Over the last year or so, the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter has been floating around. I think it started with the riots over the death of a young man in the St. Louis area, who had been shot by a white cop. The incident spiraled out of control over the period of a few days, and the media ate it up like candy. But that’s starting to move beyond the scope of where I am headed. I have very little comment over the entire issue, especially since I wasn’t there when it happened. Instead, I want to focus on the hashtag mania that has taken its own life from the event.
Now, I will preface what I am about to say. I am not saying that hashtags like this are not a good way to get exposure to an issue. In fact, its quite the opposite. I am ecstatic to see aspects of social change taking life over an electronic medium. What I am unhappy about is that sometimes these issues are a little too narrow in focus, particularly in an area such as bringing racist perspectives to heel. And if you believe me to be racist in my perspective, then you are drawing the wrong conclusion from what I am writing.
It is certainly true that black men and women face a certain degree of racial degradation from the very institutions that are meant to protect them – such as law enforcement. There are stereotypes that are put into effect as measurable perspectives of how to deal with an individual. For instance, young black males seem to never be given ownership of nice things, such as vehicles. An officer pulling the black youth over when he is driving a nice, expensive sports car will be immediately deemed as not having ownership of the vehicle. This is portrayed amazingly well in the third movie of the Men-in-Black movies. Black youth are also stereotyped as liars; having some connection to drugs or gangs; prone to violence when confronted, along with many other instances. And this is not how law enforcement should operate. In an ideal society, law enforcement should treat every individual that they encounter with the same regard. But, we are dealing with human beings on both sides of the equation, after all.
The hashtag for #BlackLivesMatter is most certainly a relevant one, particularly for our current, “modern” times. But it is not always a helpful one, particularly in the battle against racism of any form. The term “black” is quite exclusionary. Many, including myself, feel that its usage in many areas winds up placing black lives over others. After all, words do matter – and a hashtag that singles a specific group as mattering does place all other racial groups as a lower category. In that position, many have taken to defacing stickers and flyers found throughout our public society with the word “all” over the word “black”. Completely grok that, but it is also not helpful. Defacing the slogans of #BlackLivesMatter only shows disrespect for that particular statement. Honestly, I would like to see an additional aspect to the BLM slogan: #AllLivesMatterToo . In this manner, I believe that none of the power behind the BLM slogan gets co-opted nor does a defacement of the slogan have to occur. Instead of crossing out the “black” and replacing it with “all” – write the #AllLivesMatterToo underneath the BLM slogan. And that’s if defacement is the option that you are wanting to use. Personally, I would just the slogan stand, and find another place to showcase the slogan I am wanting to use.
But let’s be brutally honest, racism is taught to us at a young age. By our parents, by our peers, by our media, by our government (I do statistics at a college, and I have to sort students into racial categories when reporting enrollment numbers. Its a task that I detest, but have to do because the government mandates it), and many, many other ways. We allow ourselves to be classified according to the pigment of our skin. Federal monies for educational loans are disbursed in some manners according to a person’s skin color. I have yet to see a Grant program set up for redheads only. While a hashtag does bring to light a serious issue within our local communities’ law enforcement contingents, it only addresses a small part of the issue. A hashtag is not going to change government loans aimed towards a racial component of the individual requesting the monies. Its a nice slogan, but there’s some really hard work that needs to be undertaken beyond that.
One other statement that has arisen from all of this is “if you don’t believe/participate in this perspective, you are part of the problem”. There area few issues I have with the statement overall. First off, there’s an assumption made that either you are with us or you are against us. That’s an attitude I don’t see as being helpful or positive. And the terrible part of it is that its thrown around like a common insult. Sort of the same way that the word “liberal” has been termed as an insult by the far-right Conservatives here in this country. The truth of the matter is that liberal is merely a term or label used to describe someone of a particular political intent. Here in the United States, we are afforded the opportunity to adhere to whatever political belief we would like, and are accorded the right and freedom to put that belief into practice at the voting polls. While I am neither a liberal or conservative, there are parts of my political beliefs that fall into both sides of that spectrum. I see nothing wrong with either perspective, when practiced appropriately and with some degree of restraint. But that’s a tangent for another time.
I’m not sure how someone can equate the lack of adherence to one’s perspective as being an “us v. them” statement such as the “you’re part of the problem” insult that gets hurled about. One thing I have learned, both in life and in my position as an Institutional Researcher – dealing with absolutes tends to place you in a position where your original hypothesis can barely be defended. Certainly, there are people who are “part and parcel of the problem” but I would note that locating those individuals takes a lot more effort and analysis than checking to see if they fully adhere to your perspective on an issue. There shades of understanding levels of inference for an issue. Furthermore, I would offer that some people do not leap on to a social issues bandwagon at a moment’s notice. Rather, they take their time to examine an issue and determine where each perspective related to it lays within their own ethical landscape.
These are certainly some of the issues that we face in our ever-changing social landscape. Fifty years beyond the time where our society challenged the aspects of racism, we find ourselves staring that same beast in the eyes. Even when we had hoped that it had been extinct, rather then slumbering soundly. How do we solve it? I don’t think its just that easy. Racism is not something we are born with – its something that we learn from our own generations, and the generations that have gone before us. Its institutionalized within our government. Its socialized among our population through the media. A social media hashtag is not going to dissolve the racial divides we have in this country. But it can highlight those issues, so that we — as a collective society — can address it, and begin removing it from our paradigm. One brick at a time. And it will not be a fast process. After all, it took us generations to get to this point. Taking that all apart, identifying it, and rebuilding with better structure that showcases us all as being the same….its going to take time, effort, hard work, and a lot of open, honest discussion. All of that requires everyone on every side to step forward and take responsibility. Hopefully, we can grow beyond the childish finger-pointing, name-calling, and accusations and start that process.
Two pence. #Sayin’