There may be no bigger example of deliberate and pernicious point-missery than the fake controversy around Black Lives Matter. At this point, anyone who says, “well, actually, I think all lives matter” is purposefully ignoring that “all lives matter” is the very point of BLM, in which the “matter” is doing the real heavy lifting. Indeed, the pseudo-ecumenical sophist is doing nothing more than maintaining a brutal status quo, in which black lives, especially black male lives, matter very little.
The thing is, that’s exactly the point. We saw this over the weekend, where many of the usual suspects followed the lead of Joe Walsh, only a little more toned down. (except, sort-of-interestingly, Newt Gingrich, though Pierce puts to rest the idea of Newt, man of reason.) There is perhaps no more surprising headline than the one in the Times this morning: “Rudolph Giuliani Lashes Out At Black Lives Matter.”
Giuliani has spent an entire career playing fast and loose with race and with white backlash. Anti-homeless and anti-squeegee campaigns were signifiers: you can take New York back (and make it great again). His police force saw many instances of shocking violence, and most of the steps that made the city safer were the result of positive action taken by his predecessors. That isn’t to say he didn’t do anything well, but his form of local authoritarianism was always more than slightly-tinged with race. Now that he is clearly never running for anything again, since America made it clear in 2008 that simply having been mayor on September 11th doesn’t qualify you for the big job, he’s free to unfurl his proudest banners.
“When you say black lives matter, that’s inherently racist,” Mr. Giuliani said in an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “Black lives matter. White lives matter. Asian lives matter. Hispanic lives matter. That’s anti-American, and it’s racist.”
“They sing rap songs about killing police officers, and they talk about killing police officers, and they yell it out at their rallies and the police officers hear it,” he said.
Right, the raps! The rap singers with their rap songs!
Actually, you know what? While it’s always fun to make fun of people who say things like “they sing rap songs”, it’s actually sort of important, and not just because Giuliani is out of touch (as, to be clear am I). This is also deliberately missing the point, and doing so in a way that shifts responsibility. The anger inherent in some music is a reaction, not a cause, but it serves the purposes of race-baiters and reactionaries like Rudy to pretend otherwise.
It’s part and parcel of the execrable and odious charge that BLM is “inherently racist.” Saying that they shouldn’t stand up and say “our lives matter too” puts the onus back on the black people to accept what is happening to them, to accept a country that for hundreds of years has enslaved, hanged, oppressed, segmented off, red-lined, unjustly incarcerated for cheap labor, and murdered black lives. And well yes, as Giuliani and others point out, more black lives are taken by other black people, that’s also the point. We treat that as something terrible happening in some blighted community, and not as a national fucking tragedy. Not as something inherently wrong with America, but just with black people, who usually don’t live near the rest of us. We take a tongue-clucking anthropological remove, and then get offended when a movement demands of us not to.
This demand to get back in line is seen in other examples of point missing, like when Dan Patrick, Texas’s lunatic Lt. Governor (which seems to be the breeding ground of horrible people), said this:
“All those protesters last night, they ran the other way, expecting the men and women in blue to turn around and protect them. What hypocrites,” Patrick said on Fox News. “I understand the First Amendment. I understand freedom of speech, and I defend it. It is in our Constitution and is in our soul, but you can’t go out on social media and mainstream media and everywhere else and say that the police are racist or police are hateful or the police are killers.”
That’s perfect: the BLM protesters are hypocrites because they expect the police to do their jobs at all times. They expect to be protected by the police when there is danger, but also expect not to be unfairly harassed or arrested or beaten or murdered. Pick one or the other, hypocrites!
It’s easy to make fun of Patrick. But he’s not wrong, per se: he’s articulating a very clear worldview. If you are black, you should always listen to the police. The responsibility for your safety is in your hands, and that is unquestioning obedience. That’s the code. Police have power over all of us, but especially if you are poor or a minority. Then they have life and death power, always, and you have to respect that, and fear it, and don’t expect to change anything. When they say shut up, you better not think they said stand up, because then you’re dead. If you want even the barest modicum of protection — if you want police to do their jobs — then the price is unquestioning subservience, no matter what.
Again, these aren’t bugs in the thinking. It’s the whole point. For a lot of right wingers, the point of the police is to keep Them from Us, using whatever means needed. Reaction to that injustice is a deliberate provocation, and should be quashed. (This attitude is not the case, I should say, for the huge majority of the police, as you can see in the reaction in the Giuliani story). That’s their story, and it is an American story. I won’t return the favor and say that’s just a right-wing problem. It’s part of our eternal and inescapable tragedy.