A week or so back an acquaintance of mine posted in his social media site that it was possible to be both against racism and against the Black Lives Matter movement.
I’ve been thinking about that comment a lot.
The statement made no sense to me, yet this person—who I do not really know, but who I have met in person and had at least pleasant conversation with—said it with such earnestness that I haven’t been able to put it down.
That’s a thing about social media, right? It gives us insight to people we wouldn’t otherwise get. Sometimes, when that insight is the result of a flippant comment, I think it’s on us to see them properly. I’ve often said, after all, that the best thing about being a writer is that you don’t have to be cool in first draft. But this was different. “I can be against both racism and the Black Lives Matter movement at the same time” came in a context that made it matter.
It made me grimace.
I wanted to see this person in a better light—partly, I’m sure, because I share two traits with them, white skin and maleness, that I’m finding more problematic to deal with as I grow older. Life is fraught with complexity it seems, and this acquaintance had me thinking about those complexities.
As if there wasn’t enough crap going on in the world every day for … oh, all my life … to keep me thinking on this topic forever anyway if I let it.
Was that true? I thought. Could you be both against racism and against the Black Lives Matter movement?
I am an idiot, of course—but that’s a topic for other posts. To the degree I can make it so, this entry is not about me. Still, I’m the one writing it and I’m the one making assessments so it has to come from me. Hence some relevant background before I go further.
While developing a story some time ago I did a lot of work that allowed me to gather what I will call a refreshed understanding of the Black Panther movement. Being a young boy in the 60s, I had, of course, been aware of the Panthers. But now I found myself needing to write about them—or at least write around them—and I wanted things to be true. I wanted to be “right.” So I read books and newspapers, and listened to videos and absorbed details in ways that I had not absorbed in the past. Along the way I found the Black Panther’s ten-point plan and finally spent time letting them settle. Really tried to put myself into the shoes of people who wrote them. Why did they do it? What did those words mean down under the skin? What did the points stand for?
It was enlightening, and I’m proud of the story that came out of that effort.
If you unfamiliar with the Black Panther movement beyond the surface essence of them being leather-clad black men with guns, (and especially if you are a white person of my certain age) I suggest you try it. You might find your understanding of history is maybe not on quite so firm of footing as you think it is.
In a similar way, I read the charter of Black Lives Matter back when that movement was just beginning to grow. I’d been learning, you see. Years and years of small efforts made to get into the heads of characters had made me better at realizing that maybe my own frame of reference was not always so right, and years and years of speaking with people who were definitely not like me had augmented that idea. The process of doing a deep dive into the Black Panthers had brought some of those lessons out–perhaps later than they should have, yes. But the past is what it is.
Probably because of that earlier work, though, reading the Black Lives Matter charter made me feel a resonance within it. Things change, it seems, and yet they do not change so far or so fast.
My acquaintance’s comments made me go back to that charter a few days ago. They made me read it again. Slowly and diligently, thinking all the while and asking myself: is it possible to be against both racism and the Black Lives Matter movement??
The answer was … unsettling.
What follows are some inner ramblings I had as I reviewed that charter. As noted, I know I am an idiot in many ways. And I am a white guy who grew up when I grew up. I am imperfect, and am only self-educated in all these areas that matter so much to so many people. I know I’m going to bumble and stumble. Perhaps my ass will show. But I am here and I am doing what I can. In the end, that’s what matters to me.
So here we go: Black Lives Matter charter with my inner ramblings-
The Black Lives Matter Global Network is as powerful as it is because of our membership, our partners, our supporters, our staff, and you. Our continued commitment to liberation for all Black people means we are continuing the work of our ancestors and fighting for our collective freedom because it is our duty.
I suppose even a person who considers themselves to be “against racism” could find this passage to be aggressive, especially if that person does not think institutional racism is a thing.
The idea of liberation for all Black people as a commitment shared with one’s ancestry can feel radical and militant if you let it. In fact, if you ignore the existence of institutional racism, you could even twist this passage to be racist in itself. You could convince yourself that the idea behind this first point in the list is to raise Black Lives above others.
That view discounts the existence of racism as it is today, though. And it willfully ignores both the experiences lived by people today and the direct lines that run from the past to the present. If you do not see institutional racism, then you are not against racism. In fact, to ignore such things and to discount the systemic origin of the imbalance that exists in today’s social structure is, itself, a form of racism.
To be able to say you are “anti-racism” and to also be against this part of the BLM platform requires you to be oblivious to the world around you—which (a) I agree is totally a thing because oblivion has been my lifelong impediment to seeing truth, and (b) is fixable.
If this first statement of the BLM charter made you uncomfortable—or, really, any of the statements in this charter make you uncomfortable—I humbly suggest you go do some work on (b).
Every day, we recommit to healing ourselves and each other, and to co-creating alongside comrades, allies, and family a culture where each person feels seen, heard, and supported.
It would be hard for any person who is against racism—or any person against community as a whole—to argue against this idea.
We acknowledge, respect, and celebrate differences and commonalities.
Can a person be against racism and be also against the idea of acknowledging, respecting, and celebrating differences and commonalities? I think not. The closest I can get is that people may not want to actually celebrate their differences, but then, what does this mean in context of the original question?
Here are two words to ponder: acceptance and respect.
There is a difference, right? A world of nuance lies in the distance between acceptance and respect. The people who wrote this charter are calling on people to celebrate differences between each other. To make that idea work, then, those writers had to select the word respect over accept. To “accept” something, after all, is to subordinate yourself to it. A person accepts something substandard. They accept a flaw or a burden. Acceptance suggests a certain resignation to power. Hence one does not celebrate the burden of acceptance so much as agrees to bear it.
You see that, right?
Using another sensitive example, I suggest a certain lack of respect for marriage between same-sex couples is at the root of the Christian baker not wanting to celebrate those unions by supplying cakes. They may well be forced to accept same-sex marriages as allowed under law, but they do not respect those unions and, in fact, see them as attacks on their core beliefs.
To celebrate a difference requires one to see that difference as both authentic and valuable in your heart.
So let’s go back to the question.
Can a person be against racism and be also against the idea of acknowledging, respecting, and celebrating differences and commonalities?
Again, I think not.
We work vigorously for freedom and justice for Black people and, by extension, all people.
It’s almost like All Lives Matter, isn’t it?
We intentionally build and nurture a beloved community that is bonded together through a beautiful struggle that is restorative, not depleting.
If I were in a coffee shop with this acquaintance of mine, we could have a full hour’s conversation about the nuances embedded in this one line. It’s blurry in the way a Corporate Mission Statement is blurry (I should know…I’ve written a few).
Regardless, the objective does not seem overly controversial at its core. I don’t think your average acquaintance on the street could work up too much of a lather in reading it. I mean, isn’t this kind of the entire goal of civilization?
We are unapologetically Black in our positioning. In affirming that Black Lives Matter, we need not qualify our position. To love and desire freedom and justice for ourselves is a prerequisite for wanting the same for others.
Now this is stated pretty boldly, isn’t it?
Those first two sentences are strong and unabashed. We are who we are. Get over it. That’s the kind of statement that can draw ire in certain moments. Yet, they are followed by an equally strong statement that qualifies the idea. We will love, admire, and protect ourselves because we want to do the same for everyone else.
Can you be against racism and be also against this idea?
Let’s try it this way. Can you be “against racism” and at the same time say a person should be expected to forget who they are and where they come from? If so, are you saying that Black people should, instead of being unabashedly Black in their position, simply work to join into the whole—that they should purposely let go of that Blackness and their Black lineage and simply become a homogeneous one with the whole of the greater society? Are you saying that every individual should give up their culture to join another?
Is that what you’re saying?
Technically, I suppose it is actually possible to be against racism and at the same time be against the ideas in this part of the Black Lives Matter charter. That’s the idea at the root of several pieces of dystopic science fiction, after all. It’s how we think of highly oppressive regimes, too. We are all the same. All just cogs in the world. No hierarchy. No conflict. Yes, that kind of world would be low on racism. But … no … I don’t think that’s a position anyone I know—including this acquaintance of mine—would take.
We see ourselves as part of the global Black family, and we are aware of the different ways we are impacted or privileged as Black people who exist in different parts of the world.
Here’s an interesting twist.
Black Lives Matter acknowledges that there are actual situations in which Black people have privilege.
I’ll just let that settle for a bit.
We are guided by the fact that all Black lives matter, regardless of actual or perceived sexual identity, gender identity, gender expression, economic status, ability, disability, religious beliefs or disbeliefs, immigration status, or location.
Okay. Here’s a place I see where a person could be against racism and be against Black Lives Matter at the same time.
Of course, that person is then either homophobic or transphobic, or a religious bigot, or essentially some kind of cruel asshole who is against helping people with disabilities (which—sorry about this—immediately cues up an image of Donald Trump mocking disabled people in my brain).
See, this is something I really like about the Black Lives Matter movement. If you read this document, really read it, really absorb it, and then overlay it with the bulk of what comes out of the movement, you see that it is a group committed to the idea that All Lives Matter.
So, yes, while I agree this plank of the charter is a place where you can be against racism and also be against the Black Lives Matter movement, if you use this as a justification you might want to quietly consider whether you might, just maybe, have some other … um … flaws to work on.
We make space for transgender brothers and sisters to participate and lead.
This one goes down that next level, right? I mean, can you be against racism and be against giving transgendered people their space to participate and lead? Yes, given there’s nothing in this sentence that is specifically about race, I grant that you can.
But is that what this acquaintance of mime really means? Is their fundamental point of view “Yes, I’d be all down with BLM if they’d just kick the gays and transgendered people out of the conversation!”
I mean. Really?
I admit I suspect this individual has limited tolerance for the gay and transgender worlds, but I also note nothing in the context of his statement supports reading it that way—and to be clear, even if it did, it’s a really bad look. Trans rights are women’s rights are gay rights are Black rights are everyone’s rights. Right now, I figure this acquaintance is oblivious to this aspect of Black Lives Matter, but what do I know. I could be wrong.
Not that it makes me any happier.
We are self-reflexive and do the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege and uplift Black trans folk, especially Black trans women who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans-antagonistic violence.
Here lies another area where a certain amount of convoluted logic might allow you to say you are against racism and at the same time say you are against the Black Lives Matter movement. One could, I suppose accept that Black trans women are disproportionately impacted by hate crimes, and still argue that cisgender privilege does not exist—or even that it exists and still be in favor of that privilege. This is a 2 + 2 = 5 approach to gas lighting that requires mental gymnastics so complex to arrive at that they make my brain hurt.
So, I’ll take Occam’s Razor and stick with the more straightforward idea that, yes, you can be both against racism and against this portion of the Black Lives Matter charter. It just means you’re transphobic.
It’s not a good look, though. Really, it isn’t. I wouldn’t be walking around touting it.
We build a space that affirms Black women and is free from sexism, misogyny, and environments in which men are centered.
So, to be “against racism” and against this part of the Black Lives Matter’s charter you have to find a way to affirm Black women in some fashion that was somehow supportive of sexism, misogyny, and was built on the idea that men are central to the social system.
I don’t think this is actually possible.
Admittedly, though, this is a statement in which the word “Black” is not doing the heavy lifting, and in which the phrase “free from environments in which men are centered” may require a moment to digest.
Take your time though. It’s okay. Really it is. I know you can do it.
We practice empathy. We engage comrades with the intent to learn about and connect with their contexts.
Unless you are a sociopath and literally don’t care about other people I find it hard to find disagreement with this element of the platform.
I don’t think my acquaintance is a sociopath, but I acknowledge it’s possible for a person to prefer the idea of “screw everyone equally, I’m getting mine” over the idea of having empathy with and desiring to learn from others. I mean, cue again literally any interview of our current president.
We make our spaces family-friendly and enable parents to fully participate with their children. We dismantle the patriarchal practice that requires mothers to work “double shifts” so that they can mother in private even as they participate in public justice work.
If you feel the patriarchy is a requirement for Life As It Should Be, then this section probably makes your undies curl. It’s that word “dismantle,” right? It’s true that if the male-centered world is dismantled and rebuilt, we (speaking as a male) lose something. But that’s the thing about privilege. If it didn’t exist, you wouldn’t feel that angst.
The same conversation can be made around the word “require,” too.
If a person says they support equality and this section still still makes their undies curl, I’d ask them to read this again and just let it settle.
What words in those sentences make you feel the most uncomfortable? Why?
Perhaps “justice work” are a few of them. I admit my mind struggles to fall on that phrase in a satisfying way even as I come to the conclusion that, when looked at in the right light, all work is “public justice work.”
At the end of the process, if the undies still curl one might need to question whether one actually does support equality.
The specifics of this statement are not expressly about racism, though, so it’s possible to be against racism and at the same time be unable to accept this idea.
This would make you a bore, and a bit of a male chauvinist, to pull an old-fashioned phrase out of the past. But it is at least possible.
We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.
This is another high concept bit that one can have long and winding conversations about. The phrase “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure” is probably the most controversial part of it. If you were to take those words out, after all, you’d have a pretty milquetoast comment that almost everyone could agree on.
But that phrase is included, so you have to decide what it means. Do you think Black Lives Matter wants to disband families? Take kids from their parents and thrown them into cages? Hmmm. No, that’s not right. I mean, sure, our government does that on the borders even today, but I don’t think this statement means Black Lives Matter supports that practice. I mean, really. No one in that movement operates that way in practice, right? And the rest of the objective as written destroys that interpretation. Assuming one’s reading comprehension is moderately adequate, I think it’s clear the Black Lives Matter charter does not say that their movement thinks families should be torn apart. So, if you read this passage and come down on the idea that it means anyone wants to weaken families, maybe you should go back and read this whole thing again, this time with intent.
There’s power here, after all. An essence of seeing through stories as are told to us to find truth in what it means to be a community. A relationship lies between this phrasing and the idea that you can chose your friends even if you can’t chose your family. Disrupt does not mean disband, just as defund does not mean abolish. Regardless, since there is nothing inherently racial about the idea of community, I suppose this portion of the charter is an area where you can be against racism and at the same time be also against the Black Lives Matter movement.
You can, for example, be ultra-libertarian and recoil altogether at this idea of mutual support. Or you might be able to say you’re against this statement simply due to the word “village,” which just sounds too damned communistic, right?
More likely, though, is the case where one would actually accept this portion of the charter by playing the oblivious card, saying that, in practice, this idea is in line with the “all in this together” ideal that comes out of the It’s a Wonderful life or Norman Rockwellian image of the 40s and 50s—ignoring, of course, that the “village” carries an underlying concept of cultural mixing rather than the all-white flavor that permeates those periods as perhaps being when you thought America was “great.”
That’s a strange loop, though, isn’t it?
Can you wish for those simpler times, however, and still consider yourself as being against racism?
We foster a queer‐affirming network. When we gather, we do so with the intention of freeing ourselves from the tight grip of heteronormative thinking, or rather, the belief that all in the world are heterosexual (unless s/he or they disclose otherwise).
Again, yes, you can be against this statement from the Black Lives Matter movement if you are unwilling to break your own frame of reference, are fine with being discriminatory toward the LGBTQ community, and are unwilling to acknowledge, respect, and celebrate other people.
We cultivate an intergenerational and communal network free from ageism. We believe that all people, regardless of age, show up with the capacity to lead and learn.
Seems like it would be hard for any rational person to disagree with this unless you are literally ageist.
We embody and practice justice, liberation, and peace in our engagements with one another.
Again, I can’t see arguments against this.
So, there we have it.
To answer the question that started this whole thing: Yes, after digging back through the Black Lives Matter charter, I suppose it is technically possible for my acquaintance to be both against racism and against the Black Lives Matter movement at the same time. This does not speak well for him, however, because it means he is either homophobic, transphobic, sexist, or ageist.
Or a sociopath.
Or all of them together.
Of course, just because it’s possible for a person to be against both racism and the Black Lives Matter movement at the same time, and just because he says he is just that, does not mean this acquaintance of mine is actually against them both. Indeed, experience says there’s a better than average chance this acquaintance of mine is merely wrong when he says he is against racism. Or that he is oblivious and doesn’t actually know what he’s talking about.
Perhaps, being white, he’s blind to what racism is to so many people?
Perhaps he has not even started “doing the work?”
With luck maybe he really is merely oblivious, because as noted above oblivion can be fixed with time and experience.
I can go on like this for a long time.
To be honest, though, I admit to a certain lack of optimism.
I am, after all, both white and a male of a certain age. Having lived my experiences, I know that playbook pretty well.