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  • Rabbi Mordecai Finley

One Interpretation of What "Black Lives Matter" Really Means


I am pretty sure I know why saying "All Lives Matter" as a counterpoint to "Black Lives Matter" seems to infuriate the BLM crowd. Like most slogans, "Black Lives Matter" conceals far more than it reveals. I can't imagine that those who shout the slogan believe they are going to change the mind of anyone who does not believe that Black Lives Matter. I think that most non-black people who hear this are nonplussed. "Okay, Black Lives Matter. Now what?"

The ostensible catalyst for the movement, the police shootings of blacks, is understood in a pre-existing lens that would surprise most non-blacks. The protests that erupt with the slogan are more than actual protests; the protests also provide the opportunity to chant the slogan, rooted in an ideology. What is that ideology? This is from the BLM website: "Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise." What they mean is: White America is systematically and intentionally targeting black America for demise.

Police shootings are, therefore, not tragic confrontations, or rare occurrences when a police officer (white or not) actually murders a black person. According to Ta Nahisi Coates in his book Between the World and Me, police officers involved in the shooting of any black person (justified or not) are actually "destroyers . . . enforcing the whims of the country, correctly interpreting its heritage and legacy" (Kindle edition location 103). He says further, " "White America" is a syndicate arrayed to protect its exclusive power to dominate and control (black) bodies."

I read this book cover to cover. The autobiographical material stretches from tragic to wondrous, filled with deep insights into himself and human nature. The ideological and historical material is nauseating for anyone who takes intellectual thought seriously. A good example is his account of the police killing of one Prince Jones, in Prince George County, Maryland, back in 2000. In the civil suit against the police officer (also named Jones, and also black), it was determined that Officer Jones " . . . was negligent, used excessive force and could not have reasonably believed his actions were lawful."(Washington Post, Ruben Castaneda,Friday, January 20, 2006).

Coates admits that, "The officer who killed Jones was black. The politicians who empowered this officer to kill were black" (Prince George county is about 65% black, and less than 20% white). Nevertheless, the officer who killed Prince Jones "was the sword of the American citizenry" (Kindle edition, location 912). What he describes as police murders reflects the will of America - your will, my will, every non-black persons' will. There was obviously a great injustice perpetrated by a police officer who worked for a department noted for its brutality. The department promised, after an extensive Justice Department investigation, to reduce its excessive use of force. For Coates, however, the blame lay not with Officer Jones or his police department. They were simply tools of the organized will of White America: to destroy black people.

We discussed Coates book at Ohr HaTorah one Shabbat afternoon back in September, alongside Shelby Steele's excellent and insightful book Shame: How America's Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country. In that discussion, which was populated by people uniformly concerned with black lives, we as a group found that Coates simply ignores the last 50 years of progress of civil rights for blacks, as well as massive attempts at every level of government to ameliorate the plight of many black Americans.

Coates's history is fallacious and his premise, that every white American is dedicated to the destruction of black Americans, is obscene. His falsification of American history and foul ideology are, however, the foundation stones of "Black Lives Matter." This history and ideology is taken as gospel in large swathes of the black and non-black population, especially in colleges and universities.

However, to announce that "black lives matter" to people that are supposedly committed to destroying blacks is absurd, so I am fairly sure that those who espouse this ideology don't really believe it.

Underneath the anger, blaming and bravado, however is great pain, a pain exacerbated by the fact, in my opinion, that despite having a president who identifies as black and all massive efforts to address the needs African Americans over the past 50 or so years, things have not gotten better on some indefinable level. "Everything is better, and everything is worse" I heard one black commentator say while reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the Watts riots. In many ways, things have gotten worse. Racial tensions have increased. For example, decades after the hard achieved victory of integration of universities, black students are calling for centers open only to blacks where they can "feel safe."

The claims of racism and micro-aggressions on campuses are only faintly buttressed by incidents (some dubious) that do not amount to evidence of widespread racism. The core claim actually seems to be "insensitivity" of various administrations in how they handle these rare occurrences. I don't mean to demean this feeling. Holding that a person who claims to care about you, but who is actually insensitive to your feelings, can create great hurt and anger. I don't think, however that one can rationally believe that people who are committed to your destruction ought at the same time be sensitive to your feelings.

I think that the BLM people know that white America is not systematically and intentionally targeting the demise of black people. This does not mean that there are no racists and no murderous cops; there are, but they don't represent white America. Angry blacks would not appeal to white America for funding various remedies to make their lives better if they truly believed these people hated them. When the slogans stop and the actual complaint is registered, here is something I have picked up: "You (white people) are insensitive, you are not sincere, you don't really care." I think that many black people feel alone in their plight, don't know what do, so white people must do something to makes things better.

I have a large set of interpretations of what really stands behind the slogan, but minimally I believe this: It feels awful, for many black Americans, to be black in America. This sickening feeling that no one cares how bad things are and how bad black people feel produces rage and the search for opportunities to express this rage.

My heart breaks for those who claim to believe that all white people want to destroy black people. I think that one thing that is actually being said when blacks chant "Black Lives Matter" is, "We Want to Matter to You." It is actually a deep plea to be loved. The response to "Black Lives Matter" is not "All Lives Matter"; it is "We care for you and we will sincerely work with you to make your lives better. You matter deeply to us."


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