BY JAMES MURRAY
The Black Lives Matter movement has caused great fear and loathing among white people across the country. Police administrators have referred to them as terrorists and claimed to be “at war” with BLM members or those inspired by the movement. Right wing websites running the gamut from conservative (Free Republic) to libertarian (Zerohedge) to “alt-right” (Breitbart) keep the flames of white terror fanned, running daily updates of supposed BLM plots and sedition.
Examined critically, BLM is not much of a radical movement. Beradi and others have noted the vast gulf between “Black Power,” and “Black Lives Matter.” Some BLM groups have hosted ice cream socials for police officers and sought to find “Common ground,” with law-enforcement personnel. “Black Lives Matter,” is seemingly more of a desperate plea than a radical ideology. Even if the unthinkable happened—and black lives began to matter to agents of the state, would it much matter? European police agencies maintain a social control structure as stable, or more so than what exists in the American state, and they do so while shooting very few people. There is no reason white supremacy could not exist in a society where black lives matter. If, in fact they did, the situation might even be more stable than it is today.
Far from the cities, another protest movement has sprung to life on the Great Plains. On the Standing Rock Indian reservation people have gathered from across the continent to “sit in” and protest the building of a pipeline through tribal lands. Again, examined critically, the StandingRock situation is not very radical. These are not protests against industrial society, or even against corporatism or fossil fuel extraction. It is about the supposed “Sovereignty” of native peoples and their opposition to a pipeline running through their property.
Far from the reaction BLM has created, Standing Rock has received acclaim and support from the same right-wing websites mentioned above. Why? In the right-wing imagination Standing Rock represents “anti-government activism.” And the sovereignty argument is attractive to them. If natives can claim such sovereignty, the right wing fantasizes, could ranchers in Utah and libertarians in Idaho someday claim the same rights? And of course right-wing support of American Indians has some antecedents – Forrest Carter’s novel and screenplay, “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” ends with former Confederates and Comanche Indians making an eternal truce to resist the federal government and encroaching civilization. On a more traditionally fascist note, Hitler’s favorite novelist was the bestselling German author Karl May, who turned out many wild west adventures, often featuring Europeans who “Go native,” and fight cowboys and others with their new Indian friends.
Other than wild fantasy though, I think there is another reason the right wing can accept Standing Rock and simultaneously recoil in terror at BLM. Radical, liberal or moderate, any expression of black urgency frightens white America. Extremism is not required. If black strength has entertainment value in movies or sports, it is acceptable and can be celebrated. Within limits that is: the artistry of jazz and blues were never seriously oppressed but the amplified sound of alienated play—Hip Hop—has been under the gun since its invention. Parental guidance stickers were inventedfor Hip Hop, and then anti-sampling laws. Now rappers are being prosecuted for their rhymes across the country.
Baudrillard wrote, “The more hegemonic the system, the more the imagination is struck is by the smallest of its reversals. The challenge, even infinitesimal, is the image of chain failure.” BLM represents this infinitesimal challenge. It strikes the imagination of black people and their sympathizers. It touches the (barely) subconscious fear of the white masses. This illustrates the subversive effect(s) of even mild black protest. It (psychologically) punches above its weight class. This is the key that can turn the lock. Throughout American history when the black masses move, a substantial minority of every other oppressed group follows. It is easy to conjecture when a real, radical black movement launches onto the screens of America, the reaction will be irrational, extreme and vicious. Those who think, theorize and plot this next stage of the movement should be prepared for the backlash. And think, theorize and plot anyway.
James Murray is a member of the editorial board of Hard Crackers. He lives in Tulsa, OK.