They’re three words in the simplest of sentences; an adjective, a noun as a subject and a verb. They were supposed to make people aware of the sanctity of all life, particularly African-Americans. They were introduced because blacks were the ones mostly being killed by police and the words Black Lives Matter were intended to be a reminder to law enforcement of their pledge to protect all citizens. Yet over the course of just a few years, the words have managed to alienate many and effectively become something of a battle cry rallying the nation’s police forces against the movement, in expectations of violent insurrection. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
I’m thinking of this as I’m stuck in traffic, the victim of a late day rush hour protest. We’ve seen the same across the country; BLM either alone or in a coalition of other organizations will blockade a major thoroughfare creating traffic havoc hoping to draw attention to the inordinate killing of African-Americans by the police. In Philadelphia as the DNC invades, the movement wants to capitalize on the media exposure already in place for the convention and at the same time send Hillary Clinton a message. Still, sitting here in the heat-indexed 104° sun, I wonder what other commuters are thinking and how they feel about those responsible for their gridlock. Capturing the hearts and minds of Americans hasn’t exactly been BLM’s strongpoint. And that’s too bad because they need such empathy, now and moving forward.
There were issues from the start, the least of which was harnessing the seething, lingering anger among young African-Americans and turning it into a viable, political weapon. As always, the problem with peaceful protest is being able to bring the trouble substantially enough that it alters the actions of those wielding the policies that are harming you while at the same time not doing anything so egregious that it turns a diplomatic demonstration into a violent rebellion. In other words, you have to temper how much you scare folks. It’s an extremely fine line to be straddled and standing firm in either camp virtually insures that you ultimately fail in gathering the forces to forge change. It seems that now, the BLM Movement is in just such a predicament. They’ve scared folks a tad too much.
It’s the anger, I think, that prevents the resonation of the movement’s message to a larger American audience than what’s already hearing and accepting it. Also that the anger is aimed directly at the police, a necessary entity in these fearful times, is something too that causes many to question the validity and rationale of such antagonism. I think the movement forgot that the operative word in their slogan was “Black” and that brought to the table a whole set of other considerations and emotions that they needed to be cognizant of.
I think they forgot that being black, how they protest would have to be substantially different than the manner other groups do. When black groups bring the anger, people simply close their ears, lock their doors and bar their windows. This is especially true when anger is seen as the main and only component. And that’s BLM’s biggest problem in that they ignored the other component and the one that could generate greater compassion than anger. That component is fear.
Simply put, fear brings appreciation. Fear can open the hearts as well as the minds of Americans. And that’s because fear is universal; something every man or woman has felt at some point in their lives. Had the movement concentrated on the dread each black man or woman faces when a patrol car appears in their rear view mirror in addition to the anger then that would’ve, could’ve turned into sympathy which eventually becomes empathy. Instead, we have a movement gorging on anger fueled by misplaced black pride.
The ancestors of an enslaved people, black people are tired of having to ask for what is routinely given outright to others; I get it. At this point in history, we’re demanding and not asking anymore. Nevertheless, an angry pride shouldn’t be allowed to overshadow a working plan.
Black Lives Matter affirms the lives of Black queer and Trans folks, disabled folks, Black-undocumented folks, folks with records, women and all Black lives along the gender spectrum. It centers those that have been marginalized within Black liberation movements. It is a tactic to (re)build the Black liberation movement. –About Black Lives Matter/Herstory
BLM still has a window of opportunity. They lost out on appearing on the world’s stage at the DNC but there’ll be other stages; the campaign for the presidency is far from over. Hopefully, they can continue to polish and better articulate their worthy agenda in the hopes of appealing to a broader spectrum of civic and community leaders. Let their entreaties force people to take a stand, to recognize our shared vulnerability. Help them realize that it’s an overlooked recognition. And for those who think doing so makes us look weak or soft, it doesn’t. It only makes us look human and the failure to do that has been the problem for far too long.
Photo by Fibonacci Blue from Minnesota, USA – Black Lives Matter protest against St. Paul police brutality, CC BY 2.0,