BLACK LIVES are the ones that MATTER in this campaign.
The principles are these:
1. A slogan or symbol belongs to the group that coined it.
2. If the slogan inspires a movement, the slogan and the movement belong to those who join.
3. The slogan of a movement cannot be changed by those outside the movement without opposing the movement.
As applied to the BLACK LIVES MATTER movement, the ALL LIVES MATTER slogan is a protest; otherwise there would not be a slogan insisting that “All Lives Matter!”
1. The effect of All Lives Matter is to deflect attention from Black lives in jeopardy.
2. All Lives Matter will not lead to a movement benefitting all lives or any particular lives.
3. The underlying purpose of the slogan is to decelerate the Black Lives Matter movement.
I hope I have made myself clear about that. I have concern about this gathered over the years. For several reasons, the on-line argument between Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter reminds me of previous controversies. I’ll reflect on four: Gay Pride, Black Is Beautiful, Indians, and the Holocaust.
HOLOCAUST is a term coined in retrospect, referring specifically to the NAZI genocide to wipe out Jews in Europe. The term was borrowed from the name for a sacrifice burned up entirely, on the altar of the Temple in Jerusalem. It is a term fraught with complex sacred significance to Jews. Its use to refer to the NAZI cremation of Jews is intentionally ironic. In a real sense nobody but Jews was killed in the Holocaust. The term does not apply to the liquidation of gays, Gypsies, Bolsheviks and others, although the same NAZI apparatus and facilities were used to exterminate them as well. Holocaust is a term for the Jewish part of the program to “purify Germany in behalf of the Aryan Race through extermination in death camps of impure racial stock.” After the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, a “Remember the Holocaust” movement began that included plans to build Holocaust Memorials, beginning with Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Opposition arose to this movement almost immediately by those eager to put the terrible era behind them, and others feeling left out of the remembrance movement and unmentioned in the memorials. The most strident opposition to the Holocaust memorial movement has been in Russia, where they insist that more Soviets died by NAZI hands than any other ethnic group.
BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL is a slogan popularized about 50 years ago to instill racial pride and identity. It coalesced into a movement that promoted a wide range of cosmetic and costume enterprises, as well as unique dialectic and sub-cultural trends. High points in the expanded movement were the establishment of the birthday Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a national holiday in the USA, implementation of Black History Month, and several spectacular events such as the 1964 March on Washington, the “Roots” TV mini-series, and passage of US civil rights laws. Borrowing by non-Blacks of Black is Beautiful symbols such as Afro hair styles, rap music, and dialectic slang still causes backlash as “another cultural exploitation.” The effect, if not the intent, of this borrowing is to deprive Black people of unique cultural indicators for which they can be respected and admired.
INDIAN icons are another ongoing issue in the USA (as are ethnic cultural markers elsewhere). Countless athletic organizations adopted Native American icons as mascots, logos, and brands. Native American advocacy groups want to reclaim their ethnic symbols beginning with such icons as the traditional eagle-feather headdress worn by Sioux chiefs. “This belongs to us,” is the message, “and its use in inappropriate ways distorts its symbolic meaning and diminishes our heritage.” The headdress was a badge of singular honor with particular and almost sacred significance that is being disrespected and desecrated when it is used as a costume or logo. Furthermore, the standard portrayal of the “Indian Chief” is a racial stereotype that triggers a narrow range of ideas about Native Americans in eagle feathers as violent, aggressive, and primitive. Sports clubs insist they honor and admire Indians and want their players to emulate their fighting capabilities. This is a simple admission of racial-ethnic stereotyping and cultural exploitation which ignores everything else about Native American ethnic cultures.
GAY PRIDE parades are organized with the express purpose of communicating personal acceptance of participants’ gay identity and challenging spectators in the community to accept us as we are in our diversity of expression – and to join the parade. Gay Pride parades have spread around the world and the “Gay Pride” movement has engendered organizations such as PFLAG and hundreds of NGOs working on such gay-related issues as HIV-AIDS, homeless gay youths, sexual exploitation and trafficking, and lobbying for legal relief from oppressive laws and the advancement of equal rights. Gay Pride parades have, on the whole, been popular and successful, rivaling or surpassing other annual parades in many cities. So far, Gay Pride events and movements have not been appropriated for some expanded objective, thereby blurring their focus. Possibly that is because outright threats and naked terror are still being used to intimidate the movement and it takes a degree of courage to be associated with Gay Pride.
Application and alteration of these symbols and slogans have one thing in common. They intend to modify the movement so it will settle down and cease to intimidate those who do not belong to it. The fact that the movement by a minority is no threat to the majority is less relevant than the fact that people in the movement are moving and no longer passive. The changes being promoted are understood at some level by everyone to involve a reallocation of power and control.
PS-Thanks for Andrew Dobson for the photos of his neighbors.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.