In the post-civil rights era of the last half-century, a number of black triumphalist slogans and movements have come and gone.
“Black is beautiful” was an informal self-help attitude that sought to encourage blacks not to emulate so-called arbitrary constructs of white majority aesthetics, but instead to rediscover a natural black essence — from Afros to Ebonics and Kwanzaa — that need not be discouraged.
“Black power!” was a more assertive, political, and collective strain of “black pride.” It unfortunately descended from legitimate efforts to organize blacks collectively into an effective political force (e.g., the resulting “black caucus” in Congress) and finally into the violence and incoherence of the Black Panthers and other nihilistic violent groups, whose chauvinism was fueled by their own versions of abject racism. It too is now forgotten.
In the 1990s came a more informal angst characterized by the slogan “It’s a black thing. You wouldn’t understand.” This fad sought, in in-your-face style, to remind non-black America, but especially its white majority, that there was an exceptionalism in African-American popular culture that could never really be emulated or adopted in any genuine manner by non-African American wannabes — much less co-opted by naïve do-gooders or conniving profiteers. It was a separatist idea that assumed society’s reciprocal standard did not apply to itself.
Now there comes “Black Lives Matter,” a movement that argues that reckless law enforcement habitually shoots and kills black suspects in disproportionate fashion and due to racist motives — a crime spree that is supposedly empowered by the general neglect of the white population.
But like all the other past racially chauvinistic movements, “Black Lives Matter” will fail to convince anyone outside a small subset of African-American urban youth to embrace its ideology and advocacy. A year from now it will become another artifact like “It’s a black thing.” It was, after all, the logical denouement to Rev. Wright and the Obamas’ “get in their face,” “punish our enemies,” “typical white person,” “clingers,” “downright mean country,” “never been proud before,” “stereotyping police,” Travyon as the son Obama never had, and the assorted “you didn’t build that,” “not the time to profit,” and lectures about knowing when to quit making money. At some point whining causes weariness.
There are many reasons why Black Lives Matter will be gone within a year.
1) Racial chauvinism
Of course, given the history of slavery and Jim Crow, many in the black community are naturally suspicious of the white majority, in a way that even other often exploited and discriminated-against groups — Native Americans, the Irish, Jews, Mexican-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Chinese, Italians — are not. The subtext, then, of all of these slogans and groups was that the tragic history of blacks in America still exempts them from the normal parlance and protocols of both other minority groups and the white majority: we rarely hear “Jews are beautiful,” “Brown Lives Matter,” “It’s a white thing. You just don’t understand.”
And if we did, we would object that such chauvinism had crossed some unspoken line. The problem with all of these racial-pride movements, although they are certainty more than that, is that there is a shelf-life to them. Eventually they are subject, fifty years after the civil rights movement, to the same rules and manners that other groups abide by.
When most people who are non-African-American hear “Black Lives Matter” — just as they did with “It’s a black thing. You wouldn’t understand” — they do not compute slavery or Jim Crow, especially the tens of millions of youths who grew up in the era of affirmative action, not segregation in the South. Instead, they shrug “OK, whatever” and concede such separatism, and then draw back from the goal of a racially blind, integrated society. In other words, racism is racism and separatism hurts the black community most of all.
Black Lives Matter is based largely on a lie. President Obama has referenced “Ferguson” as if it automatically invoked some sort of racial solidarity or was synonymous with bias. But what exactly does Ferguson mean? That Eric Holder’s Justice Department found no criminal culpability in the Michael Brown shooting? Note the quick disappearance of “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” as a national rallying cry, given that it was a total fabrication based on a mythical account from a disreputable witness with a criminal record.
In the most sensationalized cases where unarmed suspects have died after coming into contact with police — Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, etc. — while there may be reason to object to police attitudes or protocols, so far there has been no legal verdict that finds police guilty of manslaughter or murder, and some reason to believe that there were additional or in fact entirely extraneous reasons for the tragic deaths and not just alleged inordinate police violence.
There is also no evidence that black suspects are killed at a higher frequency than other groups that are detained or arrested by police. The honest base statistic is not the percentage of blacks in the general population, but rather the pool of all Americans who are detained or arrested by police. In the latter case, blacks are not dying in inordinate, much less epidemic fashion in comparison to the percentages of other groups arrested and detained.
Some fundamental questions that frame every invocation of “Black Lives Matter” ensure that, like any movement based on an untruth, it too will fade away shortly:
1) If black lives really do matter, where is the commensurate outrage at the real epidemic of black-on-black murder? Faulting the lack of gun-control laws is banal, given that almost all the suspect shooters have prior criminal records that under any existing gun laws would, if enforced, have denied them legal access to guns. At some point, nearly 7,000 blacks murdered by other blacks each year matter as much as roughly 130 who die annually as a result of interaction of all sorts with law enforcement.
2) Interracial violence is relatively rare in America, but to the extent that it exists, blacks are far more likely to inflict rather than suffer from it. Either race matters as an incitement to violence or it does not; if it does in matters of policing, then surely it does as well in interracial crime?
3) At some point, those blacks who are self-appointed collective advocates must address the inordinate crime rate of the inner-city male young African-American, a small section of no more than 3-4% of the U.S. population that commits often 50% of several varieties of reported violent crime. It is legitimate to debate the social and cultural causes of such sky-high criminality, but not to either deny that it exists or to suggest that it does not contribute to volatile police interactions or to a general negative perception of such inordinate behavior by other groups that are less statistically likely to commit violent crimes.
4) America is not the old America. American racial polarity was for centuries a product of the old binary of 90% so-called white and 10% so-called black population. No longer. Immigration, assimilation, and integration have redefined race. When race is constructed as in the case of Rachel Dolezal or Elizabeth Warren, or those of mixed ancestry are arbitrarily racially categorized (e.g., George Zimmerman as a “white Hispanic” [in similar liberal parlance is Barack Obama a “white black”?]), then the old divides no longer apply. In almost every family, there are interracial members and intermarried couples. Are they to resort to mini-civil wars that trump familial ties each time some ethnic group appeals to racial solidarity?
Black versus white is now a reactionary construct, when non-European, non-white immigrant groups often achieve average incomes above the so-called majority. Black Lives Do Matter if we consult the statistics of black representation in the federal public work force where blacks are more than fairly represented, given their percentages of the general population. If black lives don’t matter, then no one told the president of the United States, the attorney general and several cabinet officials. By the same logic, examine the NBA player roster or the NFL coaching pool, and one might object that Asian Lives Don’t Matter at all.
3) So what is the problem?
Black Lives Matters did not resonate — even before its more firebrand members openly called for the shooting of police officers and embraced racist language. Why? Because most of it was based on a series of lies.
Equality under the law — even when and if it is strictly applied and constantly monitored, or in fact weighed for minorities as in the case of set-asides and affirmative action — does not ensure, in a free market republic like the United States, an equality of result.
After fifty years of civil rights legislation, perhaps somewhere between a third to half of the black population has not achieved parity with other population groups. In response, black elites seek to leverage government to ensure parity (“disproportionate impact”), based on perceived grievances. Threats of unrest and collective violence by the urban underclass often come in handy.
But other groups, subject to present and past discrimination, from Punjabis to Arab-Americans, do not embrace the same racial chauvinism. There are no Cuban Jesse Jacksons or Asian Al Sharptons. Moreover, it is not clear how affirmative action for the children of Eric Holder or Michael Jordan helps the inner-city population. Class, in other words, in America increasingly trumps race, and the two are not always synonymous. Black elites parrot the charge of “white privilege,” but usually to other black and white academic and journalistic one-percenters and often in careerist fashion. If they sincerely believed in “white privilege,” they would have tested their theories at town meetings among the destitute in Appalachia or appealed to poor rural Oklahomans to be more self-critical on how their race has given them a supposed leg up in the American rat-race.
It is a hard sell to insist that poor white Delmas Marshall of rural Arkansas has it made compared to a tormented Oprah who claims she was treated rudely over a trendy purse in Switzerland or a supposedly marginalized Morgan Freeman who occasionally whines that not supporting Obama is proof of racism — or the 21% of the federal Postal Service workforce that are black.
Finally, we come to the pernicious role of self-serving white elite liberals who castigate conservative blacks, who do not see their own race as key to their identities. The reason liberals despise Clarence Thomas or caricature a Ben Carson, more so than they do white conservative justices or public figures, is the threat that they pose to the entire engine of liberal condescension — and Democratic politics. When successful blacks prove that they easily compete in the marketplace of talent and ideas without liberal racial policies and their political henchmen, then the entire architecture of liberal racial politics collapses. The disdain shown a Thomas or Carson suggests that liberal racial politics serve as private medieval penance in the abstract, and at little personal cost for assuaging guilt over liberal apartheid. If one were to examine the schools, neighborhoods, and socializing of liberal white elites, one would discover that their rhetoric was used to mask, rather than to confirm, the lives that they lead.
A final note. Words matter. The most abject racist could not have invented a more effective way to achieve racial polarization than the many current manifestations of the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Did a racist think up the movement’s absurdities: its criticism of “All Lives Matter,” the implicit encouragement of violence against the police who alone battle barbarity in the inner city, the constant whine about white privilege that is sloppily addressed and often reverberated by whites who enjoy it against other whites who do not, the cynical use of the movement by black elites whose privileges sometimes derive from the disparities of the underclass — and the reluctance to discuss and address the epidemic of inordinate black illegitimacy, crime, drug use, rap vulgarity, social service dependence, and the romance of the violent cult of the male, all of whose assuagement could lead to parity?
Black Lives Matter will shortly be history, like the age of Obama that empowered it, as it falls by the weight of its own contradictions and hypocrisies. A year from now it will be as heard as often as “black power!” — and replaced by yet another popular slogan to avoid confronting truth and reality, even as most people of all races struggle to get along.