This popped up on my twitter feed yesterday. Two white people arguing about how to let Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists do their activism and not attempt ‘colonize’ that too and whether interrupting a presidential candidate’s speech constitutes ‘childish’ behavior or ‘bratty’ behavior.
Joanna Schroeder a feminist and social activist and Ben Cohen, editor and founder of TheDailyBanter.com got into a twitter spat about Cohen’s assertion that the activist’s behavior was childish and bratty. He said this during a Huffpost Live segment (full video below), and continued to emphasize that it may not be wise for the Black Lives Matter movement at large to attack and disparage one of their only allies Bernie Sanders and disrupting at a big event like that is ‘childish’. Joanna Schroeder and her followers fell short calling Cohen a racist, but the sentiment was there. Ben Cohen was ‘problem[matic]’ and at best ignorant of America’s history with race.
In one of the tweets by Joanna Schroeder “Maybe being British you don’t have the cultural context needed here: infantilizing Black people is not new”. I retweeted this not because I agree with the ridiculous twitter spat but because Schroeder hit the mark when she said it’s ‘cultural’.
Depending on where one stands culturally, it will inform the reaction to the actions of the BLM activists. Just like with the OJ Simpson verdict, people’s reactions were dictated by their race. It’s no different here. So if the columnists, opinionators, and self appointed know-it-alls recognize that it’s a fundamental disagreement rooted in culture and race, it would pretty much end the conversation and focus on the real topic, which is to dismantle institutionalized racism.
If one is white or subscribes to white culture and values, the actions of the BLM activists were not so much ‘childish’ or ‘brat[ty], but rude, speaking out of turn is considered rude. One of the first rules one learns growing up is to not interrupt people when they are speaking and that you wait your turn. It is out of order and out of line to storm a stage and interrupt someone’s event without prior approval. It sounds horribly WASPy-ish (and white supremacy-ish) but there it is.
If one does not subscribe to white culture or is not white, they will view the BLM activists actions as totally just and appropriate. Black people, after all, have waited long enough for their ‘turn’ and their pleas and anguish were ignored over and over, and now they won’t be anymore. And to be fair, they gave warning that they will be storming Democratic presidential candidate’s events unannounced and they’ve done just that. They kept their promise. All grassroots campaigns have their growing pains as how to organize and get their message across effectively. Perhaps the BLM movement is still working that out.
Ben Cohen’s assertion that it is unwise for BLM activist to alienate one of their strongest allies by pushing him to the side and taking over the stage. The people after all, came to hear Bernie Sanders speak not the BLM activists, hence the pugilistic reaction of the crowd. If it is the intention of the BLM activists to address the Seattle crowd, they could have easily petitioned the Sanders campaign for stage time, and they could have addressed the crowd at a scheduled time. If the Sanders campaign refuse their request then they can storm the stage to make their message heard. But this is my ‘white’ opinion so it doesn’t count here.
In the aftermath, some BLM activists and allies admitted that their tactics leave some to be desired but the open display of activism isn’t personal to Bernie Sanders himself, they realize that he’s an ally but that they were just using his campaign platform to make their voice heard. This is semantics and splitting hairs. It was Bernie Sander’s person that was pushed aside, his campaign rally was interrupted, which he ended up abandoning at the behest of his organizers. How is any of this not personal to him?
If this is the choice of delivery for BLM activists, that’s their prerogative, they are free to run their organization as they please. However, for every action they seek to provoke, there will be an equally strong reaction. Specific to the Bernie Sanders campaign event in Seattle, the crowd came to hear Bernie Sanders, and with all due respect to the brave and courageous BLM activists, the crowd wasn’t aware that they were to speak. The interruption was perhaps supposed to only be a few moments, but the event organizer decided to shut the whole thing down, so the crowd didn’t get what they came for, which can anger some people regardless of race. Some of the slogans shouted by the audience were inappropriate but it wouldn’t be a stretch to understand their anger and frustration.
Back to Ben Cohen’s point, presumably, the target audience of BLM and other black activists is the white audience, it may behoove them to communicate with white people in the manner in which they are accustomed to and this is not white supremacy talking. There are many instances in history where the message of a movement gets lost in the method of delivery. I know some will accuse me of exercising my white privilege, but I am not speaking from the perspective of race. I am speaking from my business instincts, when I want something from someone to make a deal happen, I try to speak their language and deliver my demands in a way that is understood by my opponent, whatever form that takes.
All told, it would be a huge shame if the Black Lives Matter movement was reduced to talking points such as this. The movement is important, if it takes hold, it could be a better and stronger successor to the NAACP. The Black Lives Matter movement is the social conscience of America right now, when a nation ignores its conscience and does not do what’s right and redress the wrong, it could signal the beginning of the decline of America (a real decline, not the one Republicans are scaremongering about).