By Darius Thornton
The Black Lives Matter movement is one that has been catapulted into the national (and even international) spotlight over the last several months. The killings of Breonna Taylor by Louisville police officers, George Floyd by a Minnesota police officer, and most recently, the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin have ignited a resurgence to many protests, other demonstrations of social disobedience, and an outpouring of support for the movement. It seems that the long-rising frustration from the black community has finally boiled over. Police brutality, the misuse of power, and excessive force are all symptoms of a greater disease that Black Lives Matter seeks to first address and eventually help bring an end to. The disease? Systemic racism. There are laws, policies, and mindsets put in place to keep African-Americans from obtaining true equality within the country. But this spotlight has not come without its fair share of controversy. To some, all the movement has done is incite riots, looting, and chaos throughout many US cities and threatening to dismantle the American way of life. It is these two opposing viewpoints that have been used as weapons against each other by the country’s two political parties. In other words, the Black Lives Matter movement has become steeped in politics. Both sides of the political spectrum, the left, and the right are guilty of this to varying degrees respectively.
The idea that “everything is political” is a commonly held belief. It has even become something of a tired old saying, meant to dismiss the arguments of those who complain about politics being ubiquitous, especially in places they feel politics has no place in. And with how complex and wide-ranging the various facets of politics are, there is certainly some truth in this. It seems that everything that goes on in America ties back to politics in some way, especially today, an era in which media pundits on both sides of the political spectrum drudge up arguments as ammunition. From sports to entertainment to literature, it seems that some sort of political message or discourse can be found in any and everything. Racism, specifically the hundreds of years of suffering and systemic oppression endured by African-Americans is seen as a very political issue, at least by a general consensus. In many ways this is true. There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to discussing the issue, including changing the social discourse surrounding it, and promoting specific policies, legislation, and reform. The figurative lines in the sand between the two parties are drawn on a question that looks simple at first glance; how much more do we have to do in order to achieve equality? That is what Democrats and Republicans and, by in large, the political left and right tend to disagree on. The left tends to believe that there is a lot of work to be done and that more things have to change, while the right tends to lean more on the side that we have either already achieved equality or there is minimal work to do, so things should either stay at the current status quo or even move backward a bit. So, this drastic difference in opinion on BLM makes sense. The left supports it because it advocates for drastic change and the right opposes it because they don’t think that change is necessary. That isn’t to say that every member of the left or right thinks this way or that their opinions aren’t more nuanced, but this seems to be the general consensus on both sides. Naturally, it stands to reason that in the midst of the Presidential election, both parties would try and use something as relevant and topical as the BLM movement to latch onto. It, along with the current global health crisis, has become the major talking point for both the Biden and Trump campaigns and their parties respectively.
The right tends to harp on the riots, looting, and violence that has taken root alongside the protests as a way to dismiss said protests. If the BLM movement is written off as violent and dangerous, the right doesn’t actually have to have a rebuttal to the points it raises. That’s not to say that not anyone does. They need only point to the millions in damages perpetrated, the stolen goods, and the damages done to small businesses already in dire straits to declare the protests and, subsequently, the entire movement regressive. While it is undeniably true that the riots that took place in Minneapolis, Portland and Kenosha were devastating, it is disingenuous to say that the rioters represent the BLM movement as a whole. The vast majority of protests were peaceful, acting only as displays of unity and civil disobedience made to bring attention and speak out against repeated injustices. People marched through cities, gathered in groups to rally together. Not everyone had good intentions, however. People did take things too far and there were some who were simply looking for an excuse to cause chaos. The right blurs the line between the two groups in an attempt to make them indistinguishable, to invalidate the protests without addressing them. Narrowing in on the rioters also serves a larger narrative that they are trying to craft. Those who support Black Lives Matter– and by extension the entire left– is leading a violent campaign to destroy the American way of life in a physical and ideological sense. Wanting things like police reform, taking down statues of Confederate leaders, and clamoring for buildings and institutions named after them to change their names are indicative of the left trying to burn down everything that makes America, America. If you see nothing wrong with the status-quo, any attempt to change that status-quo is an attack. One of the most commonly spoken phrases at the Republican National Convention was “culture war”. It’s this idea that the country is at a tipping point between the radical, “Anti-American” left and the real Americans.
The political left’s weaponization of BLM is a bit more nuanced and harder to spot. As discussed earlier, it is the more progressive of the two sides, so it does generally support the Black Lives Movement. The Democratic Party has been accused of pandering to minorities to obtain their vote and then doing little to nothing to help them with their plight after they gain office, even if they promised to do so during their campaigns. Essentially, empty promises. So, if one were to look at the left’s support of BLM with a more cynical eye, it could definitely appear to be another example of this “means to an end” mentality. It could read as an attempt to take the moral high ground over those on the right who don’t believe in the cause. Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden has already made controversial statements about race in the midst of his campaign. Earlier this year during an interview on “The Breakfast Club”, host Charlamagne Da God told Biden that he should come to New York City for another interview because they needed more clarification on what he would specifically do to help the black community. Biden responded with the now infamous remarks, “Well I tell you what, if you have trouble figuring out if you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black!” Biden appeared to be insinuating that if an African-American was even considering voting for Trump or was simply hung up about whether to vote for him, that person is somehow not really black. Quotes like this, coupled with other statements like “Poor kids are just as smart as white kids”, which he said during a town hall, help contribute to the belief that some hold that the Democrats have a somewhat patronizing view of African-Americans and believe that their allegiance is inherent to the party. Democrats portray the Black vote as a savior complex they use so they can feel better about themselves and manipulate the black community into helping them gain power, through the allusion of being an ally.
The real issue here is that the Black Lives Matter movement shouldn’t have to be viewed through the lens of party politics, or politics at all. The movement is based on the simple statement, “black lives matter”, which is a moral sentiment, a declaration of humanity. It isn’t some radical anarchist movement that wants to destroy everything America stands for; it wants America to live up to its promises. It isn’t about seizing political power but achieving equality, which shouldn’t have to be political. The mission statement on the official Black Lives Matter website seeks to “eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes. By combating and countering acts of violence, creating space for Black imagination and innovation, and centering Black joy [for] immediate improvements in [black] lives.” There is no political objective here, so the right should stop creating one of fear and destruction. The left shouldn’t have to push it as one of its major selling points. Since when did the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbury, Breonna Taylor and so many more become political ammunition instead of tragedies that remind us of America’s long-standing race problem? For too long, African-Americans have been singled out and profiled for the color of their skin, suffered police brutality and racially-motivated violence, and have been underrepresented in almost every conceivable way, having to contend with a system that is clearly stacked against them. Wanting a change in the current system doesn’t mean burning everything down–it means so much more if you can just look past the political spin.