It’s that time of the year again where no one’s doing all that much and the most innocuous comments are capable of causing offence – or confected offence at least.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said ‘All lives matter’ and that was enough to cause outcry.
Unsurprisingly, this drew the ire of the Greens, where offence taking is in their DNA. Deputy Leader Nick McKim used McCormack’s comments to launch an attack on the Liberals (even though McCormack is a National) for going down a ‘’Trump-style path towards post-truth politics”.
What was surprising though was that leading members of the Labor Party, Australia’s would-be alternative government, thought it wise to criticise McCormack on such mild comments. Health spokesman, Chris Bowen, a leading member of the New South Wales right-faction and one of the more sensible members on the frontbench, called McCormack’s comments ‘beyond disgusting’..
McCormack did have his defenders, with AFL legend Leigh Matthews — of all people — tweeting that ‘being outraged about a simple uttering that all lives matter is bewildering’.
Now perhaps old Lethal, a national treasure that transcends politics, thought that he could ease tensions by sticking his neck out, but sadly, he was mistaken. The Guardian’s Greg Jericho said that Matthews showed ‘a level of ignorance’.
Maybe I’m biased because, for a school assignment on a great Australian, I chose the great ‘Lethal’, but I’m pretty sure Matthews, who now works in the media, is not ignorant of the context of the phrase ‘all lives matter’ or the Black Lives Matter movement. Rather, I would say that it’s not ignorance he has but common sense.
However, that wasn’t the view of sports journalist Richard Hinds who patronisingly told Matthews that ‘all lives matter’ is ’a disingenuous response to Black Lives Matter used by white supremacists trying to undermine that cause’.
Really? I’m not all that familiar with white supremacist philosophy, but I would have thought that one of the core tenets of white supremacy was a repudiation of the belief that all lives matter.
Yet the outcry didn’t stop there. The Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch, Elaine Pearson called McCormack’s comments ‘a cheap, divisive and dangerous political stunt’.
‘Dangerous’? For what, advocating that all lives matter? I would have thought that it was dangerous to affirm that all lives don’t matter but I guess two plus two equal five and freedom is slavery.
Amnesty International Indigenous Rights Lead Nolan Hunter even called for McCormack to ‘withdraw his deeply offensive comments’ and ‘be condemned in the strongest terms’.
Now, this overaction is staggering. ‘Dangerous’, ‘white-supremacist’ comments that must be ‘condemned in the strongest terms’ and withdrawn, all for saying that ‘all lives matter’? What next, censoring Christians for saying that God created all people in his image?
To understand this unhinged response to McCormack’s altogether bland comments, you have to delve into post-modern politics where what matters is not the words that are being said but which way the speaker is signalling.
To those people, the Black Lives Matter Movement exists to highlight the plight of black people and phrases like ‘all lives matter’ are deliberate attempts to take the spotlight off those marginalised people. Moreover, there is the association of the phrase ‘all lives matter’ with Pauline Hanson and One Nation.
According to Chris Bowen, McCormack’s words ‘diminish the Black Lives Matter movement’. But why is the Black Lives Matter movement a sacred cow that should be immune from criticism?
To a casual observer, Black Lives Matter is a US-centric movement that has little bearing on day-to-day Australian politics. Why McCormack’s comments are of concern to the Shadow Health Minister of all people is beyond me.
Yet Bowen said that McCormack ‘does not speak for Australians’. Really? Maybe Bowen ought to check himself because I’m not sure Black Lives Matter is a front and centre priority for most Australians in his electorate or the nation at large.
Bowen went on to say that ‘Australians of colour deserve to know that their government thinks more them than that. Is Bowen actually equating criticism of Black Lives Matter with criticism of Australians of colour?
At best, that notion is misguided, at worst, its deeply prejudicial. ‘Australians of colour’ are an amorphous group comprising a huge array of cultures and ethnicities with an enormous variation of backgrounds, aspirations, philosophies and economic outcomes. No organisation, no matter how large, could realistically claim to represent the diverse interests of such a large group.
Not even Black Lives Matter would claim to represent such a broad group. The clue is in the name. They are Black Lives Matter, not People of Colour’s Lives Matter or Black, Asian, Hispanic, Native American and Latino Lives Matter or even the more inclusive All Lives Matter. On their Facebook page, Black Lives Matter claim to be ‘an online forum intended to build connects between Black people and our allies to fight anti-Black racism’. There is no mention of all the other racisms or the need to address them. Black Lives Matter are an organisation, at least on a surface level, focused on redressing the plight of black people (typically in America), which isn’t an inherently bad thing but its aims do not necessarily correlate with the interests of Australians of colour.
Moreover, there are plenty of African-Americans who are opposed to Black Lives Matter, from Terry Crews to Coleman Hughes to Candace Owens to Leo Terrell. Let’s not pretend that Black Lives Matter is this unimpeachable organisation that speaks for all African Americans, let alone all people of colour.
And how is it surprising that Black Lives Matter has drawn widespread criticism even amongst people of colour? At the very least, they have shown themselves to be an immoderate and unpragmatic organisation that’s ideals are far outside the mainstream. From the self-professed ‘Marxist training’ of BLM co-founders Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza, to the irrational and unscientific statistics they spout without context about police violence, to their previously stated goal to ‘disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure’, to their anarchic calls to ‘build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state’ , to the defence of looting by a BLM organiser, to the calls to defund the police, this is an organisation that should draw the enmity of conservatives, moderates and progressives alike.
That’s without even getting into the riots perpetrated by Black Lives Matter, culminating in one in a particularly troublesome one in Kenosha, Wisconsin which CNN infamously described as ‘fiery but mostly peaceful’.
Chris Bowen called the Black Lives Matter movement was ‘legitimate and peaceful protest’. This is corroborated by a Princeton University Study which found that ‘more than 93% of all demonstrations connected to the [Black Lives Matter] movement, demonstrators have not engaged in violence or destructive activity’. But that’s out of over 7,750 demonstrations in the US alone, which amounts to at least 540 violent demonstrations. The violence and destruction of property from these protests shouldn’t be overlooked with labels like ‘peaceful protest’ by a rational politician like Chris Bowen.
There are some who say that criticising Black Lives Matter and the broader movement is misguided as the overall aims of addressing racial inequality are noble. Such arguments are short-sighted. As the proverb goes, ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions.’ Few political movements have the express desire of wreaking evil on the world. Movements should be judged by their actions and their outcomes, not the nobleness of their intentions.
Others may emphasize that there is a distinction between the Black Lives Matter organisation and the wider movement and, just like with every political movement, there are people on the fringe who don’t speak for the movement on the whole. There is a distinction between the Black Lives Matter organisation and the movement but the organisation is nevertheless front and centre of the movement (it is called the Black Lives Matter movement and not the Racial Equality movement after all) and it is the BLM organisation and its leading members that are advocating fringe ideas like defunding the police.
So, to return to Chris Bowen’s point that Michael McCormack ‘does not speak for Australians’. Maybe but, in defending Black Lives Matter, I am doubtful that Bowen is speaking for the mainstream either. At the very least, McCormack is justified in wanting to ‘de-racialize’ society and avoid the racial division that America is facing by affirming that ‘all lives matter’, which seems pretty sensible to me.
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.