OPINION: Of course Black lives matter, but BLM is a disaster

Editor's note: The views in this opinion editorial are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Campus Reform or of its parent organization, the Leadership Institute.

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"Black lives matter because all lives matter"   

Do Black lives matter? If you haven’t been asked already you are likely to be asked in the future and you should have your answer ready. It sounds like a trick question and it is.

The innocent among us might answer that Black lives matter because all lives matter, but the poor soul giving that answer will quickly be criticized for insensitivity that might qualify as racism.

Like it or not, this three-word phrase has taken on a special meaning in America today. Agreeing that Black lives matter has become a shorthand for admitting that Black Americans have been subjected to structural racism in the past in this country and that racism still exists today. It also signals a willingness to listen to the concerns of the Black community.

I must admit that I am tempted to be snarky and respond that all lives matter, but I realize that I would just be poking the bear. As a result, I have made the personal choice that when asked that question I will unflinchingly answer that, of course, Black lives matter.

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The question then becomes how to move forward with the task of trying to improve race relations in this country. This problem has been with us for centuries and we won’t solve it quickly or easily. In describing the effects of slavery Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever.” In describing what he saw of America in the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, “If there ever are great revolutions there, they will be caused by the presence of the blacks upon American soil. That is to say, it will not be the equality of social conditions but rather their inequality which may give rise thereto.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. moved the nation in his famous 1963 speech when he spoke of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence representing a debt owed to all Americans and that, “It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned.”

As we move into a new discussion of race relations, we must consider where to look for guidance. In a June poll, Pew Research found that 67 percent expressed support for the BLM movement, but it’s not clear exactly what that means. We should distinguish between the general sentiment that Black lives matter versus support for the formal BLM organization. We should be clear that BLM is an ill-conceived and dangerous organization and we should encourage our fellow citizens to disavow it. Let me explain the reasons why.

First, BLM has promulgated a false narrative about police killing of Black people. Many Americans including current and former police officers believe that police training and police procedures deserve serious attention and that there is room for improvement, but BLM reduces this complex issue to a simplistic notion that cops are killing Black Americans.  As I have written previously, there is no epidemic of police killing Black Americans and we need to have a far more nuanced discussion of police brutality that we won’t get from BLM.

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The second argument against BLM has to do with its leadership. Several outlets have reported that the founders of the national BLM movement proudly stated that they are “trained Marxists.” That fact is certainly disturbing, but even more disturbing is the fact that BLM is by design a decentralized organization. BLM is leaderless on purpose, which makes it almost impossible to work with. How can you reason with an organization that operates more like a cluster of resistance cells than like a national organization with a coherent plan of action?

Another argument against BLM is that it amplifies the wrong emotions. Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired a movement that fundamentally transformed the status of Black Americans in this country. King studied Gandhi who in turn was influenced by Tolstoy. All three believed that the most effective political movements are derived from a generous sense of love requiring a high degree of self-sacrifice. They believed that you should be willing to accept punishment yourself to awaken the sense of injustice in those who oppose you. All three were deeply skeptical of coercive approaches. They believed that you can’t force people to become good; you have to instead have the strength and the patience to help them see the error of their ways. The results were spectacularly successful for the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. King forced Americans to see on their TV screens the oppression that Black Americans experienced and in the face of such evidence, the country made huge strides to move past its long history of racial discrimination.

BLM, by contrast, is driven by anger and resentment. Just listen to what they chant and shout at protests and the rhetoric they use. They aren’t willing to sacrifice anything and they demand action immediately. Above all else, they are seeking power.

The final argument against BLM is that they lack a vision of shared humanity. MLK envisioned a country where we all live in harmony. Look at the photos of the Selma March and you will see Black and White Americans marching together as one. When our local BLM group organized a march in Seattle they segregated people by race with Black Americans at the front followed by other people of color followed by White Americans.

This is a country that believes in freedom and dignity for all. To the extent that Black Americans feel that we have failed to live up to our commitment to them, we must certainly listen to their concerns and do what we can to improve our society. But to those who come from a place of anger who are playing on White guilt to demand special accommodations, we should say no and say so loudly.

Follow the author of this article: Stuart Reges



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Stuart Reges
Stuart Reges | Faculty Contributor, University of Washington

Stuart Reges is a principal lecturer of computer science at the University of Washington.

2 Articles by Stuart Reges