If you look at it a particular way, one of the difficulties the Black Lives Matter movement has faced is one of grammar; specifically a missing word in the group’s title.
That word is “also.” When organizers formed the movement they intended to say black lives matter “also,” or “as well,” or “too.”
They felt that the culture in the United States puts less value on black lives than on other lives. And they had no problem bringing forth a slew of evidence, centuries of proof, the most recent and high profile of which has been a spate of police shootings of African-Americans.
Unfortunately, by omitting the word “also” in their title, they left room for their detractors, who don’t give a rat’s behind about black lives, to thunder falsely that the Black Lives Matter movement was saying black lives are more important than other lives.
The missing adverb in the group’s name, they huffed, was “only.” “BLM is saying only black lives matter,” they snarled, puffed up with righteous indignation. They formed groups like “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” (for police).
Of course this “indignation” was, and remains, phony. BLM’s opponents know very well what Black Lives Matter meant and means. By deliberately misinterpreting the group’s title, they have given us a dictionary-definition case of manufactured outrage, designed to change the subject.
After all, if you spend all your time (are you listening, news media?) chattering about how racist BLM members are, then you don’t have to look at, let alone discuss or do anything about, their actual grievances, which are legitimate with a capital L.
There’s a lot of that going around: misrepresenting something someone said in order to create a false impression and keep the original remarks from being examined.
If BLM is Exhibit A, Colin Kaepernick’s knee is Exhibit B.
Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback, took a knee rather than stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Asked why, he gave an articulate answer, saying, roughly, that it’s hard to pay tribute to a flag that represents a country that is mistreating African-Americans.
Cue the ginned-up shock and fake boiling blood! How dare he not honor the flag? He’s un-American! He’s disrespecting the troops!
None of which is true, of course. But because the phony indignation caught hold (thanks again, media), the nation turned to discussing Kaepernick’s patriotism rather than his point. Mission accomplished.
Misdirection. It works. There are plenty of other examples. One that comes to mind is Hillary Clinton’s description of some Donald Trump supporters as a “basket of deplorables.”
Clinton said half of Trump’s supporters (some wags suggested her estimate was on the low side) were deplorable, but his backers acted as though she had called all of them despicable. “She’s dissing Middle America, the snob,” they huffed.
Of course she shouldn’t have said half, but people, most notably her opponent, exaggerate when they speak.
Clinton’s track record in helping Middle America trumps Trump’s by a long shot, seeing as how he doesn’t have one. But the public discussion didn’t touch on that, or on what, exactly, she meant by “deplorable.” The conversation shifted to Clinton’s supposed immoderation, as the Trump people desired and with the assistance, as always, of the media.
So, what’s the lesson here? For people paying attention to these stories, it’s this: Don’t fall for the phony outrage. Think before you draw a conclusion. Get a grip on that knee and keep it from jerking.
In other words, think critically.
There’s also a larger, if esoteric, lesson, for those who intend to lead: Words and grammar matter. If only it were called the Black Lives Matter Also movement. Not that I’m blaming the victims here. Skilled spin doctors could have turned the media against this group no matter what its title was.
Of course there’s nothing new about grammar causing problems in public life. Look at the Second Amendment: Commas on steroids, modifiers rambling aimlessly through the amendment, words left open to multiple interpretations, like “well-regulated” and “militia.”
Think of all the confusion the founding dudes could have headed off if they’d been more precise.