Cabe column: Why Black Lives Matter and white supremacists are different
What’s the difference between Black Lives Matter and neo-Nazis?
Some people see no difference. They believe any criticism of society’s treatment of race is racist, and equally so. They believe a movement for black empowerment is equivalent to a white power movement.
I’ve seen white people on the internet ask this question of why Black Lives Matter is OK when white supremacists are not in the wake of the Charlottesville protests, during which a young woman protesting neo-Nazis was killed when a man in a car drove into the crowd.
They ask this question because they believe they’ve stumped us liberals. They really think there is no distinction. So, I thought I’d use this column to spell out why there is a difference.
First, let’s look objectively at the level of disenfranchisement black Americans have suffered versus white Americans solely because of skin color. That last part is important because when we’re having this discussion, we need to acknowledge that some white people suffer hardship, but it is never suffered on a systematic level because of the color of their skin.
There is slavery and Jim Crow, of course, but the systematic racism doesn’t end there. It’s alive and well today.
Some examples: When a white person doesn’t get hired for a job, there is no statistical data to support the notion that she did not get hired because she was white. On the contrary, there is statistical data to support the notion that black job applicants get passed up because of their “black-sounding” names.
When a white person commits a crime, there is no discussion in the media or the checkout line or the comments section about what needs to be done in the “white community.” On the contrary, because of the way black Americans are framed in our society, one incident involving a black person is consistently used to comment on a supposed larger problem in the black community. To make matters worse, these discussions rarely delve deep enough to find the root of a problem if it even does exist.
Black Americans are more likely to be arrested for nonviolent drug crimes than white Americans, even though data on drug use shows there are proportionally more white drug users in America than black drug users.
More examples can be found, and America’s criminal justice system alone is a huge example of how white Americans live with great privilege. I suggest reading “The New Jim Crow” if you’re interested in learning more.
So, we’ve established an important point, which is that in America, on a systematic level, a white person’s skin color is never the reason for white Americans’ hardships. That doesn’t mean white people don’t suffer hardship; it means their suffering is a result of something other than their whiteness. Based on a myriad of evidence, black Americans do suffer in this country because of their skin color. That means any movement by black Americans for better treatment in this country is inherently different from any movement by white Americans for even more special treatment than they already get.
Now, let’s take a look at the movements themselves. Black Lives Matter is a movement for fair, equal and humane treatment of black people by police officers. Are there members of the Black Lives Matter movement who hate white people? Probably. Are there members of the Black Lives Matter movement who hate police officers? Probably. Are there members of the Black Lives Matter movement who have become violent during protests? Yes. Is the mission of Black Lives Matter black supremacy? No. Looking into this and listening to the founders of the movement speak answers these questions easily.
On the other hand, a movement of white supremacists is, by its very name, one of racism. It is a movement saying white Americans are superior to all other Americans purely because of their whiteness. The protest in Charlottesville featured white people (mostly men) chanting “Jews will not replace us!” with their best Nazi salute, putting the exclamation mark on their violent, racist intentions.
Even if some members of the Black Lives Matter movement are violent and hateful, those are not requirements. Being a white supremacist requires hateful racism in your heart. The very mission of white supremacy is to oppress non-white people because of a belief that they are inferior.
Here’s another difference: My grandfathers didn’t go to war against black people seeking equal rights. They sure did go to war against Nazis, and they’re rolling in their graves watching their country defend such an ideology today.
Jessica Cabe is a former Post Independent arts and entertainment editor who has been working with the Aspen Music Festival. She is moving back to her native Illinois, so this is her last PI column.
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