“…good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.”
– Albert Camus, Philosopher
Photo: New York Times
The Black Lives Matter movement needs to die. There I said it. Now that I’ve gotten that over with and depending on your view, the shock or gratitude is sinking in. Before you label me an Uncle Tom or Don Lemon, I’ll explain why I think the Black Lives Matter or BLM movement needs to die. I’ll start by saying that I do NOT believe that cops should target minorities, particularly black people, with extreme prejudice. Nor do I believe black people deserve to die at the hands of police officers when our hands are in the air, our backs are turned to the officers, and our disposition poses no immediate threat to ourselves or others. There has been too much damage done to the BLM movement at this point to salvage its name, but its aims should be taken up by new leadership under a new name and better organization. I’m not saying I have all the answers, but I have identified many problems that highlight why this current incarnation of a millennial pseudo-black power movement is doomed to fail.
The first problem I have with the Black Lives Matter movement are its methods. Marches by African-Americans in the present day no longer have the same impact as they did when the civil rights leaders of the 60s marched to display to the world the frustration and pain of a disenfranchised people desiring for their voices to be heard. Honestly, when was the last time a march led to any meaningful change for the black community? As a people, we protest far too often to be taken seriously when we gather to march from point A to point B. It seems like every time the wind blows and our feelings are hurt, we need to march. We march for current issues while also marching several times a year in cities across the country to commemorate other historic marches that were actually successful in their goals. We have essentially become a people prone to anger parades with rage-filled hearts and bitterness on our tongues. The problem is no one lines the streets to view what has unfortunately become a pageant of ebony frustration.
Our marches no longer invoke change and no longer invoke others to aide our cause. The marches are often juxtaposed with riots and looting, though the “formal BLM protesters” will say that they weren’t involved in the rioting aspect of a protest, as seen in the Baltimore protests in 2015 when a CVS was burned and looting occurred. Some in the movement point to a Martin Luther King Jr. quote which says, “A riot, is the language of the unheard.” Counter to this, further study of Dr. King reveals that he was speaking of an understanding as to why some in the black community rioted during the Civil Rights Movement, but he himself held firm to non-violent tactics. If the BLM movement wants to be viewed as progressive and wants its tactics to be seen as constructive rather than destructive then it must divorce itself of those who loot, riot, and leave the ashes of small-businesses in their wake. The only image the country should see are the tear-stained faces of mothers and the trembling lips of fathers who have lost another child to a system that routinely discriminates against people of color.
The second reason I believe the BLM movement has failed is because there has been a cacophony of voices in the media and in the general public that sees the movement as doing more harm than good. Fox News in their usual bigoted vitriol describe the BLM movement as a hate group. Right-wing zealots screamed bloody-murder when Beyoncé vaguely represented Black Power during the 2016 Super Bowl halftime show. And Donald Trump has only increased the animosity by promoting violence at his rallies where protesters have been expelled and violently struck for disrupting Mr. Trump’s speeches. The unmerited bias is to be expected by those whose ears are attuned to the dog-whistle politics that promote discrimination between the races. However, the BLM movement’s protesters have grossly underestimated the followers of the GOP’s leading candidate and have disrespected the candidacies of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.
True, Senator Clinton’s husband did more harm than good to the black community with his failed incarceration policies, but at the same time there is a time and place to be heard that doesn’t distract from the overall message that the BLM movement wants to make. The phrase “you know a leopard by its spots” is also applicable when considering why some in the movement choose to protest at Donald Trump rallies. Donald Trump promotes bigotry and misogyny, no change could come from protesting there as all in attendance are fervently for the very things the BLM is against, and the attendants have shown time and time again that they will react violently against Trump protesters.
The protesters have also interrupted Bernie Sanders, and one can simply google Bernie Sanders and Civil Rights Movement to see that he has a history of promoting equal rights before most of the young BLM movement protesters were even born! These tactics only serve to bring negative attention to the BLM movement when all of the headlines read ‘Protesters interrupt the rally of (insert politician here) and below the caption is an image of 4-5 black people frozen in time with their mouths open and their brows furrowed with rage. This should NOT be the image the public associates with the BLM movement.
The BLM movement has also been damaged in the media because of its name. I know the name means well, but it has been distorted and bastardized to the point that police departments and unions across the country have come out in full force against the movement. Politicians and the ignorant public alike have even started “all lives matter” responses even though the BLM movement was never about black supremacy or Black Nationalism but about championing the equality of black lives.
Perhaps the gravest issue with the Black Lives Matter movement, which also relates to its name, is the amount of violence that blacks perpetrate against other blacks. How can the BLM movement expect America to respect the sanctity of a black life, when we often don’t respect the lives of those with the same skin color? Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, and Birmingham: these four cities have a rampant problem with black-on-black homicide. Weekends with low murder counts are celebrated in Chicago, a city of a large black population in which the poor black population is destroying itself every week. The BLM should equally throw its weight behind promoting black people respecting the lives of other black people with the same fervor they expect it from law enforcement. Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks is quoted as saying, “”I dealt with a best friend getting killed, and it was [by] two 35-year-old black men. There was no police officer involved, there wasn’t anybody else involved, and I didn’t hear anybody shouting ‘black lives matter’ then.” The BLM movement must raise its voice in equal volume and outrage over black-on-black crime as it does over white-on-black crime.
Sad to say, it may all be too late as the BLM movement has already aligned itself and championed those who don’t do the cause any justice. Remember Michael Brown who was gunned down in Ferguson, Missouri by a white police officer? His story sounds like a rallying cry for the movement, but if you are to study the events leading up to his shooting and death, you’ll see that Michael Brown wasn’t behaving as a productive citizen in society. I won’t go into all of the details here, but I say this to make the point: if you’re going to make someone an angel, make sure they don’t have any demons in their past. A lot of people don’t know that Rosa Parks wasn’t the first black woman to refuse to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, but a woman by the name of Claudette Colvin was. The NAACP and other civil rights leaders refused to use her as a symbol of injustice due to the fact that she was pregnant by a married man. If you are striving for equality, make sure the faces of the movement can withstand the public scrutiny of their private lives.
This brings me to my last point on a need for the immediate end to the Black Lives Matter movement, and it’s the fact that the movement lacks real leadership. If you research the original leaders of the movement, you’ll see the names of two people who were born in the early-mid 80’s. In order for this organization to be successful, the leaders of the first civil rights movement will need to help beyond lending a voice to thousands of screams. Dr. Cornel West, for example, is a participant in the movement, and young African-Americans gravitate to him because he’s Ivy-league educated, charismatic, highly intelligent, and most importantly, he’s black too. The problem is Dr. West has really done nothing substantial to advance the goals and message of the Black Lives Matter movement. The true leadership needed already has a structure but has been silent in recent years when it comes to major civil rights issues concerning black people.
The NAACP should be at the forefront of the fight with their senior leadership leading the charge, pressing corporations and big business for their support in the fight for equality, and simultaneously promoting non-violence in the black community. The movement doesn’t need Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson as the nation as well as the black community has grown tired of their voices and their insistence to be the token voice of an entire people. The message is important, but those currently leading the BLM movement have no vision for getting there beside hashtags and marches. Walking and tweeting can only promote change so far, it will require senior leadership and support from benefactors with deeper pockets than the frustrated college students who want change but can’t afford what is necessary to accomplish real change in the 21st century.
I don’t have all of the answers on how the movement should be led, what its defined goals should be, or even what name if any should be used when calling for the sanctity of black lives to be upheld and respected. I do however see that this current incarnation does not work, it has failed black people, it has failed in the media, and its name has been distorted to the point that some view it as hateful. Regardless of who leads the movement within the black community, there is still work to be done.
The Civil Rights movement didn’t end with reforms in the 60s and 70s, nor did it end with the election of the nation’s first “black” President, President Barack Obama. The Civil Rights movement will not be complete until the words of this country’s Declaration of Independence apply to all citizens, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The journey to equality is complicated and will be paved with trials and complications, but we must press on. Martin Luther King, Jr. is quoted as saying, “Perseverance is a great element of success. If you only knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you are sure to wake up somebody.” Problem is, I don’t think the Black Lives Matter movement should be knocking at the gate.
Marsalis Jones is a frequent contributor for the topics of film and politics.