Black lives matter: bridges not divisions

James Twinn, Writer

Every kid in America is exposed to the civil rights protests of the 1960’s at some point in their education. We learned that this revolutionary movement sought to destroy the vast racial divide that separated our citizenry, often at great personal cost to its proponents. As a black man, there are few things I revere more than this turning point in history. I know my life is as good as it is, mainly because of that era and the human rights activists who defined it. To those who marched for my rights, I humbly thank you for the opportunities you created. However, when I hear people calling the Black Lives Matter Movement the “second wave of the civil rights movement” I can’t help but disagree.

The movement was started by three women, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi in the wake of Treyvon Martin’s death and the acquittal of his shooter in 2014. They established the hashtag that grew into the movement that it is today. Undeniably, BLM is dedicated to fighting the injustices that Black people face, yet it is less than astute in its approach to improving race relations. Often their action has the opposite effect and further divides us all. In spite of that, it is not my intention to overgeneralize the entire movement as a failure, because BLM has been successful in many of its endeavors to reduce police violence and increase accountability. I want BLM to be a movement that can be rightfully be compared to past historic civil rights movements. It must change its ways in order to win people over and continue the Dream.

One of the most valid criticisms of Black Lives Matters stems from the fact that it is a leaderless movement, though Black Lives Matter counters that they are a “leader-full movement”, “with many leaders from different grass-roots organizations working independently.” It’s this decentralization that causes BLM to seem disjointed and disorganized. This structure is holding them back and has made them lose control of their message. With no definitive leader or spokesperson, anyone is free to claim that title and develop their own interpretations of what BLM is about. The message is then blurred and leads to inconsistencies. This is the reason many people question Black Lives Matter: What is it about? What is their goal? Who exactly runs it? These are relatively easy questions most protest movements can answer. Also, without a charismatic, sophisticated spokesman like Malcolm X or Martin Luther King, it is harder to attract others to their cause. I know BLM has intentionally made this decision as history has martyred many leaders. However, you cannot deny that these leaders, especially King, helped the movement garner more support.

Vagueness compounds the already problematic nature of their intended messaging and goals. BLM was initially, created to combat unjust or racially motivated police shootings. They called for better surveillance and more accountability for officers who abuse their power or break the law. However, since then, BLM’s agenda has ballooned to such grandiose proportions that it has become unwieldy and muddled. In addition to this, many of BLM’s current demands simply fall outside of the realm of reason.

When BLM made their expanded agenda public, most of what they were asking for was ill-defined, at least in terms of pragmatic implementation or funding. Among their myriad of demands was the decriminalization of prostitution, record expungement of all drug-related offenses, universal health care, free higher education, reparations for a lengthy list of reasons, a more thorough look at Black history at schools, and the end to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. All these policies fall out of the scope of BLM’s original purpose. This sweeping set of modest to monolithic pursuits makes them seem far too unrealistic to be taken seriously.

One of the most problematic yet prevalent aspects of their agenda is the insistence on extensive reparations for Black people while ignoring the plethora of other oppressed groups who would have to be entitled to this as well. They call for financial reparations without specifying who will receive this money, how much should be awarded, and who should pay for this. They urge that free education and other Federally funded support be provided exclusively to  Black students and institutions. Seeking more for one race alone is detrimental to the cause of inclusion and contradictory to the message of Martin Luther King Jr. We can already see this type of perspective shaping policy for the worse, as in the case of the California State University system’s creation of Black student housing; acknowledge the irony for a minute. This is a call for separatism. Unfortunately, this is a mentality commonly embraced by those within BLM and it needs to end.

It’s primarily for these reasons that BLM is not only a controversial movement, but a volatile topic to broach as well. Racism is not the only reason to object to certain objectives embraced by this movement. As an organization, it fails to consistently assert reasonable reform or effectively execute political action. BLM has done well in some cases, but without major changes to the movement’s structure and management, they will never accomplish any lasting, change. Additionally, as the public continues to lose patience with their disorganization and radicalization, BLM will likely fade and lose momentum as so many other unfocused protest groups have.

However I believe BLM can be more than that, and we will need them to be. We will need someone to stand against racist action as long as racism exists. Sometimes the divide between people of different colors is too wide for any of us to cross on our own. We need more bridge builders to help us cross that yawning abyss, not widen the gap. Our historic civil rights heroes were idealistic, but also brilliant strategists. We need to remember their brave commitment to Black advancement, but also their eventual recognition that inequity in any form was the true enemy. We need to look for a way to live together as brothers and sisters now if we want to give King’s “Dream” any chance of becoming a reality in the future.