A step in the right direction: Black Lives Matter challenges the ‘system’

I’ve recently come to feel increasingly alienated by the Black Lives Matter and feminist movements because I think they fail to properly comprehend the meaning of the word “ally.”[1] As I wrote recently,

You see, I’m very clearly getting the message that if I am to be an ‘ally,’ that means sitting down and shutting up. And that’s not what I mean by ‘ally.’ I think, rather, that if you and I are allies, that means we walk together, listen to each other, and allow each other to speak. It doesn’t mean that you are subordinate to me. And it doesn’t mean that I am subordinate to you. It means we are equals, working to a common end.[2]

But I should still give credit where credit is due.

According to media accounts, the Black Lives Matter movement provoked a legal battle with the Mall of America (in Minnesota) by threatening a protest that would disrupt Christmas shopping.[3] A judge gave the mall a rather limited victory in barring three activists and upholding the mall’s claim that first amendment rights are not protected on private property but otherwise failed to recognize the (decentralized) Black Lives Matter movement as a legal entity that could be enjoined from a demonstration or be required to take down social media posts promoting that demonstration. The ensuing demonstration was largely peaceful, albeit with thirteen arrests, as “[h]undreds of protesters shut down stores, light-rail trains and traffic to the airport Wednesday afternoon, creating a rolling wave of disruption on one of the busiest travel and shopping days of the year.”[4]

Earlier this year, I criticized the Black Lives Matter movement for disrupting Bernie Sanders campaign events. I argued then and continue to believe they had chosen their target poorly,[5] Jamie Utt defended the disruptions writing,

I see these protests as less about the individual candidates themselves and more about how their White base refuses to center Black lives and Black issues. It’s notable that White Bernie supporters, who consider themselves the most progressive of us all, shouted down and booed Black women who dared to force Blackness into the center of White space.

Because let’s be honest, every Bernie rally is White space.[6]

Utt went on to label the reaction from Sanders supporters as “over-the-top,”[7] and my reading of this is that he seems to think that the very serious problem of Blacks being shot by police should displace all other serious problems. Like some women think that electing a woman, and therefore Hillary Clinton, as president should displace all other serious problems.[8] This isn’t a formulation that everyone will or should accept:

Pointing out that more than 300 black people have been killed by the police in 2015, in the statement, the BLM chapters wrote that these deaths are “traumatic reminders of this country’s long pattern of devalued black humanity and state-sanctioned violence. Policing in the United States remains governed by a racist system of racial codes, codified into law and cemented into apartheid practices that deny black humanity and disregard black life. There are no bad apples, the whole system is guilty, and must be transformed from the bottom up, from the outside, in.”

The statement closed, saying that on Black Xmas, “[w]e will not bargain for hollow reforms that continue to alienate us from political and economic participation. We will not entertain an official story that does not include our voices. We demand real, authentic and systemic change, now!”[9]

Okay, not quite a bingo, but a whole helluva lot closer. And this is a point that surely finds broad support among social theorists.[10]

A major point in critical theory is a recognition that all of us who aren’t among religious, political, and economic (C. Wright Mills would add military[11]) elites are colonized people. This is to say that we non-elites are essentially occupied and exploited to enrich the colonizing elites.[12] This Black Lives Matter statement begins to point to a thesis that the (ill-defined) “system” is the problem. I would refine that thesis by saying that the problem is our entire commercial, dominating, authoritarian system of social organization,[13] in which our way of treating each other as human beings is indistinguishable from how we treat non-human animals and the environment,[14] with our treatment of the latter posing an existential threat to our own survival.[15] As such, I very much fear that we are already past the point where it is possible for us to save ourselves.

But the Minnesota Black Lives Matter statement, however belated, is very much a step in the right direction.

  1. [1]David Benfell, “Squatting on the University of Missouri quad,” Not Housebroken, November 11, 2015, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=8296
  2. [2]David Benfell, “Squatting on the University of Missouri quad,” Not Housebroken, November 11, 2015, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=8296
  3. [3]Story Hinckley, “Why the Mall of America is suing Black Lives Matter protesters,” Christian Science Monitor, December 21, 2015, http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Justice/2015/1221/Why-the-Mall-of-America-is-suing-Black-Lives-Matter-protesters-video
  4. [4]David Chanen, “Judge’s ruling won’t stop Black Lives Matter group from demonstrating at Mall of America,” Minneapolis Star-Tribune, December 23, 2015, http://www.startribune.com/hennepin-county-judge-prohibits-for-alleged-leaders-of-black-lives-matter-from-demonstrationg-at-mall-of-america/363292701/; Kelly Smith, David Chanen, and John Reinan, “Black Lives Matter protests spill over to light rail, airport,” Minneapolis Star-Tribune, December 24, 2015, http://www.startribune.com/mall-of-america-prepares-for-black-lives-matter-protest/363386781/
  5. [5]David Benfell, “#BlackLivesMatter and the wrong target,” Not Housebroken, August 9, 2015, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=7929
  6. [6]Jamie Utt, “Interrupting Bernie: Exposing the White Supremacy of the American Left,” Change From Within, August 9, 2015, http://changefromwithin.org/2015/08/09/interrupting-bernie-exposing-the-white-supremacy-of-the-american-left/
  7. [7]Jamie Utt, “Interrupting Bernie: Exposing the White Supremacy of the American Left,” Change From Within, August 9, 2015, http://changefromwithin.org/2015/08/09/interrupting-bernie-exposing-the-white-supremacy-of-the-american-left/
  8. [8]Dana Bolger, “Dear New York Times: The Real Reason Young Feminists Reject Hillary,” Feministing, December 17, 2015, http://feministing.com/2015/12/17/dear-new-york-times-the-real-reason-young-feminists-reject-hillary/; Amy Chozick and Yamiche Alcindor, “Moms and Daughters Debate Gender Factor in Hillary Clinton’s Bid,” New York Times, December 12, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/13/us/politics/moms-and-daughters-debate-gender-factor-in-hillary-clintons-bid.html
  9. [9]Stephen A. Crockett, Jr., “Minn. Black Lives Matter Protesters Demonstrate Inside Mall of America, Shut Down Airport Terminal,” Root, December 23, 2015, http://www.theroot.com/articles/news/2015/12/minn_black_lives_matter_protesters_demonstrate_inside_mall_of_america_shut.html
  10. [10]Charles Lemert, ed., Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings, 4th ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2010).
  11. [11]C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite (1956; repr., New York: Oxford University, 2000).
  12. [12]Norman K. Denzin, Yvonna S. Lincoln, and Linda Tuhiwai Smith, eds., Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008).
  13. [13]John H. Bodley, Victims of Progress, 5th ed. (Lanham, MD: AltaMira, 2008); Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade (1987; repr., New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995); Philip Slater, The Chrysalis Effect: The Metamorphosis of Global Culture (Eastbourne, UK: Sussex, 2009).
  14. [14]Greta Gaard, “Vegetarian Ecofeminism: A Review Essay,” Frontiers 23, no. 3 (2002): 117-146; pattrice jones, “Mothers with Monkeywrenches: Feminist Imperatives and the ALF,” in Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals, Steven Best and Anthony J. Nocella II, eds. (New York: Lantern, 2004), 137-156.
  15. [15]David Benfell, “‘We have found the enemy, and he is us’ — and our system of social organization,” March 6, 2013, https://parts-unknown.org/drupal7/journal/2013/03/06/we-have-found-enemy-and-he-us-and-our-system-social-organization

One thought on “A step in the right direction: Black Lives Matter challenges the ‘system’

  • “A major point in critical theory is a recognition that all of us who aren’t among religious, political, and economic (C. Wright Mills would add military[11]) elites are colonized people. This is to say that we non-elites are essentially occupied and exploited to enrich the colonizing elites.”

    Bingo!

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