Black Lives Matter (BLM) is a masterpiece of political marketing.
It’s a slogan with a campaign attached, linked to some pretty heavy racial ideology and propaganda. None of it can be criticised without appearing to oppose the idea that black lives do indeed matter.
BLM is a classic and effective piece of rhetorical blackmail. Either get on board or you’re a racist: that is the logic of it – a logic driven by fear.
It’s the perfect slogan, as befitting the powerful alignment between progressive liberal-left politics and the PR, media and advertising industries across the Anglophone world. There’s an immediate and powerful social block on even questioning this movement just from its name.
One of the great successes of the campaign is how it has got many institutions in our society applying this block themselves, promoting the organisation and even punishing insiders who publicly question and criticise any activities carried out under the BLM branding. Manx Radio suspended presenter Stu Peters for responding to the movement with the phrase ‘all lives matter’ and questioning the idea of ‘white privilege’ live on air. Literature Wales removed Western Mail journalist Martin Shipton from the Wales Book of the Year judging panel for comments criticising BLM on social distancing. In the mainstream broadcast media, the group has barely been challenged.
It appears that institutional Britain has broadly accepted that political support for Black Lives Matter is compulsory, seemingly without questioning it or being able to critically assess its goals.
There’s a sort of totalitarianism about this but not a totalitarianism of the state. Rather, we see a largely voluntary gathering of non-state and state actors to push its slogans and talking points using their public relations functions and broadcasting ability. This reflects a longstanding ritual in our society of ‘giving-way’ to progressive identity activists who present themselves and the groups they claim to represent as victims in need of special protection or favour.
It’s likely that very few people in institutional Britain have a clue what they are supporting when they back BLM, as the England football teams did before the weekend’s protests and as Yorkshire Tea has done since, despite the rioting and attacks on police.
However, as David Goodhart tweeted, if you check out the Black Lives Matter UK GoFundMe page (which has raised a remarkable £775,000 in just seven days at the time of writing), what you find is disingenuous “far left nonsense”.
The BLM manifesto, seemingly copied and pasted from previous far left campaigns, tells us,
“We’re guided by a commitment to dismantle imperialism, capitalism, white-supremacy, patriarchy and the state structures that disproportionately harm black people in Britain and around the world.”
It says it will spend the funds on political lobbying, “Developing and delivering healing practices in black communities”, whatever that means, and “Developing and delivering training, police monitoring and strategies for the abolition of police.” It also talks about wanting “reparations of black people dealing with generational trauma and institutional racism”.
It’s drivel, but dangerous drivel: trying to stir up grievance among their target groups and shame governments, business and individuals into giving them and other activists money: a kind of political protection racket.
I think our major institutions – and indeed many of us as individuals, let’s be honest – give way to this sort of stuff because we are weak and what we really stand for is not easily condensed into a simple slogan.
Supporting progressive identity activism gives us a quick ‘hit’ of that meaning and purpose we lack, making us appear in a positive light to those who dominate our public life and those who go along with this domination. The identity activists exploit this for all its worth.
Superficially this ‘virtue signalling’ makes life easier, while thinking for ourselves and going against the grain makes things harder.
However, going along with it doesn’t ultimately protect us. The demands keep on coming. For BLM is a campaign with no possible limits and no end in sight. They always want more and always have accusations of racism in their back pocket to use if you choose to resist.
Repeatedly giving way to activists has led to their domination of our major institutions, in which many now hold gatekeeper positions and are increasingly moving into top jobs where they can direct money and power to their own groups and away from others.
This is the way it’s going. We can see it in America with the New York Times and other media outlets. We can also see it in our own BBC, many of whose presenters now openly propagate radical identity politics, seemingly not bothered by the damage they are doing to one of our country’s greatest creations and its reputation for impartiality. The BBC routinely gives BLM activists a platform to voice nebulous claims – claims which the corporation apparently lacks the inclination or the will to scrutise. Indeed, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish activists from BBC presenters.
As they demand more and more favouritism (normally via the apparently harmless idea of ‘representation’), those taking on an activist role do immense damage to race relations. It may work for them personally in the short term, but it is a disaster for the cause they claim to be advocating for.
After all, racial favouritism in the form of conventional white-on-black racism is what this movement is meant to be opposing.
Favouritism is ultimately toxic for trust in organisations and society as a whole. By promoting more and more of it, to the extent that they and their causes appear untouchable, BLM activists, their celebrity fans and the weak and naive institutions that indulge them are creating the conditions for resentment to thrive.
Social Democrats must resist this and patiently explain to people what is going on whenever we get the chance – and encourage people to think for themselves rather than be browbeaten by activists.
Perhaps the saddest irony of BLM is that its programme, if implemented, would unite black and all other lives in the harm done to them.
We’re up against it – but that’s all the more reason to try.