I’ve been an outspoken supporter of the #BlackLivesMatter movement for years now, attending events, writing blogs, and posting a sign in my front yard. Over the course of time I’ve been supporting BLM, I’ve had to combat a lot of push back about the movement. Especially when more dramatic protests started happening, like people laying down in streets and shutting down highways. Prior to this, I would often get the video sent to me from the August 2015 Minnesota State Fair of Black Lives Matter marchers chanting “Pigs in a blanket, fry ’em up like bacon” in reference to police officers. The accusation being that this represented BLM, so how could I support it?
I would explain to people that actions such as this chant, or like rocks being dropped on police at rallies, or the most dramatic of actions such as the shooting of police officers in Dallas were not “sanctioned” by the official Black Lives Matter movement. That, in any movement, you’re going to have rogue demonstrators who go off the rails and do things not in line with the leadership. You saw this with the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King’s unwavering commitment to non-violence all the time. When someone got violent, he would clearly communicate that those being violent were not with him and his movement. My assumption is the Black Lives Matter movement was doing the same thing.
My assumption was wrong.
Four weeks ago two friends and I started a new podcast, Choppin it Up: a podcast about race, race & race. Our “topic of the day” in episode 2 was to each give our thumbs up or thumbs down for the official Black Lives Matter movement. While I knew about the “fry ’em up like bacon” chants, the laying in the street and the growing narrative against the movement, I was still prepared to defend it and give it my thumbs up.
Until I, for the first time (that’s on me), visited blacklivesmatter.com and read their official stance on things. The article I read is called 11 Major Misconceptions about the Black Lives Matter Movement. If you want to hear our entire discussion on this you can skip to the 42:36 mark in the podcast episode below:
There were two striking features in this article that have alienated me from Black Lives Matter. The articles lists its 11 misconceptions by posting the misconception in the first sentence, followed by an explanation of why that sentence isn’t true.
2. It’s a leaderless movement. The Black Lives Matter movement is a leaderfull movement. Many Americans of all races are enamored with Martin Luther King as a symbol of leadership and what real movements look like. But the Movement for Black Lives, another name for the BLM movement, recognizes many flaws with this model. First, focusing on heterosexual, cisgender black men frequently causes us not to see the significant amount of labor and thought leadership that black women provide to movements, not only in caretaking and auxiliary roles, but on the front lines of protests and in the strategy sessions that happen behind closed doors. Moreover, those old models leadership favored the old over the young, attempted to silence gay and lesbian leadership, and did not recognize the leadership possibilities of transgender people at all. Finally, a movement with a singular leader or a few visible leaders is vulnerable, because those leaders can be easily identified, harassed, and killed, as was the case with Dr. King. By having a leaderfull movement, BLM addresses many of these concerns. BLM is composed of many local leaders and many local organizations including Black Youth Project 100, the Dream Defenders, the Organization for Black Struggle, Hands Up United, Millennial Activists United, and the Black Lives Matter national network. We demonstrate through this model that the movement is bigger than any one person. And there is room for the talents, expertise, and work ethic of anyone who is committed to freedom.
One of my main arguments to those bashing the more violent and hateful acts done in the name of BLM was, “No there’s leadership! They stand against those things!” As it sadly turns out, quite contrary to what the above paragraph is trying to communicate, there is no leadership at all. I’m sorry, but a “leaderfull” movement means there is no leadership. It means people can do anything and everything they want while holding a “Black Lives Matter” banner and it’s sanctioned. Leadership speaks out against deviant behavior. If everyone is a leader, this is impossible. Leadership is hard, letting people do anything they want is easy.
I really have to scratch my head at bashing Martin Luther King. I could write a lot here, but I won’t. I was really shocked to see this on BlackLivesMatter.com. It seems because Dr. King was a male and cisgender and heterosexual, he is seen as a bad example of leadership not to be replicated. This correlation makes no sense and seems way off agenda to a Black Lives Matter movement. As it turns out, the next “misconception” that lost me ties back into this point about Dr. King…
6. The black church has no role to play. Many know that the black church was central to the civil rights movement, as many black male preachers became prominent civil rights leaders. This current movement has a very different relationship to the church than movements past. Black churches and black preachers in Ferguson have been on the ground helping since the early days after Michael Brown’s death. But protesters patently reject any conservative theology about keeping the peace, praying copiously, or turning the other cheek. Such calls are viewed as a return to passive respectability politics. But local preachers and pastors like Rev. Traci Blackmon, Rev. Starsky Wilson, and Rev. Osagyefo Sekou have emerged as what I call “Movement Pastors.” With their radical theologies of inclusion and investment in preaching a revolutionary Jesus (a focus on the parts of scripture where Jesus challenges the Roman power structure rather than the parts about loving one’s enemies) and their willingness to think of church beyond the bounds of a physical structure or traditional worship, they are reimagining what notions of faith and church look like, and radically transforming the idea of what the 21st-century black church should be.
Again, you see here that because the civil rights movement of the 60’s had black males in leadership, a grounding in the church is to be rejected. This point sets out to prove the black church has a role to play, but all it really does (you see this in the last sentence) is create its own definition of “church” which isn’t church at all. So as it turns out, the true black church actually doesn’t have a role to play. And so much bigger than this, the true Jesus doesn’t have a role to play! It’s one thing to be non-religious, to not make any statement about Jesus or Muhammad or whomever, but it’s a whole other thing to go out of your way to reject someone, Jesus in this case. I was shocked to read, “protesters patently reject any conservative theology about keeping the peace, praying copiously, or turning the other cheek” and “rather than the parts about loving one’s enemies.” This is everything Jesus and Dr. King stood for! Like the church, they’ve just made Jesus into who they want him to be. Jesus doesn’t play that.
This all sickens me.
I realize that Black Lives Matter national organizers don’t really care if a white guy from Lansing is on board with them or not, but there’s a bigger and much more important issue here. As more and more people turn a blind eye and deaf ear to Black Lives Matter, they tragically are going to do the same to the heart of the issues BLM set out to protest. Black lives do matter! Systemic change needs to happen! There is a long culture and history in our nation of police brutality. There needs to be accountability and transparency in our police departments. Mass incarceration needs to stop. White Americans need to understand and empathize with the black American experience. It needs to understood why the net worth of a white family is 13x greater than that of a black family. Both overt racism and systemic racism need to be exposed and dismantled. But as “Fry ’em up like bacon” chants get dismissed, with no one from BLM to stand against these things, the rest of what BLM is trying to accomplish is going to get thrown out with the bathwater. Not only does BLM not speak against those sorts of chants, their website is for them…if you patently reject keeping the peace and turning the other cheek, then you promote and condone violence! What a foolish and ineffective route to take.
This really saddens me. There was so much potential in what Black Lives Matter could have been. (Lowercase) black lives do matter…but will anyone actually listen anymore after BLM inevitably vanishes from the scene?
These issues need advocates.
Advocates who embody the loving, reconciling peace of Jesus the way Dr. King did. Advocates who follow God’s call for justice while also following his call for peace.
I need a new movement to support, but there doesn’t seem to be one out there.
And I need a new yard sign…
(To clarify any confusion, I am disassociated with the official Black Lives Matter movement because I always thought they spoke against violence, but they don’t. They not only allow it, but they directly speak against peaceful solutions, which I can’t support.)
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