A Christian friend of mine recently posted this article by a black minister, Rev. Dr. Eric Wallace, critiquing the organized portion of the Black Lives Matter movement. (I’d encourage you to read the article first to understand the full context of this post.) He asked for thoughts from his black friends. So I sat with it, read it, and came up with several thoughts that started as a Facebook comment but that I thought might better be served as a blog response. I had several issues with the article, which I outline below.
- The author uses several words and phrases to inflame the conversation and discredit the beliefs of the BLM leadership. He brings up the Marxism of some of the black liberation movements to tie that to BLM when there is no explicitly Marxist or atheist platform espoused. He also quietly mentions that one of the founders is the child of illegal immigrants, when illegal immigration is neither part of the platform nor part of the counterargument. The worst, in my opinion, is when he says: “According to BLM, “black liberation” can be achieved only by reversing the roles of master and slave.” This plays on longstanding white fears that what protesting black people really want is to make them hurt the way that white people hurt their ancestors not so long ago. I know the author is black, but he’s bought in to the belief in zero-sum protest: that black people can only demand gains in this way at the expense of someone else’s freedom and liberty. I reject this belief, and believe instead in one of BLM’s strongest platform points: “When Black people get free, we all get free.” When we liberate the most oppressed people in our society (probably poor black trans women at this point), we’ve undone the chains that bind every part of that equation, and in the process have undone the chains that many of us wear as oppressors as well.
- I think the author overplays his hand regarding Planned Parenthood. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t buy the “PP is secretly out to eliminate black folks, just like Sanger wanted” angle that people keep pushing. How many poor (and in a country with no public health care, not so poor) black women have benefited from the women’s health and birth control services PP has provided? We can’t have a conversation about PP without looking at both sides of the scale. That doesn’t negate the problematic nature of abortion, but abortion deserves its own discussion platform rather being used as a argumentative daisy cutter that just wipes out all validity of the opposition.
- As to liberal versus conservative views on the role of racial discrimination versus government intervention in progress, we simply disagree. I think there has been some cynicism in liberal policy, and I think one of the best things about BLM is that it isn’t beholden to either political axis, so they are just as willing to challenge liberals as conservatives. However, I think it’s unfair and also concerning to say that government largesse is why black people aren’t moving ahead at the rate we all think should be happening. It implies in particular that there’s substantial government aid being given to black people that is making them lazy. At least one article recently written in the Washington Post looks at the condition of things in places in the South where aid programs have been severely cut. This article describes a situation where people are diligently seeking work and cannot find it right here in Atlanta, and where less than 1% of income-eligible citizens are receiving full welfare benefits. With all the hand-wringing among conservatives about how much we spend on the undeserving, you’d think half the city was cashing government checks on the first of the month.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t look at programs and measure them to see if they’re working. We should. I’m also not saying that race is the only piece of the puzzle. But with a refusal to consider race as a meaningful part, some things in the puzzle don’t make sense.
- It is fair to note that BLM is not a biblical or Christian movement. As such, why are we concerned about them affirming the right of LGBTQ+ people to exist free from harm? That affirmation is by definition earthly, and concerned with justice, not asking you to believe they will enter the kingdom of Heaven. On the spiritual side of sexual/gender identity issues, a conservative Christian has no more dispute with BLM than they do with any fully affirming sect of Christianity. Bringing a spiritual discussion about the fate of souls who live that out to the table is a distraction from the question of whether the movement should be concerned with earthly justice for them.
- The BlackLivesMatter/AllLivesMatter false dichotomy is a copout. Again, it returns to this zero-sum thinking, where either BlackLivesMatter or AllLivesMatter, but not both. As I said before, if you want to be critical of where the movement isn’t doing enough in your opinion, that’s fine, but don’t use the movement’s weaknesses to negate their valid points.
- Lastly, as I’ve probably said before as well, I’m sick of “black-on-black crime” being brought up as a thing. Black on black crime is not a special kind of crime, due to a special kind of pathology in a special kind of people. It’s what crime looks like in the black part of a segregated society that has historically explicitly impoverished black people. You fight with, steal from, and kill your neighbor generally, and you do more of that when you’re broke. Now, we can and should address violent crime in poor black neighborhoods, and contrary to many conservative pundits’ beliefs, there are people and organizations doing that every day. But when we relegate it to black-on-black crime, we do two things. First, we add to this notion of a special black pathology. Second, for those of us that consciously or subconsciously view blackness as “other”, when we call it “black-on-black crime” and not just “crime”, we make it someone else’s problem.
I would like to see conservatives continue to critique and challenge liberal points of view, as that diversity in dialogue is essential to our long-term societal health. However, I think this can be done in a way that validates the truths being spoken instead of just using the weaknesses or holes found to invalidate the truths.
2 thoughts on “Unpacking Black Lives Matter – a response to “Exposing Black Lives Matter””
Saw this on Facebook but we’re not “friends” so I can’t comment there. 🙂 I think your argument works overall, but there’s a bit of weakness in the BLM-vs-“all lives” point, in that it doesn’t stand on its own like the other points. Also, the concluding paragraph seems too conciliatory—but maybe it’s just a bad week with the recent Chicago & Cleveland updates. Conservatives IMO are about winning, and see critique, challenge, and diversity as openings to exploit otherwise reasonable discussion.
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Thanks for the feedback!
I have conservative friends in my church who are about dialogue, though a large part of the problem is that we don’t agree on first principles and so any of our arguments are subject to acceptance of those. That said, the conciliatory message is reserved for those who are listening and engaging, not those using tired talking points to tell us why black folks are not getting themselves together.