Friday, July 17, 2020


A couple of weeks ago, a person on LinkedIn asked a loaded question: "If the phrase 'Black Lives Matter' bothers you, why?" Most of the responses, to be sure, had more to do with the movement or the organization that people perceived to be behind it; "I don't have a problem with the phrase itself, but..." was a common opening to people's answers.

But in sorting through the responses, there were a number of people who did address the actual question being asked, and it confirmed my suspicion that while the actual slogan is "Black Lives Matter," what people often heard could be understood as "[] Black [] Lives [] Matter []." And the text that they understood belonged in one or more sets of those brackets was telling. I made some notes, based on the various responses, and boiled them down to a number of recurring themes, below:

  • Black Lives [only] Matter [when White people are doing the killing.]
  • Black Lives [don't] Matter [to Whites because they're still the bad people they were during Jim Crow.]
  • Black Lives Matter [because they're different from other lives.]
  • Black [as opposed to other oppressed/marginalized peoples'] Lives Matter.
  • [White people have to be told] Black Lives Matter [because they otherwise wouldn't figure it out.]
  • [There are people who actually believe that] Black Lives [don't] Matter.
  • [In order for] Black Lives [to] Matter [the United States needs a new President.]
  • [In order for] Black Lives [to] Matter [United States' society needs radical change.]
Of course, these aren't the exact wordings that people used in their responses. This is, to be sure, my understanding of the gist of things. And I'm not going to claim that the various authors would wholeheartedly agree with my paraphrasing of their  points.

The main value of the exercise for me was to understand what people felt was being asserted by the phrase "Black Lives Matter." Being only three words, it can be understood to be somewhat ambiguous, and in such cases, we would expect people to fill in the gaps. Of course, as I've filled them out here, many of these statements come across as straw man arguments. I'm sure that one would be hard-pressed to find a Black Lives Matter activist who would tell you that any of these was first and foremost in their minds.

But in reading what people wrote, and in trying to understand what it may have said about their thinking, I believe that I've managed to give myself a little insight into how people understand the world as it exists around them. And that's always a helpful tool in coming to agreements. Or in agreeing not to.

No comments: