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black lives matter moves to cultural nationalism: analysis and forecast

Let’s start with a quiz. Guess which policy demands are from the Black Lives Matter platform and which ones are from the original 10-point plan from the Black Panthers in 1966:

  1. We believe that this racist government has robbed us, and now we are demanding the overdue debt of forty acres and two mules.
  2. An end to the privatization of education and real community control by parents, students and community members of schools including democratic school boards and community control of curriculum, hiring, firing and discipline policies.
  3. We believe in an educational system that will give to our people a knowledge of self. If a man does not have knowledge of himself and his position in society and the world, then he has little chance to relate to anything else
  4. We believe we can end police brutality in our Black community by organizing Black self-defense groups that are dedicated to defending our Black community from racist police oppression and brutality.
  5. A reallocation of funds at the federal, state and local level from policing and incarceration [specific programs omitted] to long-term safety strategies such as education, local restorative justice services, and employment programs.
  6. Institute a universal single payer healthcare system. To do this all private insurers must be banned from the healthcare market as their only effect on the health of patients is to take money away from doctors, nurses and hospitals preventing them from doing their jobs and hand that money to wall st. investors.
  7. Racial and gender equal rights amendment.

Answer: BLM – 2, 5; BP – 1, 3, 4. Trick question: 6 & 7 are actually from a list of Occupy Wall Street demands. If you got some wrong, don’t worry. A lot of these demands are interchangeable and all three groups have promoted some version of most of them.

The purpose of the quiz is to illustrate how the recent Black Lives Matter platform draws heavily from Black cultural nationalism and progressivism. It also shows that the Black Lives Matter movement is now evolving in a direction very similar to these groups. Like the Panthers in 1966, Black Lives was founded specifically in response to police repression. But it framed itself in Marxist terms and soon expanded to offer social programs. Similarly, Black Lives Matter started in response to police shootings and has now offered a fairly comprehensive list of demands rooted in the Left.

There are differences of course, but I think we can now articulate a framework, or baseline, for thinking about BLM. It is a progressive, community oriented movement, not a movement that primarily focuses on police reform. It is also a movement that will have wide appeal on the Left, but less appeal to the middle and the Right.

Since we’ve had a number of movements like this, we can look at their history. We’ve had the Panthers in the 1960s, the anti-globalization movement of the 1990s, and the Occupy movement of 2010s. These movements tend to be brief, but intense. They have wide cultural impact, but limited policy or electoral impact. The impact of BLM will be very concentrated in a few places and otherwise widespread and diffuse. Time will tell if the comparison with BLMs ancestry is an adequate guide to their future.

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Written by fabiorojas

August 11, 2016 at 12:01 am

3 Responses

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  1. I thought the interesting part is how easy they were to pick apart, not how interchangeable they were. The Panthers supported self-sufficiency where communities to be self-sufficient are explicitly racially bounded (“We believe we can end police brutality in our Black community by organizing Black self-defense groups that are dedicated to defending our Black community from racist police oppression and brutality,” “We believe that this racist government has robbed us”). Even the proposals that aren’t specifically racially linked are about creating a clearly bounded cultural community (“We believe in an educational system that will give to our people a knowledge of self. If a man does not have knowledge of himself and his position in society and the world, then he has little chance to relate to anything else”). The problem is what’s being done to the community, the solution is the community.

    BLM, on the otherhand, presents purely government solutions, at least in the ones highlighted here. They demand specific general government policies as a solution, and have nothing to do with building a bounded community. There’s barely a mention of an imagined community here, nevermind seeing that imagined community as the solution to the problems. Interestingly, OWS had the same general bent: broad government solutions. Pushback against the neoliberal slimmed down state, a more Marxian person might claim.

    I’m not really sure what they have in common, to be honest. They seem pretty night and day to me, both in terms of diagnosing the problem and presenting a solution. I feeling like I’m missing something.

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    SJMR reader

    August 11, 2016 at 10:05 am

  2. Actually, BLM was founded after the Trayvon Martin murder (I know, he wasn’t found guilty, but I’d call it a murder). BLM gained popularity during Ferguson, but BLM was never as narrowly focused on police repression as it has appeared via media representations and within the broad umbrella of the activists affiliated or aligned with BLM, that view has long been a contentious debate–whether to be focused on policing primarily or stick to the broader roots of the organization and movement.

    Much of the friction between the original creaters of #BLM and some of the most vocal/visible protestors/activists can be linked to that, in fact.

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    rorykramer

    August 11, 2016 at 2:55 pm

  3. As Rory Kramer implies, the BLM hashtag has a specific origin point after Trayvon Martin was killed and I believe those founders now have a web site referring to themselves as the real BLM. But the BLM label has spread and generalized and is an umbrella tag for a large number of organizations, many of which have been on the ground working for years, others more recently founded. And a label for a lot of protests that are being conducted by groups with other names. I would say it is correct to say that there is a Black Lives Matter movement, but incorrect to treat BLM as a single organization. Just as NAACP, SCLC and SNCC were all part of the Civil Rights Movement, but certainly not all one organization. And, drawing further parallels, there are divergences between the older more established Black grounds and the younger more Black nationalist groups, but also lots of connections between them as well. The structure is (to use Gerlach and Hine’s terms) decentralized, polycephalus, and reticulate.

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    olderwoman

    August 11, 2016 at 7:07 pm


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