It’s not an entity like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a name reflecting a very different time in America. It has no legal existence, like a 501(c)(3), with a mission and leaders authorized to direct its actions. It’s just a bunch of people trying to achieve recognition of a problem. What that problem is, however, is a problem in itself.
Black Lives Matter began as a twitter hashtag following the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. To digital natives, a movement based on a hashtag may seem real, about as real as any virtual cause. But it’s begun to fray at its edges for lack of leadership, definition and direction. Like almost everything digital, it reveals the gaps between virtual and reality.
The series of deaths of black men and women at the hands of police, especially when captured on video, gave rise to the ability to show people, for whom the claims that law enforcement wasn’t doing as great a job as they kept telling us they were doing, that cops were murdering blacks needlessly, and in significantly disproportionate numbers. This wasn’t just some wild complaint, playing the race card. There were real, honest-to-God, dead bodies of unarmed blacks lying in pools of their own blood.
Black Lives Matter was real. The complaints were real. The deaths were real. This could no longer be ignored by those who didn’t fear they or their children wouldn’t make it home for dinner. Our beloved protectors were murderers. This could no longer be denied or ignored by anyone of good conscience. We saw the pictures.
For some of us, whose skin color, race, ethnicity, provided the usual excuse to focus on other issues that more directly affected our personal lives, this was the opportunity we long awaited. You see, we’ve been fighting the Black Lives Matter war for decades, before advocates like Deray McKesson were born. But we didn’t have the proof, and so were ignored. We kept fighting, though, because there was no other option. Dead bodies aren’t things you can easily walk away from.
Of course, we’re not part of the Black Lives Matter team today. The passionate advocates haven’t sought our advice and counsel. They may not even be aware that we were fighting this fight long before there was such a thing as twitter. Plus, we’re not necessarily black, and they really aren’t interested in White Knights, which undermines what they call “agency” today. They want it to be their war. Fair enough. It’s not that we’re looking for awards for being great white guys.
But that doesn’t mean we’re going to stay silent while you rookies blow it. We’ve got too much time and effort into your cause to let you screw it up, and that’s what you’re doing. You’re blowing it. You’re losing the high ground. You’re squandering our (note I wrote “our,” not your) efforts because you lack the focus and, well, the experience to realize what needs to be done to accomplish your goal. And what can’t happen if you’re going to stand a chance.
Sorry, kids, but you’re fucking this all up, and somebody has to tell you because you aren’t getting this on your own.
First, there was the usurpation of Black Lives Matter by college students, who couldn’t distinguish between dead bodies in the streets and the hurt feelz of the privileged at Yale, Princeton, Mizzou and all those other colleges where wannabe protesters started whining, “me too, me too.” No, not having a safe space set aside for delicate students of color is not the same thing as Tamir Rice being gunned down in a park. No, the name of an American president on a wall is not the same thing as Eric Garner being asphyxiated on the street for the loosie lie.
You are close to gathering widespread support from people of good conscience of all colors, all races, which (sorry to tell you) we need to make this stick. In the ordinary scheme of things, people only care about things that directly affect their lives. This means that the murders of blacks by police doesn’t touch the lives of whites. At least, not sufficiently to put Black Lives Matter on their front burner. This isn’t an argument, but reality.
But the videos? When they see the videos, even white people who wouldn’t really give your concerns a second thought are stuck. They can’t ignore murders in front of their faces. They’re still human, and these videos, these murders, have given them no choice but to realize that something has gone very wrong, deadly wrong.
So when whiny students co-opt the cause of ending black lives snuffed out by police without reason, demanding that we acknowledge their microaggressions, you lose all the people whom you need behind you. They aren’t going to lose sleep over your microaggressions when compared to the problems that touch their lives. You may think they should, but they don’t, which is all that matters. You lost them whether you like it or not.
And then something like this happened.
What were you thinking? I know, you had nothing to do with this demonstration of monumental stupidity. You’re a movement without focus, a movement without a leader. Nobody asked your permission, and you had no permission to give. Some moron in Minneapolis decided that this was a good idea, and so it happened.
Because making life miserable for the people whose support you need is a great way to bring people to your side? Because making life miserable for the people who have not shot and killed anyone proves your point?
We get it. You’re new at this movement thing, and are still feeling your way through. Some leaders have emerged who are quite smart. Others have large followings but are dumber than dirt, and keep stepping in shit that sprays on you. But if you don’t focus on what you are really trying to accomplish, keep the dopes in line and stop those who would free-ride your cause into the toilet, it’s going to fail. We don’t want to see that happen.
We get it. You kids want to do it yourselves. Children are like that, with the need to show they can do things without grown-ups’ help. But children do childish things. It’s one thing to watch them spill the milk when they insist on pouring their own bowl of cereal, but it’s another when the issue at stake is as serious as human lives. We may be able to wipe up spilled milk, but we cannot bring the dead back to life. We’ve waited too long to save people to let you do it yourself and screw it all up.
Stop diffusing your very serious message with the college whiners’ puny complaints. Stop alienating people whose support you need by chasing them away, and bring them into the fold. Stop blowing it. This is a historic opportunity. Don’t squander it.
Update: No doubt this will drive support to the cause. What a waste.
We’ve just shut down the mall, the lightrail, AND the airport. Jamar won’t celebrate Christmas this year, so we shut it ALL down. #BlackXmas
— Black Lives MPLS (@BlackLivesMpls) December 23, 2015
Update 2: My pal, Elie Mystal, sees this very differently:
Obviously, these protests annoy people. People get annoyed when they are being called out. People get annoyed and angry when they are being called out and inconvienced [sic]. . . There is simply no way for #BlackLivesMatter to make their point to people without annoying them and, to be clear, if they aren’t annoying people then they are simply not very good at protesting.
Saying “simply no way” doesn’t make it so. They are not annoying their opposition, but their putative supporters, a detail best not ignored. Awareness is fine, but the association with annoyance (or worse: anybody stuck in traffic need to go to the hospital?) associates awareness with anger and potentially hatred.
That’s why the first Tweet I used is the dumbest: “Yes please, disrupt people who vote from getting home to see their families on Christmas.” If you were inclined to vote for policies that would decrease the killing of black youths, but then changed your mind because some black protesters made you miss your flight… you are a dick.
Maybe they are dicks. So if dicks support you, turn them away? Better to be supported by dicks than despised by dicks. If your hope is to make them care as deeply about you as you care about you, then you’re crazy. They care about them, just as you care about you. Alienate them and they will still be dicks, and you will fail for lack of support. But at least you can take great pride in having annoyed people. Brilliant plan, if you don’t mind failing.