Black Lives Matter has, in certain obvious respects, been a very successful movement. Indeed, as measured by bodies in the street, expressed levels of support on the broad left and prominence in the national conversation, the movement has been astonishingly successful.
But a movement has be evaluated by other metrics than these. All movements, after all, have strengths and weaknesses, areas where the movement is making progress and areas where it is falling far short. In short, BLM needs critical evaluation, not just adulation or endorsement. Tough questions should be asked: Does the movement's core model of social change make sense? Is there a plausible strategic plan for achieving its objectives? Most of all, how effective is the movement currently at actually achieving desired changes and how effective is it likely to be in the future?
Of course, you can find some of these questions raised in conservative media. But it is nothing short of amazing how absent such critical evaluations are in the non-conservative mainstream media. This is bizarre and quite unhealthy, both for BLM and left politics in general.
Freddie deBoer, who rushes in where angels fear to tread, is fed up with this reverential treatment of BLM and terms it condescending and disrespectful. I agree.
"We are all being told, by progressive consensus, that we have to mindlessly donate [to social justice causes], ask no questions, never wonder about motives, and never, ever consider the efficacy of their efforts. We either blindly fall in line when they say to give them whatever they want, including the adoption of extremely contentious policies in a polarized democratic country, or we’re on the other side, the bad side, and we have to live with the black mark of being “part of the problem.”
Nowhere is this dynamic more obvious than concerning BlackLivesMatter.
There is no mainstream media criticism of BlackLivesMatter. There isn’t. There’s explicitly conservative criticism and “Intellectual Dark Web” stuff, which liberals and Very Serious media types dismiss out of hand, somewhat fairly given that much of it is batshit “BLM is a George Soros conspiracy” stuff. And then there’s a small handful of mostly independent, generally small-audience critics from the left who those same liberals and media types simply assert are part of the former group - if you criticize BlackLivesMatter, you are definitionally conservative. Within the liberal media itself there is nothing. There is almost no honest, adult criticism of BlackLivesMatter within establishment media. I encourage you to look for yourself. The number of pieces that are genuinely critical of BlackLivesMatter (and not simply the unpopularity of Defund the Police or critical race theory or questions about the potential corruption of particular leaders) in the NYT or WaPo or New York magazine or other large establishment media publications is pitiful. The Vox/Buzzfeed-style online only liberal publications and the liberal nonprofit types… forget it, man. Tumbleweeds.
What’s more, there is no meta-conversation about this total lack of criticism from mainstream media’s typical internal critics and media reporters. If an employee at The Atlantic calls himself an Associate Editor on his Tinder profile when he’s just an Assistant Editor, Erik Wemple will run a 3,000 word column about it, but he’s not writing about the entire mainstream press refusing to write critically about one of the biggest stories of the past decade....
Those within social justice politics defined broadly, the journalists and writers but definitely the activists and academics, insists that we simply accept [social justice] claims as true at all times, if they come branded with the right buzzwords and phraseology. Isn’t that strange? In what other realm of human affairs do people so often say, “oh, they’re saying that this is the way to end problem X - therefore that must be true, and if others even ask whether it is in fact true, they are guilty of not caring about Problem X or even actively working to make Problem X worse.” Adults ask questions! Especially about important stuff! Especially about politics and justice! What is controversial about asking for that? What is contrarian about asking for that?
When a politician comes out with a tax plan, journalists and analysts look at it and say, “does this tax plan add up? Does it have the markings of an effective tax plan?” They’ll poke holes in it - yes, if it’s from the other party, but also if it’s from their own. Because they know we need tested and robust tax plans. But when Ibram Kendi says, “all of my vague recriminations and radical-sounding racialist woowoo is the solution to racism,” every journalist and analyst you know scratches their beard and says, “ah yes, indeed,” and they don’t even say that very loudly. But where’s the proof that any of Kendi’s rhetoric actually leads to any action at all? That such action does/could prompt positive change? Who is checking his work? What has Ibram Kendi’s ideology accomplished, beyond enriching Ibram Kendi? Can we point to, like, a graph that shows the outcome of his good works? It certainly seems that we can’t. Since this is the case, why does 95% of the journalism that references Kendi make literally no mention of the basic concept of efficacy?...
Media and academia are controlled by white liberals and white liberals live their lives in absolute petrifying fear of being called racist. Or transphobic or ableist. (No one is actually scared of being called sexist lol.) But I would hope the downsides here would be obvious: talking about honesty and efficacy is how you make sure progress is happening. If you actually care about any political movement, you dedicate yourself to the task of critical engagement. The way adults do for other adults. When your 4 year old says “I’m gonna marry Jimbo from my class,” you say “cool honey!” When your 24 year old says “I’m gonna marry Jimbo, the 43 year old professional darts player I met three weeks ago,” you say “hold up.” You ask hard questions. That’s what love requires. What respect requires. The policy on lefty Twitter is that you never ask hard questions about #BlackLivesMatter, ever, and most people in establishment media write for the approval of lefty Twitter above and beyond any other motivation. $10.6 billion dollars were sucked up into a vague and amorphous social movement that has no defined boundaries or parent organization, and yet many of the biggest players in the media haven’t once asked where it went!
Chris Hayes will put on his most pained Serious Glasses Face expression and reveal the absolute perfidy of a Republican city councilman from Popcorn Indiana who never returned a library book, but he’s not doing any segments on his show about the plain fact that this supposed racial reckoning has clearly completely stalled out and now we’ve enter a period of pure commerce. No to the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act; yes to billions and billions spent on DEI training that literally no one will pay attention to. Is this not a condition that we should worry over? Think about? If you care about BlackLivesMatter, you are enjoined by principle to defend it from itself, and that means being willing to express unpopular opinions, such as the reality that the movement has absolutely no sense of direction, no broadly agreed-upon goals, and no idea about how it would achieve them if it did. People who are drafting off of a social movement for selfish gain just applaud. Allies critique."
DeBoer has a theory what lies behind this staggering abdication of responsibility:
"The most obvious fact about this horseshit “great awokening” we’re going through than that it’s all powered by condescension. Just steeped in the most intense and obvious and dehumanizing condescension. You know why some white liberals are opposed to standardized testing? Not because they currently produce racially stratified results, but because they think they will always produce racially stratified results. Because they quietly assume Black people will never be able to succeed in that kind of assessment. You know why the immense numbers of white liberal journalists on Twitter who cheered on the movement last year and put “BLM” in their Tinder profiles never ask hard questions about the movement and whether it was using its political capital and economic resources wisely? Because they think Black people are the fucking junior varsity of politics. Their unwavering “support” for BLM functions, in practice, as an exercise in patronizing head patting, an expression of contempt dolled up as political solidarity. Supporters ask questions and make criticisms. And it is the media’s job to investigate all notable political movements, even if its members are fundamentally supporters of those movements. That responsibility has been almost totally abdicated in regards to BLM."
Deboer's argument, in my opinion, should be taken very seriously. But, with deBoer, I will express my skepticism that critical analyses of BLM and related movements are coming anytime soon from the New York Times, Washington Post, Vox and the rest of the usual suspects in non-conservative mainstream media land.