A Labelling Dilemma

Thugs

I haven’t updated this blog in a long while, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure I was ever going to update again.  For one, my real-life job left me with little energy or motivation to write.  Also, it seemed as if I were beating my head against a wall.  While I do receive a number of friendly comments from like-minded people, or at least from people who are willing to respectfully disagree, I also get a lot of nasty comments from people who are just itching to tell me how wrong I am.  Well, that’s okay.  I don’t expect to sway those people’s opinions, just as I hope they don’t expect to sway mine.  If it makes you feel better to tell me what a moron I am, speak your peace and then get ye gone.  I’ve no more patience for trolls.

I encountered this meme on the Facebook wall of a friend who is typically pretty left-leaning, like me; a person whom the right would derisively call an SJW or social justice warrior.  If the meme contained only the second sentence, there wouldn’t be much to complain about; after all, Flying Spaghetti Monster knows we could stand more teamwork and unity.  But the first sentence is full of culpability shuffling, and there’s a nasty word that adds an extra dose of irresponsibility.  Can you spot it?

Before we get to that word, I’d like to talk about the hazards associated with saying “Not all _____ are _____.”  Even if the statement is true, there’s an obvious but oft-unstated follow-up clause: “Although some are.”  And it’s in this clause that social infection festers.  “Not all cops are bad.”  That’s very true.  There are lots of good, decent cops who would never dream of killing an unarmed man.  “But some are.”  And it’s the responsibility of the good cops to break the blue code of silence and speak out against the minority of police officers who abuse their power.  The justice system bears the onus of breaking through the shield that protects police officers who unjustly kill people.

“Not all whites are racist.”  In general, I agree with this statement.  To be sure, I think everybody occasionally has thoughts that would qualify as racist – that’s ingrained in us by our tribal roots –  but a reasonable person recognizes those thoughts for what they are, and declines to give them voice.  And he certainly never acts on them.  He tries to understand where those thoughts come from.  He doesn’t tweet them as if they are Truth Revealed, then marvel at the social backlash.

“But some are.”  Some whites are racist, and it is no longer enough for the rest of us to be non-racist.  We should aspire to be anti-racist.  We should speak out against people who lack a racist filter.  We may never convince them that their thoughts, words, and actions are wrong, but at least we can show them that they will not be accepted in a civil society.

Now let’s address the elephant in the room.  “Not all African Americans are thugs.”

“But some are.”  Do you see the problem?  The word thug has become a racist code word; a stand-in for the N-word.  In fact, this meme may as well have simply used the N-word, because the effect is the same. People who use the word thug in this context don’t just mean “folks who break the law”.  They mean “black folks who break the law”.

Now if you’re one of those white people who are thoroughly marinated in privilege and oblivious to racism, you might wail: “Political correctness strikes again!  We can’t ever say that black people commit crimes!”  But that’s rubbish, and you know it.  It’s okay to acknowledge that people of every race break the law and hurt others, but how easy would it have been to select a word that isn’t racially charged?  “Not all African Americans are criminals.”  “Not all African Americans are rioters.”  “Not all African Americans are looters.”  Any of those would have been preferable, because none of those words pack the same racist connotations as the T-word.  And you could reasonably follow any of those statements with “But some are, and they should be held accountable for their crimes, just as a person of any ethnic background would be held accountable for the same crimes.  They should not be punished more harshly than a white person would be, nor should they have a reasonable fear of being killed before they even see a jury.”

I’m all for unity, but this meme doesn’t inspire it.  It almost makes it seem as if the good cops and non-racist whites must condescend to acknowledge the non-thug African Americans.  Unity isn’t unity when one group thinks they are doing another group a favor by including them at all.

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Spoiler Alert: It Came Down

Confederate Lives Matter

Let’s be crystal-clear about this: if you put any word other than “Black” in front of the words “Lives Matter”, you are creating a problem.  At the very best, you’re misappropriating the name of a movement that protests the violence disproportionately thrown down on people of color by law enforcement and vigilantes.  That’s not nice; you shouldn’t take the name of their movement to advance your own cause.  At the very worst, you’re being really, really racist.

Yes, really.

Some people hear the phrase “Black Lives Matter” and assume that it’s racist, as if the leaders of the movement have no regard for non-black folks.  Actually, the phrase doesn’t mean that other lives don’t matter.  All lives are important, yes, and in a perfect world everybody would recognize that.  Unfortunately, the world is far from ideal.  While we may profess with our lips that all people are created equal, our actions as a society indicate that we believe otherwise.  That’s why “Black Lives Matter” exists.  If you’re white, straight, Christian, etc, in America, nobody needs to be reminded of the importance of your life – it is taken as self-evident.  But if you’re black, it wouldn’t hurt for people – particularly law enforcement officers – to be reminded that you are also a human being, deserving of the same basic dignity and respect we theoretically afford to all humans.

As spiteful as it is to co-opt the “Black Lives Matter” title to support a different agenda, it’s particularly hateful to replace the word “Black” with “Confederate”.

For one – and this really ought not have to be pointed out – there are no more Confederate lives.  The war’s long done.  The Confederacy is extinct.  If the Confederacy lives on, it’s only in the hearts of people who sympathize with the Confederate cause, which was closely tied to the institution of slavery.

We’ve discussed this before, but it bears repeating: the Confederacy was a racism-motivated regime, and the Confederate battle flag is a racist symbol!  Of course it is.  This point is beyond legitimate debate. The Confederate battle flag was stitched and flown by people who made no secret of their belief that black people were inferior to white people, and that they ought to be kept as slaves.  After the Confederacy was defeated and re-absorbed into the United States, their flags might never again have seen the light of day, had they not been resurrected during the civil rights movements by white segregationists.  The Confederate battle flag was revived as an immutable symbol of anti-black racism.  It continues to be flown by people who wish to ignore that racism was a major cause – nay, the central cause – of the conflict that spawned it.  It is an unfortunate part of Southern heritage, but not one we should celebrate.

Just so we’re clear, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Southern pride, per se.  If you’re a Southerner and proud of it, then I say “Good for you”, as long as you are aware that the book of Southern Heritage has some awfully dark chapters.  If you construct a flag depicting a plate of grits and a glass of iced sweet tea, I will gladly wave it for you (although, I should point out that I’m somewhat atypical as a Southerner in that I do not enjoy either of those fares).  I have no problem with anybody expressing a well-tempered degree of regional pride, but I strongly disagree that the Confederate battle flag is the appropriate symbol of that pride.

I’d like to conclude by addressing the first statement made by this odious meme: “It Ain’t Coming Down”.  I have a couple of relevant videos.  I’ll just leave them right here.

In South Carolina, at least, it came down.  Twice.

Missing The Point Entirely

Police Lives Matter

Of course they do!  You won’t hear any argument from me that police lives are less valuable than the lives of other folks.

So what makes this a Stupid Bad Meme?  Well, it’s a play on the “Black Lives Matter” movement, which started in 2012 following the death of Trayvon Martin and gained steam when Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two unarmed black citizens, were killed by law enforcement officers in 2014.  The phrase “Black Lives Matter” isn’t meant to suggest that other peoples’ lives don’t matter; it’s meant to draw attention to an issue that is sorely pressing – namely, the fact that black people are, on average, more likely to be the victims of police brutality than are people of other ethnic groups.  Furthermore, there is shockingly little accountability handed to the police officers who take the lives of unarmed black citizens.

The words “Black Lives Matter” form a statement that should be obvious, but apparently is not universally accepted.  The statement calls attention to the fact (and yes, it is a fact) that black lives are undervalued by the modern power structure.  Police brutality against unarmed minorities is just one symptom of systemic racism.  If we, the nation, will claim to be founded on the twin pillars of justice and equality, then we have to stop this.  We cannot continue to ignore or downplay the value of black lives.  That’s what “Black Lives Matter” is all about.

But wait, you ask, don’t police lives matter too?  After all, they’re in a dangerous job and anti-police sentiment seems to be boiling over lately.

Yes, police lives do matter.  Don’t get me wrong: I am grateful for police officers who protect and serve, just like it says on the badge.  But the value of a police officer’s life is largely accepted without question; ergo, the “Police Lives Matter” meme is wholly unnecessary.  This is reminiscent of the “Straight Pride” meme.  Somebody has taken an important message and corrupted it to support something that hasn’t been maligned.  In doing so, they have diverted the focus away from a major problem, and in doing that, they have become part of the problem.