Monday, June 8, 2020

Black Lives Matter: Shibboleth for 2020

Imagine this scenario.  You're sitting at home with your wife or husband on the couch next to you, and she/he turns to you and asks, "What do you think about Black Lives Matter?"  How do you respond?  If you're like me, your response is, "All lives matter."  Now what if you were in a group of friends?  One of your friends asks the same question.  My response would be the same.  Would yours?  What if it were in a mixed group composed of some friends and some strangers?  What if it was a group of mostly strangers or all strangers?  What if the strangers were mostly black?  What if they were on the sidewalk holding signs that read Black Lives Matter and chanting "I can't breathe?"  Do you see where I'm going with this?  Am I making you a little uncomfortable?

For some people, how you respond to the question, "Do Black Lives Matter" will define how they think about you.  Some people will know by your response whether they like you or not.  Some people will know by your response whether they hate you or not.  And these days, if you're in the wrong place and among the wrong people, the videos suggest that some people will decide based on your response whether they want to beat you up or not, either verbally or in some cases physically.

I hate that circumstances now demand that I declare that I'm not a racist.  I'll further explain that I'm a 67 year old white guy, BUT I'm not a racist.  Now there was a time when I could have said I'm a 67 year old white guy AND I'm not a racist.  But these days there are some people who are trying to create the common assumption that somebody like me MUST be a racist simply by virtue of my age and my skin color.  I'd like to be able to say that I'm 67 years old, AND oh by the way, I'm not a racist, but these days I feel compelled to say, I'm 67 years old, BUT contrary to what we're all meant to presume, I'm not a racist.  I will assume that the difference in the language here is not too nuanced to understand.  I'm more than just a little bit sick of this!

Christian villagers of Ungheni, Bessarabia Governorate, displaying icons on their homes in order to defend themselves from a pogrom, 1905

For me, the response "All Lives Matter" is a no brainer.  Does that mean I think black lives DON'T matter?  Of course not.  But being "invited" or in reality being compelled, or shamed, or in some cases almost threatened to say Black Lives Matter, as if it were some sort of catechism, stirs more than just a little bit of rage inside of me.  It's as if my interrogator is trying to force me to accept his implied premise that in fact black lives matter MORE than any other lives.  They don't.  They ALL matter.  No amount of coercion will make me feel any differently, though I suppose an adequate amount of coercion might compel me to SAY I feel differently.  I'm hoping I won't ever have to take part in the experiment to answer that question. I suspect that what the mob really wants though, prefers actually, is to conduct that research independently, on each and every one of us. They're not looking for a true transformation, but a conversion by intimidation, a conversion by inquisition.

So I reject the incantation "Black Lives Matter" while recognizing that it has become a shibboleth for our time. Your chosen three word response to a question about the value of human life will determine if you are a good person or a bad one; if you are friend or foe. A member of the tribe or the enemy "other".  I'm happy to utter the words black lives matter in the absence of duress, but while you may think you're hearing Black Lives Matter, if I were to transcribe my utterance onto the written page, they would contain no capital letters.  And don't be surprised if I follow it up with, "but then actually, all lives matter." I see Black Lives Matter (with capital letters) as a conspiracy by some to intimidate a political opponent.  It may not have started out that way, (then again, maybe it did.  I have no way to know), and it certainly isn't that for all concerned.  Lots of people marching under the banner of Black Lives Matter are decent, sincere, and well meaning people.  But I'm certain there are some for whom the slogan is nothing more than a cudgel with which to intimidate their enemies.

There is a lengthy debate to be had about policing and the black community which should be conducted based on facts not feelings.  But today, with calls to defund the police, it is sadly not the time to introduce facts into the discussion.  I'm also concerned about who will be taking part in that discussion when it ultimately does take place.  Unfortunately, I suspect that the debate will be dominated by callow, pandering politicians and the intersectionality peddling purveyors of race grievance, more commonly known as race hustlers.  Neither of these groups will be reluctant to advance the country right up to the precipice of a race war if there was a buck to be made and power to be gained.  

Shibboleth.  That's a peculiar word, shibboleth.  The Wikipedia definition above explains adequately enough what about the phrase "Black Lives Matter" prompted me to write this article.  But I prefer the explanation offered the very first time I ever encountered the word in an episode of The West Wing about twenty years ago.  There was something so sophisticated and scholarly about Jed Bartlett quoting the Bible from memory.  Progressives were so much easier to get along with back then.  And occasionally, they could even teach you something.  Those were the good old days, huh?