Monday, September 7, 2015

Black Lives Matter and the Mainstream Right -- and Left

Black lives matter may have the support of libertarian/anarchists who are only disappointed that the group is not forming a private militia and preparing for an armed showdown with the police.  But the reaction of the more mainstream right has been rather more hostile.  Aside from accusations that they were terrorists or a hate group, the slogan, "Black lives matter" is in itself deeply offensive to many. As one critic put it, “By its very title, and certainly by its claim to exclusivity as to whose lives matter, Black Lives Matters would qualify as a racist outfit by just about any standard.” To supporters, such talk is nonsense.  "Black lives matter" was never meant to say that only black lives matter, or that black lives matter more than white lives, or police lives.  It means that black lives matter, too; or that black lives matter as much as white lives; that protesters have to assert that black lives matter because black lives have been systematically devalued.  Black Lives Matter activists respond with hostility to the retort that "All lives matter" because it effectively denies that black lives have been devalued.

Will this mollify conservative critics of the movement?  It most certainly will not.  Even at its mildest reading, to say "Black lives matter" is to say that race matters.  And conservatives are most emphatic on that point.  Race does not matter.  To suggest that anti-black racism persists in America today is tantamount to calling white Americans -- and especially white conservatives -- racist.  And few things enrage white conservatives more than being called racist.  And make no mistake.  Black Lives Matter is not just a movement to reign in abusive police.  It is a movement calling attention to the fact that black people are disproportionately victims of abusive police.  A generic attempt to reign in abusive cops is all fine and good, but to ignore the racial nature of such abuse is to ignore the nature of Black Lives Matter.  (This is also a sticking point to any libertarian/anarchists who may want an alliance).

Well, what about Campaign Zero, an offshoot of the movement that has a nice, non-racial name and mainstream civil libertarian program?  It won't appeal to libertarian/anarchists because it accepts the legitimacy of government and police and doesn't involve armed confrontation.  Will the mainstream right be reassured?  They will probably be open to some of the less controversial aspects, such as body cameras, filming police, and better training in conflict resolution and de-escalation.  Other parts not addressed to race the mainstream right might at least be willing to debate rationally.  But my guess is that the minute the mainstream right discovers parts of the program addressed to race, all discussion will shut down and they will dismiss the whole thing as Black Lives Matter in sheep's clothing.

For instance calls to include more black people on the police force will be angrily met with accusations of hiring quotas.  Or training in conflict resolution and de-escalation should not be too controversial but imagine conservative reaction to call for training in implicit bias (an accusation that all police are racist!) or training in:
  • Appropriate engagement with youth
  • Appropriate engagement with LGBTQ, transgender and gender nonconforming individuals
  • Appropriate engagement with individuals who are english language learners
  • Appropriate engagement with individuals from different religious affiliations
  • Appropriate engagement with individuals who are differently abled

There is a good deal of common sense in this, really.  A seemingly non-compliant individual might actually be deaf, or speak little or no English, and police ought to be aware of this possibility and alert to the signs of it and how to handle it.  Nonetheless, I can already see conservative hackles rising at the suggestion that police give "special treatment" to various favored minorities.  And any talk of "LGBTQ, transgender and gender nonconforming individuals" sounds suspiciously like white liberal jargon which will alone be enough to convince many conservatives to close their ears and dismiss the whole movement as inauthentic.*

And what about my own side?  Will Campaign Zero, offering a concrete and realistic platform against abusive police, offer white liberals (Social Justice Warriors, their critics derisively call them), flush with triumph after achieving nation-wide same sex marriage, a new cause to advocate?  Will it convince my side that Black Lives Matter more than ensuring that all bakers must bake cakes for same sex weddings regardless of inclination, or that the 0.2% of the population that is transgender has access to the restroom of their choice, regardless of how much it discomfits the other 99.8%?  Well, I can only go by my Facebook feed.  My Facebook feed has expressed occasional concern for Black Lives matter, but I have not seen a single mention of Campaign Zero.  And it seems a whole lot more concerned with Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk arrested for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples.

*I believe that failure to capitalize "english" may be a holdover from the radical Left in the 1960's or '70's.  Presumably most people don't know that, but if word gets out, it will be further reason for conservatives to distrust any organization that uses it.

No comments:

Post a Comment