Trigger Warning: This post and the comments below it contain various expressions of racism paired with arguments against the logic contained within them. These expressions (labeled “white nonsense” in the post) are nevertheless hurtful and offensive and readers should proceed with care.
I recently decided to start responding to white critics of Black Lives Matter.
Black activists are busy. They have a revolution to run and do not have time to be dealing with white nonsense. But I do. Below are some common critiques of Black Lives Matter, along with appropriate responses.
Remember, white allies, it’s better to call in than call out. Calling in makes instances of white ignorance and insensitivity teaching moments, instead of fuck-you moments. While fuck-you may feel good, calling white people in to being decent and empathic human beings is to everyone’s advantage.
BLM activists, if I get anything wrong, please let me know.
Critique 1: But the Violence! (ie, misplaced outrage)
White Nonsense: Is violence ever acceptable? Looting innocent business owners, firing shots at police, etc. in Ferguson. Carving the name of the cop who shot Brown on the skin of a pig, roasting it and then eating it’s head in front of the Ferguson Police Dept? Angry and rude is far from this level of violence that is being carried out.*
Reasoned Response: Which violence are we choosing to talk about? The cause for these protests is the shooting of unarmed black people, yet that is not the violence that seems to be most upsetting to you. Why do you think that is, [Meredith]?
White Nonsense: I am in no way in defense of the abuse of police power or the mistreatment of innocent blacks. But to fight violence with violence is not the answer. Innocent people are suffering from these protests. This is inexcusable and to make excuses for it is dangerous.*
Reasoned Response: [Brad] I know that the anger of oppressed people can be disconcerting and upsetting, whether it’s symbolic acts, words, or destruction of property. They are angry at the institutions that protect us and do not protect them and they are angry at us for supporting these institutions. The question is, which violence offends us more: the smashing of a police car or the murder of a black child? If the answer is the former, which it is for a lot of white people, then that needs to change. We need to shift our empathy and identification from the institutions of oppression to those who are oppressed.
Want to talk to other white people fighting the good fight against racist nonsense?
Critique 2: Annoyance at Hearing About Oppression
White Nonsense: I think [race is] a bit of a potential third rail in American politics. Unfortunately, I think a lot of white voters get tired of hearing about it.*
Reasoned Response: [Tom], white voters get tired of hearing about racism? That is no doubt true, just as men get tired of hearing about sexism or the rich get tired of hearing about the struggles of the poor or non-veterans gets tired of hearing about PTSD. I certainly hope that’s not true of you. That’s also not the country I want to live in. Hearing about the pain of others is a cause for compassion, not annoyance.
Critique 3: You’re Hurting Your Cause! (ie, concern trolling)
White Nonsense: Those interruptions do nothing to stop people dying in the streets, they only give the movement a bad name.*
White Nonsense: Disruptions like this do a big disservice to a great cause. Anything you’ll say in these minutes will be overshadowed by the fact that your hijacked the microphone.*
Reasoned Response: Well, let’s look at the evidence, [Kelsey]. If we’re talking about [the interruption of Bernie Sanders’ speech] then we can see that in the week following that action:
- August 8th (evening): Sanders names a black activist, Symone Sanders, as Press Secretary. Her first official action is to introduce him at another event in Seattle.
- August 9th: After an event in Portland, Sanders went out of his way to meet with Black Lives Matter activists.
- August 10th: Sanders’ campaign adds a new set of racial justice policies to his campaign platform,including action on physical violence against black people, disenfranchisement, and economic exclusion. The platform won praise from Deray McKesson who has emerged as a media spokesperson for BLM.
- August 11th: Black Lives Matter activists get invited onto the stage. They open Sanders‘ event in Los Angeles.
So I’d say that disruptive tactic did help their cause. Remember that black lives > white feelings. If you are arguing the reverse, ask yourself why.
Critique 4: But Black on Black Violence!
White Nonsense: But what about all the other young black murder victims? Nationally, nearly half of all murder victims are black. And the overwhelming majority of those black people are killed by other black people. Where is the march for them? (source)
Reasoned Response: Regardless of harm members of a group do to each other, harms being done to that group by others still need to be addressed. In the wise words of Cornel West (whom I once saw walking through an airport!), “we have to distinguish between state-sponsored violence and violence against black people owing to actions black people do to each other. Both are important, but they’re not the same thing.”
Diverting attention away from police using this argument is a classic derailment and lets abusive police officers off the hook. Police officers with hair-trigger tempers who have no respect for the law are a danger to everyone, so diverting attention away from their bad acts harms all citizens.
Critique 5: #BlackLivesMatter is Itself Racist
White Nonsense: What about the argument that the Black Lives Matter movement is Racist in itself by only concerning themselves with black victims of police violence?*
Reasoned Response: There are a variety of ways of defining the word racism. Some argue that “racism equals power.” According to this interpretation, black and other people of color can be biased or prejudiced, but they can’t be racist. This is because, according to this interpretation, racism = bias based on skin color + control over institutions that can do harm as a result of those biases. So a black person can be biased, but they cannot be racist because they lack control over institutions to do harm to white people as a result of that bias.
However… this is not the most common definition. The prevailing definition focuses exclusively on bias or individual treatment as a result of bias. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, for example, defines Racism as both “poor treatment of or violence against people because of their race,” which anyone could do, and “the belief that some races of people are better than others,” which could also apply to a person of any skin color.
Fortunately for logical argument, it is not necessary to resolve this definitional question to respond to the above criticism of Black Lives Matter. As to the question of whether Black Lives Matter holds some form of racial bias because they care about black lives, I give a firm “no.” Even if some black activists do hold bias against white people (which, to be honest, I find quite understandable), fighting for the rights and welfare of black people is not in and of itself racist.
To show specific support for one group is not inherently oppositional to other groups. For example, if I am fighting for access to HIV treatment I am not inherently expressing bias towards people who are HIV-negative. If I am fighting for housing for homeless youth I am not inherently biased against adults with homes. If I am fighting for animal welfare I am not inherently anti-human.
The causes we care about are tied to our experiences, our identities, and who we love. Each of us must fight for the causes that move our hearts. This isn’t bias. This is the engine of human rights and human progress.
Critique 6: Racism Doesn’t Exist Because White People Suffer Too
White Nonsense: Being white doesn’t protect you from this class system, making it a blame game is absolutely racist. Being white doesn’t make you automatically rich, doesn’t protect your home, won’t promise you a job or a life. It certainly won’t protect you from homelessness or poverty.
Reasoned Response: Identity is intersectional. This means that while some elements of our identity privilege us, others disadvantage us. For example, I am privileged by my whiteness, my middle class background, and being cisgendered, but I am also disadvantaged by being queer and being female.
To take your example, a person who is able-bodied has greater privilege than one who is not. To accurately articulate that whiteness is being used to divide and disadvantage people who do not have this trait is not racist. Ignoring this abuse is.
Black people are disadvantaged in our society, so are mentally ill people, so are poor people, so are transgender people…. We live in a very unequal society.
Critique 7: Not All Cops…
White Nonsense First Responder: Any advice on the “not all cops are bad” bullshit?
Reasoned Response: Like “not all white people” and “not all men,” this line of criticism really doesn’t stand up to logic. Can you imagine if the Catholic Church had given this response to the pedophile priest scandal? What if the Vatican spokesperson had said, “Yes, some of our priests are pedophiles, but not all of them are. In fact, most of our priest are not pedophiles. For that reason, we see no need to act. In fact, we don’t even understand what you are all so worried about.” People would have been legitimately outraged.
If there is an abusive element in any institution of public trust or power, it needs to be dealt with. Saying there are only a few abusers (whether this is true or not) does not change this fact.
to be continued….
* denotes direct quote from a white person
Critique 6: Added August 20th in response to Toby.
Critique 7: Added August 24th on the suggestion of Gypsy B.