is leading the way in this; there are more police minority officers than ever.
Fostering the growth of programs whereby police officers get to know the members of the community as individuals with names, faces, and unique stories, is far more productive than BLM pushing back against the police in a tit-for-tat initiative. BLM’s tactics, in this regard, fail miserably.
BLM wants community control in the hiring and firing of police officers. However, such demands, if fulfilled, might harm the men and women in law enforcement who do not break the rules, by eliminating job security. That means all police officers, Black, White, Latinx, and others. Revenge firings, false reports, and innocent cops losing their jobs unjustly would be the potential results.
Of course, oversight for policing should exist. There have been past issues in this regard, but perhaps BLM’s solution isn’t the best, either. Police officers, like all civil servants, should have some degree of liability for their speech and actions, while serving as functionaries of our local and state governments. It’s quite likely this area does require more attention.
BLM also wants police out of public schools. This is a point that perhaps a great majority of us would agree upon; it probably wasn’t a great idea in the first place. It’s not difficult to find images online of children being handcuffed and “arrested” at the tender age of eight, tears streaming down their faces, as they stare in horror and confusion. That’s just wrong. In fact, it helps to build a false case that police, by and large, are bad. And, it acclimates kids to feeling like a thug, and being treated like one. In the end, they’re only children.
In some cities, new concepts are under review. Police are ceding some of their authority to “community public safety” officers who deal with issues such as domestic violence disputes, people experiencing emotional disturbances, and other less serious problems. If truth be told, the police are already better equipped to handle all this, and in recent decades have become more and more able to defuse situations with community-oriented policing teams.
The Reverend Al Sharpton of National Action network had this to say today on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” regarding the idea of defunding the police: “To take all policing off is something that I think a latte liberal may go for as they sit around the Hamptons discussing this as some academic problem..But people living on the ground need proper policing. We need to reimagine how we do policing.”
“We’ve always heard about the tale of two cities. On the side of the city that I come from, which is blacker and poorer, we’ve seen more in terms of gun usage…So I would say, statistically we’re not much higher than where we were, but on the ground it is certainly feeling more violent, feeling more unsafe in unsafe communities.”
Other aims of Black Lives Matter are both political and social in nature. Combating “redlining” in housing opportunities is another of BLM’s goals which fits both categories. Redlining means the denial of banking, insurance, and even government services to low-income areas. Of course, not only Black families are affected, rather anyone living in such an area is at a distinct disadvantage.
Education policy changes are also cited, but not specifically clarified. BLM also wants decarceration; it’s true that the U.S. has an extremely high number of citizens in prison, compared to our total population. Private prisons probably aren’t the best idea, for entirely moral reasons. Incentivizing, and profiting from, the wholesale warehousing of other humans just can’t be just. BLM doesn’t stop there; the organization wants a halt to all new prisons being constructed, instead diverting such funds to public education budgets.
Cultural changes within our nation’s Black communities must happen, and quickly. Attitudes must shift; Black kids must understand that speaking Standard American English is not “talking White,” but rather the appropriate way to speak in the classroom. There are many instances of Black kids sharing stories of being shunned and bullied by other Black kids for valuing academic achievement. And, that’s just wrong.
The Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) drafted a statement this July entitled, “This Ain’t Another Statement! This is a DEMAND for Black Linguistic Justice!” The document acknowledges that “progressive scholars and teachers today to acknowledge students’ multiple language backgrounds.” As a former university language instructor, I can concur; Ebonics is a valid mode of communications, with its own set of verb tenses, logic, and more.
As the authors of the declaration explain, “We write this statement while witnessing ongoing #BlackLivesMatter protests across the United States…” and refers to “proper” English as “…anti-Black linguistic racism that is used to diminish Black Language and Black students in classrooms.”
However, the CCCC has taken it all one step further, and wants classroom teachers to stop the instruction of Standard American English and instead permit Black students to communicate in Black English at school. Very well; however, once students get to the real world, how is that going to work out? Black kids need not abandon their neighborhood dialect, but failing to teach them SAE is just wrong. SAE is not White English, but rather the language used in the world of business, academics, and by English speaking professionals worldwide.
Perhaps in future the SAT will be retooled to combat “ingrained” anti-Black sentiment. I can see it now: The vocabulary section will include words like “twerk, “baller,” “Benjamins,” and “dome piece.” And to combat cultural differences, comprehension and logic will be based on pop culture, familiarity with distinctly Afro-centric and Latinx rappers and styles, maybe a section on Cardi B and Tekashi 69 videos. That will surely even the score and keep those uppity White kids from having an unfair advantage!
Black Lives Matter also wants reparations for slavery to be paid by the government to descendants of slaves. While specifics have not been worked out, the party’s platform is firm in its belief that reparations are due. Black people were promised forty acres and a mule. That never happened. How much Black people might receive, and the considerations for who might be entitled, are not delineated.
Should Sicilian-Americans be included? For decades, they were considered “White niggars,” and Italians from mainland Europe regard them very differently than other Italians, even today. They picked cotton and did work that no one but slaves performed when they emigrated here.
The United States Census even counted Sicilians as Black. And, there were laws passed banning their immigration when limits on non-Whites entering the U.S. were passed in the early 20th century. And, the biggest mass public lynching in the history of the South was of Sicilians in Louisiana.
That’s a fact. So should this group also receive reparations? They surely carried a burden for being regarded as Black, yet weren’t actually owned by White slaveowners. Should that qualify anyway? They suffered under Jim Crow segregation, certainly. Is that enough to warrant recompense, at least partially?
Putting an end to mass surveillance is another definitive goal. While this may seem like a good idea, in an age where everything is digital, such measures can thwart terrorism and keep us all safe. While privacy is something we all take for granted, it’s questionable whether such is even a possibility in this entirely digital age. If you actually investigate this topic, you’ll find that your personal data is a premium that is bought and sold, unbeknownst to you. All your online activities, and I do mean all, are there for the right data broker to provide to any government entity, private company, or individual willing to pay the right price. Perhaps this isn’t so good, after all.
BLM’s Sometimes Questionable Tactics
Black Lives Matters’ tactics of direct action sometimes means getting in people’s faces with this message of change. Not everyone agrees that this is fair to the target of the message, or that it’s even effective in bringing new converts to the cause on board. Yelling “f**king white people” in diners’ faces and stealing their beverages and food is but one example; some of those being yelled at might even have donated their own time or funds to Black causes.
That also includes defacing buildings with political slogans and damaging public and/or private property. Protesting and rallying is one thing; destroying our cities is quite another. Our cities were built on the sweat and labor of peoples of all backgrounds. If we do not work together to protect our commons, we will all lose out.
Some do not mind this destruction too much, rightly stating that property damage is not equivalent to causing harm to persons. Yet, many small businesses that were targets of pillaging were, in fact, owned by minorities. In the end, that can hurt individuals and families, though indirectly.
Demonstrations, sit-ins, rallies, social media activism, and the like, are protected activities and harm no one. There is no valid criticism for such. And, more importantly, these activities do not dilute the message of change or take attention away from the important areas of focus, like questionable activities might.
And so, you might be in complete agreement with the slogan “Black lives matter,” yet disagree with the “Black Lives Matter” social movement, or feel that the “Black Lives Matter” organization is not your cup of tea. It’s entirely your right to draw the line at actions or philosophies that are against your own ideals.
It doesn’t mean you’re a racist if you won’t get behind BLM; it merely demonstrates that you have your own ideas. In fact, there are plenty of Black activists who shun BLM, for one or more reasons. Many ordinary Black Americans, not inclined to activism, still want to see change, yet question BLM’s tactics, and in some cases, political motives. You may be a socialist, yet disagree with some of BLM’s ways of bringing attention to issues. You may agree with their message, yet find the idea of socialism less than desirable.
Social activism is important, however, there are many ways to go about instigating change. Approach is everything, and if you don’t feel affinity for BLM’s approach, it’s your right to find a different avenue for your activism.
After all, it’s a free country, and we should be able to each do our part in making America more equal. No one can force you to support their cause. But get involved. Do something! You can’t criticize if you’ve done nothing at all to help.