A black person’s response to Black Lives Matter.
Most ‘racists’ are dead or dying. Marvellous. Yet racism is still as much as an issue now as it has ever been. Neither of these statements are revolutionary, but their concurrent truth seems to have been ignored by populist racial equality campaigns. Whilst overtly racist hate groups such as the Klan are undeniably extant, the majority of racial discrimination comes from those who balk at the term ‘racist’. A plethora of examples exist online, in print, and in real life of people repeatedly explicitly, implicitly or accidentally asserting the inferiority of black people, but taking offence when asked if they might be ‘racist’. Thus, we have witnessed the death of ‘racists’, but the advent of thinly veiled latent, and at times abrasive, racist prejudice is on the rise. In other words, the rise of ‘I’m not racist, but…’
The Civil rights movement of the 1940s-1970s is entirely disanalogous to the current racial situation in this way. For campaigners such as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, the fight was essentially against a high level of self-professed racial bias and visible institutional favouritism. The fight now is against a high level of veiled and at times subconscious racial bias and similarly hidden institutional favouritism.
This means that Black Lives Matter and campaigns like it are fighting what has become a straw man: namely ‘racists’. Fighting a straw man in campaigns has disastrous consequences. Firstly, it detracts attention from the genuine issue, secondly it makes a refutation of the argument incredibly easy for those who were otherwise in the wrong, and thirdly it antagonises the less intelligent as they feel accused of being something they never were.
A perfect example of the third point would be the ‘Racist Brain Campaign’ poster of 1996 which depicted the brain of a ‘racist’ as smaller than ‘African’, ‘Asian’, and ‘European’ brains which were all of an equal size. The Commission for Racial Equality clasped their hands in joy at the simplicity of their message as they promulgated these across the country before receiving waves upon waves of complaints. At first this seems preposterous, but Trevor Phillips (the then director of the campaign) spoke out almost two decades later to explain the upset. Rather than understanding the message of the poster (that all races are equally intelligent, and that racism is unintelligent), people began to feel that they were being called racist by an overly-progressive government that seemed intent upon punishing and insulting people for thoughts they claimed they’d never had. It is to this end that Phillips believes that this anti-racism poster actually contributed to racial tension at the time. If we alienate and upset those who were very close to being on our side, it should come as little surprise when the situation is exacerbated. This approach failed on two counts. Firstly, people who most likely did have smaller and less conscious prejudices against other races were repeatedly alienated from the movement campaigners were intent they joined. Secondly, for those who did self-identify as racist, insulting their intellectual aptitude was clearly not a productive way of going about a conversion process.
This example provides a crucial lesson: the campaigners’ thoughts, feelings, sentiments, and even values are irrelevant and mostly counter-productive to campaigns, and far more attention ought to be directed towards the thoughts, feelings, sentiments, and values of what one might term one’s ‘target market’. Equality movements are essentially difficult marketing campaigns, focussed around tough sells to impossible people. There is no need to sell ‘racial equality’ to those who already buy it, but there is every need to push it towards those who don’t. It is impossible to conceive of any advertising campaign that would insult and accuse those who fail to buy a product, because whilst perhaps providing some catharsis for a frustrated advertising account executive, it would achieve nothing quantifiable. In this respect, the end entirely justifies the means. If in the process of campaigning for racial equality I must compromise on my position and briefly assert opinions I disagree with in order to eventually ‘sell’ racial equality, I must. Why? Quite simply, I don’t matter within the context of the movement, and it would be narcissistic and cancerous to the cause to believe I did. The clichéd marketing catchphrase ‘the customer is always right’ is a pillar of sales not because the customer is right, but because allowing someone to feel right and complimenting their ‘good-sense’ is the best start for getting them to change their minds.
Hence in this respect, Black Lives Don’t Matter. White Lives and Other Lives Matter have always mattered, and matter more than ever before in racial equality. It seems very clear to me that the last people one needs to convince that black lives matter, are black people. We were convinced from birth, since before the campaign ever began, and thus it is ludicrous and worrying that the entirety of our racial equality campaign is focussed on vindicating ourselves, along with people of any other race already convinced. We know that police think we’re criminals, we know what slavery is and what happened and why it matters, we know there is bias in historically Caucasian institutions, and most importantly we know that Black Lives Matter. The problem with Black Lives Matter is that it isn’t consumer-orientated.
Black Lives Matter has constantly received the response that All Lives Matter, as many have felt that there is an implicit assumption within the movement that ‘black’ is believed to be synonymous to ‘better’. This clearly isn’t the case, and even the shortest investigation into the campaign demonstrates that the message is simply that black lives seem currently not to matter as much as others, as evidenced by police shootings, and we ought to remind people that they do. I fully agree with this and see no faulty logic in the argument put forward by BLM, but that is really inconsequential. It doesn’t matter what I think of the slogan, nor the thousands of supporters, but rather the people whom we seek to convert. A misunderstood campaign is worse than pointless. If the slogan is apparently so dividing that it legitimises someone’s refusal to even begin to listen to the ensuing evidence, there is no way in which the campaign cannot be seen as self-destructive. In every other conceivable circumstance, a misunderstood and polarising slogan would be changed. The lack of responsiveness to dissent in favour of ploughing on with a divisive sound-bite is precisely the same fingers-in-ears approach that we are supposedly against.
‘Divisive’ does not even begin to describe the Black Lives Matter ethos. Everything about it further entrenches divisions between white and black, the ‘oppressor’ and the ‘oppressed’. Its tone is accusatory, and it seems to support some form of metaphorical neo-apartheid that is both illogical and unachievable, but most importantly undesirable, and is miles away from the reconciliation-centric approach that has a proven track-record of achieving change. Simply painting white people as the cause of all suffering is not something the unconvinced will want to buy into. As discussed earlier, race-issues are no longer as clear-cut as oppressor/oppressed, and to take this reductionist viewpoint shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the last 60 years of social history, which is particularly shocking and confusing in light of the fact that a vast proportion of BLM’s supporters must have lived through at least some of it.
Racial equality, as we know, is not a new issue. It has been ongoing for centuries and it is amateurish and juvenile to think that what couldn’t be solved during the entirety of history may now be solved by chanting three words and lying down in ridiculous places such as roads and tram lines. It’s just self-evident that if this worked, it would’ve already been done. I wholeheartedly wish it were that simple, yet I struggle to think of another scenario where minorities repeating a sentence (however true it may be) has worked. Whilst Martin Luther King is remembered for commenting ‘I have a dream’ but despite this forming a small portion of his orations from 1960-1963, it was by no means the sum total of his work. Black Lives Matter is the first racial equality campaign I am aware of that has nothing more to it than its title.
Within the context of civil rights, simply saying something is not enough, it is crucial to explain why it matters. Yes, black lives do matter, but why should the unconvinced care that black lives matter? How does it impact society? What real-life relevance does it have to the average unconvinced person? These questions have not been answered by BLM, and their surprise and outrage when confronted with people who don’t care and don’t see why they should is entirely unfounded.
Having mentioned earlier that the end justifies the means (insofar as compromising on our values to ultimately achieve them), what exactly is the end? All equality campaigns previously have been centred around legal changes: that is to say quantifiable alterations in society. First emancipation, then and end to apartheid, then more general segregation. Now, legally, we are equal. This of course is not the end of the story and we must resist flagrant waiving of the law along with the numerous institutional and social biases all around us, but it necessitates the end of that kind of campaign of protests, marches, and both civil and uncivil disobedience. We cannot achieve a different end with the same means. What was previously a means to an end has become a means to a means, trapping Black Lives Matter in a never-ending cycle of futile resistance against everything and nothing. What does BLM specifically want? We’re not sure. If it wants general racial equality, it has categorically failed to set out a plan or demands. If it wants an end to police shootings (which appears to be its only example of racial injustice, which is disappointing, given that there are far more examples), then it has provided little argument to explain why it is not merely a dressed-up police-reform campaign. BLM, despite being one of the most simple civil justice campaigns, has some of the most elusive definitions.
Thus, BLM serves no purpose. It is an unsubstantiated premise. Like a parrot repeating an acquired phrase in a small room, flapping its wings and extending its beak, it demonstrates something, but nothing that is either useful or interpretable, merely frustrating and antagonising those who are unfortunate enough to share the room with it and are not of the ‘parrot community’. BLM’s focus on ‘brotherhood’ and ‘sisterhood’ within the black community suggests that there are things that certain races share that others can never hope to be included in. This pseudo-genealogy seems to simply support the idea that there are differences between the races. A black brother and sisterhood is BLM, whereas a white equivalent would be met with shock. The rules aren’t being applied consistently, and the lines drawn seem to violently meander. Black Lives Matter is whatever you want it to be, whatever suits what you want to say. It is lazy ideology, devoid of the very principles it professes to have, fuelled and spurred on by those who wish solely to affirm their own convictions.