A recent Wall Street Journal op-ed so stirred some Seacoast readers that they wrote and “urged,” “challenge[d]” and “dared” me, in response to my recent Beyoncé column, to read Heather Mac Donald’s “The Myths of Black Lives Matter.”
I read Ms. Mac Donald and find there’s some truth in what she recounts. For example, she quoted Hillary Clinton correctly that, “We have to face up to the hard truth of injustice and systemic racism.”
She’s also correct to note that the federal government has been negligent collecting accurate data about killings by police. Today, two media databases, one by the Washington Post, the other by The Guardian are primary sources of information about lethal encounters between police and civilians.
Yet, in the midst of this critical debate, what is intellectually unsustainable is the unwillingness of #BlackLivesMatter’s (BLM) critics, whether Mac Donald or others, to differentiate between systemic acts of discrimination primarily against minority communities — which could include, but aren’t limited to, extrajudicial killings — and individual criminal acts that can happen within any community.
On its website #BlackLivesMatter defines itself as a “call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society. Black Lives Matter is a unique contribution that goes beyond extrajudicial killings of Black people by police and vigilantes…” and “When we say Black Lives Matter, we are broadening the conversation around state violence to include all of the ways in which Black people are intentionally left powerless at the hands of the state. We are talking about the ways in which Black lives are deprived of our basic human rights and dignity.”
BLM asserts, correctly I believe, that there’s systemic injustice inflicted upon many communities of color that until recently has been occurring out of public view and were it not for social media, video recordings and the courageous testimony of victims we would not know about it — and that injustice has to be confronted.
Yes, not every case of police arresting, detaining, shooting, tazing or even killing a black person is unjustified or illegal. What BLM demands and what supporters endorse is justice, transparency and accountability, without which achieving any sense of racial reconciliation is unattainable.
A recent letter in the Portsmouth Herald quoted Mac Donald as saying “In 2014 there were 6,095 black homicides and 5,397 homicides of whites and Hispanics, almost all had black killers” — a misrepresentation that reflects either a blind bias on the part of the letter writer or an inability to understand English at a most elemental level.
What Mac Donald actually wrote was “There were 6,095 black homicide deaths in 2014 — the most recent year for which such data are available — compared with 5,397 homicide deaths for whites and Hispanics combined. Almost all of those black homicide victims had black killers.”
Indeed, FBI data (2014) illustrates that white people are generally killed by whites (82 percent) and black people are generally killed by blacks (90 percent ) reinforcing data that most homicides happen between people who know each other.
While I generally eschew responding to such letters, I cannot ignore the statement: “Blacks today enjoy equality before the law, equal opportunity, and freedom of speech and association because the Civil Rights Act spelled it out to all Americans that no minority citizens can be denied…” because it reinforces racist tropes.
It’s racist to argue that America is post-racial because it elected Barack Obama president, an argument of clear racial dismissal that denies the existence of minority communities living in subjugation in Baltimore, in Ferguson, in Flint.
It’s prejudiced to assert that “Many blacks took steps to assert their rights to join an American culture…” suggesting that black culture is not American culture and that blacks are not equally indigenous as whites — both less indigenous that Native Americans.
It’s bigoted to suggest “Others [blacks] are not making any effort to take advantage of opportunities available to them, and many are engaging in counterproductive behavior that leads them to unfortunate circumstances. Nobody makes a success of their lives without some love, guidance, and hard work, something that is missing for many young blacks” — a common white trope blaming the victim, i.e., lazy.
President Obama, who’s been targeted for eight years because of his race today still has the grace to say, “I think everybody understands all lives matter. I think the reason that the organizers used the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ was not because they were suggesting nobody else’s lives matter. Rather, what they were suggesting was there is a specific problem that’s happening in the African-American community that’s not happening in other communities.”
“And that,” the president continued, “is a legitimate issue that we’ve got to address.”
As it was addressed by Beyoncé at the Super Bowl.
The Civil War ended nearly 151 years ago. While it may be noble to believe in “civility in public discourse,” the suggestion that the descendants of slaves should continue to be patient and wait for the white patriarchal authority in this country to “evolve gradually in an atmosphere of good will and cooperation” is belied, during this Black History Month 2016, by white commentators bemoaning the fact that a black woman had the nerve to call them out on their privilege, power and bigotry — and that she did it on sacred Super Bowl turf — and they were helpless to stop it.
Beyoncé’s prodigious talents were not gifted to her by the Beloved so that she would submissively regale America with a minstrel show. Beyoncé challenged us.
She affirmed she’s BLACK, amazingly beautiful and talented and not beholden to preconceived notions of how she should channel her creativity and history. Beyoncé’s world view doesn’t support the Herald letter writer’s claim that the “60’s demonstrations led by Martin Luther King (sic) and others triumphed, and caused white-dominated governments (sic) to fully recognize the civil rights of Americans of all colors and stations in life.”
Racial reconciliation comes not, as the letter writer suggests, from laws passed by “white-dominated governments (sic).” It comes through recognizing Beyoncé’s legitimacy, black legitimacy, the legitimacy of all Americans regardless of color, faith, ethnicity or gender.
Sadly, MLK didn’t make it out of the 60s alive. Tamir Rice didn’t get to turn 13 and Sandra Bland died a lonely death in a Texas jail cell because she didn’t signal a lane change.
It’s still dangerous in America, preaching, playing, driving while black.