It’s Black History Month, and I had planned to spend at least one day each week writing about something related to black history, hence my sudden return to this blog (I also returned to the blog because, as annoying as it can be to come up with things to write, I find that it keeps me grounded/centered/healthily-introspective in a way nothing else does). Today, I want to talk about social movements.
Elizabeth Anderson, in her paper “What is the Point of Equality?” – which I highly recommend if you’re interested in discussions of equality – makes the case that institutional changes should be initiated by the demos and not mandated by the government. The clear point is that, in a democracy, the people should have the right to choose and thus any changes that are made should be the result of the people’s choice.
Conversations about most effective forms of government aside, Anderson makes a compelling case, one that is easy to agree with. That is, unless you have a naturally skeptical mind and thus are compelled to disagree with everything, before deciding whether or not you actually agree (that’s me!).
The idea that changes should come from the people makes me think about President Obama’s recent interview with Buzzfeed. He was talking about his legacy as president and noted that he’s most proud of the Affordable Care Act and the rulings in favor of marriage equality. His comments about the second topic were most interesting to me. He essentially said that of all the issues, the LGBT issues were the easiest to address – they had a clear, defined goal, they had support/allies, and, most importantly, they had a face (I don’t think he added that part, at least not exactly like that. That was my addition).
LGBT rights aren’t the only important rights, they might not even be the most important rights (though it’s ridiculously difficult to debate which rights are more or less important), but they were the easiest to deal with. It was easy to get behind gay marriage – or at least think more critically about it – if you saw Ellen Degeneres, Neil Patrick Harris, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Kristen Bell (whom I love. I just think she’s such a beautiful person. But actually), and even the President himself supporting it. Women’s Rights are getting similar types of traction, with such celebrity allies as Amy Poehler, Taylor Swift, and Tina Fey (whom I also love and really, truly, actually want to be my best friend. Maybe my second-best friend. No offense to my actual best friend). And yet, when it comes to #BlackLivesMatter and what I’ll call the #BLM Movement, everything seems so much more nebulous. Few well-known people have come out and stood in explicit agreement with the movement; few have said the well-known mantra, that black lives matter. Some have, and that’s awesome, but there is no platform for the #BLM movement like there is for the LGBT or Women’s rights movements. And I think I know why.
It’s actually gotten to the point now in the US where it’s a bit more dangerous/less cool to acknowledge the importance of human life, specifically the importance of black human life, than it is to highlight the injustices committed against women or LBGT people. And because of this, the #BLM movement doesn’t have a leader or a face. In fact, the movement has too many faces. There is no one, charismatic, person that we can all point to and say, “he is our leader!” There is no MLK, or Rosa Parks, or Malcolm X. There’s just a bunch of people, mostly “millennials”, who are willing to tweet things to their followers or share articles on FB or write blog posts like this. There’s only all of us, and somehow all of us isn’t quite enough.
So yeah, I don’t like that movements are so dependent upon their leaders. I don’t think it’s all bad. I’m thankful that people are willing to support these movements and have their names, celebrities, and faces associated with them. We need more people who are willing to do that. But I think we also need to recognize the importance of the many who are willing to stand behind a cause. I think if enough people start to say, “hey, black lives matter”, then other people should look at that and say, “hey, maybe there’s something to this. Maybe these people aren’t just talking for no reason. Maybe I should educate myself about the lives of all Americans. Maybe #blacklivesreallydomatter.”