Monday, July 20, 2015

Don't Dare Say That All Lives Matter

In my earlier post on political extremism, I showed that the data on political giving does not support the idea that conservatives are extreme; by contrast, liberals appear to be consistently extreme in the sense that they tend to be as liberal as possible. A great example of this dynamic occurred this past weekend when protestors invaded a Netroots Nation conference at which Democratic candidates for President, Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders, were scheduled to speak. In response to the protestors chants that "Black Lives Matter," O'Malley responded "Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter." He was roundly booed.

So where's the extremism in all this? Weren't the protestors just providing boisterous support for their position? Sure. But then O'Malley felt compelled to apologize for his statement:

"That was a mistake on my part and I meant no disrespect. I did not mean to be insensitive in any way or communicate that I did not understand the tremendous passion, commitment and feeling and depth of feeling that all of us should be attaching to this issue."

So let's see here. O'Malley agreed with the protestors and validated their concerns. He then pointed out that the truth of their statement was a particular case of a more general and crucially important principle. And for this he has to apologize?

The article about his apology quotes a philosophy professor at Berkeley who explains the protestors' position:

"When some people rejoin with 'All Lives Matter' they misunderstand the problem, but not because their message is untrue. It is true that all lives matter, but it is equally true that not all lives are understood to matter, which is precisely why it is most important to name the lives that have not mattered, and are struggling to matter in the way they deserve. If we jump too quickly to the universal formulation, 'all lives matter,' then we miss the fact that black people have not yet been included in the idea of 'all lives."

One might reasonably wonder in which way blacks have not been included among "all lives." Under the constitution and the law, certainly, they have the same standing as everyone else. It is also true, of course, that racism still exists and hurts blacks disproportionately, but it is also true that many Americans, perhaps even the vast majority, believe in equality and fairness for all races. What percentage of Americans are likely to disagree with the sentiment that "Black lives matter?" A miniscule percentage, I suspect. So it's hardly true that black people have not been included.

So why is the obvious statement "All lives matter" offensive to some? In part it's likely because the protestors want to control the narrative as part of their protest, and they lose control when the principle is broadened. But at a deeper level, their fury and intolerance may point to a reality they do not want to admit: whether black lives matter may depend as much on how they behave as on how people perceive them.