During my time as a small-town newspaper reporter, I occasionally had the opportunity to write opinion columns. Since I was vocal about LGBT rights and the fact that I’m an atheist, I quickly developed a name for myself in the community. What that name was varied depending on who was talking, so needless to say it wasn’t always positive. But ever since I left the paper, I still run into people who tell me how much they miss the pieces I used to write. In fact, just the other day, I talked to someone who told me how unfortunate it was that I didn’t still work for the paper, because a piece on Black Lives Matter would’ve been only too topical right now, and such a piece would surely have pissed off any number of the more conservative community members.
And I think he’s right, though I have a hard time wrapping my head around why that is. Sure, the movement has taken on a life of its own, and the concept that birthed it is now only a small part of the sociopolitical complexity it has evolved. If it were only that single concept, the idea that the lives of people with dark skin matter is one that most of us should be able to get behind; the only problem would be the idealistic concept that such an idea shouldn’t have to so emphatically stated! I mean, it’s easy enough to assume. But given how, almost comically, different the life of your average black man in America is from the life of your average white man, particularly how they’re treated by the police, it should be easy enough to acknowledge that this movement has validity. But here we are, about three years into BLM, and my Facebook feed is still littered with posts and memes that attempt to explain how saying Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean “Only Black Lives Matter,” or some claptrap to insinuate that it’s somehow a racist movement that, I dunno, is attempting to subvert the white man or something. Or, as I’ve seen remarked far too many times, that it’s a hate group.
Given the definition of what a hate group is, it’s quite the stretch to assume BLM fits the bill if you know anything about the movement. But that said, especially if you approach the movement from a position of initial prejudice, I can see why some people would feel they can get away with such slander. You see, even though BLM isn’t a hate group, it is certainly an anger group at times. Protests under the BLM banner have evolved into riots, most famously in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. And more broadly, people are being shot by those charged with protecting us, after committing no crime (or just a petty one that doesn’t merit attention), and their executioners are not being punished: that ought to make people angry.
But this is the subversive genius behind the anti-Black Lives Matter pushback. The trope of the “angry black man” has been ingrained into the public conscious for so many decades that all you need to do is insinuate that some of these folks might be angry, and the portrait that is painted in the minds of so many is one of inevitable violence and crime… surely such a scene requires the full force of our boys in blue! How else can we look at military-grade weapons, armor, and vehicles being paraded into our otherwise great cities against our own citizens and simply accept it? Such force isn’t being trotted out against terrorists or organized gangs whose fortresses the police have recently unearthed. No, it’s found on a daily basis in the poorer communities of many of these cities, and mixed amongst otherwise peaceful protests, begging for an escalation to occur. And as we watch all this unfold on cable news and via camera phones on social media, should we be at all surprised that a lot of people are getting angry about what has been happening? This is only the most recent chapter of a book that we’ve been reading for generations, and we’re all itching for a happy ending one of these days.
To quote a great philosopher, “Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” So whereas I wouldn’t dream of trying to squelch the anger of the many people leading the fight against racial inequality in this country, we need to recognize that it’s not the end game. It’s the righteous anger that comes out of these situations that promotes action, but it has to ultimately result in love, compassion, and empathy on all sides lest we simply be content with a nonstop culture war that’s punctuated only with dead bodies.
It’d be nice to know a quick solution to this problem, a silver bullet solution, if you’ll excuse the metaphor. Given how long this struggle has gone on, it’s likely going to continue for some time yet. So in that case, the best that many of us can continue to do is to be vocal about it, to keep naming the problem, even as the problem evolves. And if you don’t have a newspaper platform at your disposal, there’s always blogs, social media, and of course, face to face.