Every once in a while I’ll hear someone say, “I don’t feel comfortable saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ or putting up BLM signs because I disagree with the organization.”
I don’t have any discomfort with the organization, but I also can’t say that I know everything about it, so I was curious to learn what made folks uncomfortable with the organization.
Here’s what I’ve been able to figure out so far, and my thoughts:
1. These folks believe that saying (or putting up signs saying) “Black Lives Matter” means you officially support the organization.
This was a surprise to me. I don’t think that way. I can’t say I know anyone else who does. If you say “Black Lives Matter”, I’m pretty sure the majority of people read it to mean that you believe that Black lives matter. If they don’t get it right, they can ask you and you can clarify.
I’ve seen dozens of stories recently: a little girl writing “Black Lives Matter” in chalk in her street, or twenty teens lined up chanting “Black Lives Matter” at a protest, or “Black Lives Matter” yard signs in suburban America. My immediate response to any of those is to take those words at as close to face value as I can. I don’t think of the organization. And even if I do, I’m fully aware that each person claims the statement differently, but each, at their core, are affirming Black lives. That’s it. I don’t think I’m alone there.
2. There are aspects of the organization that sound like things they’re against.
Let’s assume, just for the sake of argument, that there were some people who did assume that anyone saying “Black Lives Matter” also must therefore support the organization. What are these distasteful parts of the organization?
As far as I can tell, there are three primary aspects that turn some people off from supporting the organization: the affirmation of trans people, the condemnation of the patriarchy, and the Marxist connections of its founders.
Let’s take a look at each.
The affirmation of trans people:
All of the people who I’ve heard point to this as a problem in the organization have been Evangelical Christians, so I’m going to think about it from that perspective. Most Evangelicals foundationally believe that there is only male and female, which should align with your birth sex, so the idea of the validity of trans identity is not compatible with their beliefs.
The only mentions I’ve seen of BLM’s interactions with trans people are these two:
- The organization affirms the lives of people (including trans people) who have historically been marginalized in Black liberation movements.
- The organization is “self-reflexive and [does] the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege and uplift Black trans folk, especially Black trans women who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans-antagonistic violence.”
So, trying to understand the response, I asked myself, “what’s the worst thing that could happen if I were someone who believes transsexuality is not of God’s creation and I said ‘Black Lives Matter’ and someone assumed I supported the organization who believes those two bullet points above?”
- This person would assume that I affirm the lives of people–including trans people–who have been historically been marginalized.
- This person would assume that I support the dismantling of cisgender privilege.
- This person would assume that I support uplifting Black trans folk.
- This person would assume that I support especially uplifting Black trans women who continue to be disproportionately impacted by trans-antagonistic violence.
As I thought through how I would want an Evangelical friend to process these, I settled on the lens of asking myself the question: “How would Jesus want me to interact with people different than me?” Here’s how that left me responding to the four points above.
- OK. Affirming the lives of all humans works for Evangelicalism. That’s pretty Jesus-y. He was quite explicit in affirming the life and value of everyone, regardless of their social or spiritual or physical state.
- So, while I know that the word “cisgender” is a bit trigger-y for folks who don’t believe in transsexuality, here’s how I look at this one: I, a cisgender man, receive benefits from being cisgender that a trans person doesn’t. My life is better and easier and safer. If I think of trans people as people, do I think I–or Jesus–want them to have a worse, harder, and more dangerous life? Naw. Regardless of your religious perspective, you’re completely fine to want everyone to have the same benefits in their lives.
- Uplifting people is pretty Jesus-y too.
- Uplifting people who are the subjects of incredible violence? Super Jesus-y.
I think that the biggest fear is the idea that, by engaging with trans-supporting organizations that work to protect trans people from hurt and oppression, and that work to validate them as humans and validate their voices, an Evangelical Christian has now made a decision and declaration on the nature of gender in the world.
I’m not a theologian, so here’s my best encouragement: regardless of your theology, Jesus wants you to deeply and sacrificially love everyone, especially those most different from you and most downtrodden and un-cared-for. In our country, Black trans people are at the top of that list.
The condemnation of the patriarchy:
I didn’t find any specific references to this on the BLM site, but it doesn’t surprise me to hear that they’re anti-patriarchy.
I know there are some conservative folks who are still super pro patriarchy, so I could imagine this one being a sticking point… if it weren’t for point 1 in this list. 🤷🏻♂️
The Marxist connections of its founders:
Two of the founders of the BLM organization are Marxists. There have been dozens of articles by conservative news outlets and pundits in the last four years suggesting that they’re terrorists who want to dismantle America as a result.
Additionally, the GOP put out an ad on June 23, 2020 attempting to paint BLM (and the Democrats in cahoots with them) as Marxists who want to hurt and destroy the police.
I read writings from these women and from the folks they trained under. I didn’t walk away with any fears of them as radical terrorists or aiming to change the world in the way that the majority of people who truly think Black lives matter would have any concern with.
If you do have a fear that this is a big issue, I’d recommend you engage the beliefs of these women yourself, not through the secondhand-and-not-very-honest smear campaign or just the scary word “Marxism”.
Also, again, point 1 in the list.
3. It’s more important to stand against those things than to proclaim that Black Lives Matter.
I think the first point is key. No one thinks that you’re supporting the org just because you have a yard sign.
I think the second point is complex. There are some factors in that org you may, because of your religion or something else, disagree with, but even then I think you should still consider working to love people, which is really what most of those points are about.
I think the third point is another key. I sandwiched the keys, accidentally.
Let’s say someone sees Fred’s Black Lives Matter shirt and someone infers that Fred supports Black Lives Matter, the organization. This someone goes to the web site and finds that the organization supports the dismantling of cisgender privilege and infers Fred supports that. Fred is bummed because now someone assumed he supports something he doesn’t.
What matters more? Fred’s fear of being misunderstood? Or Fred’s desire to be a vocal proponent of ending the most heinous oppression our country has been party to for over 400 years?
In the end, I guess points 1 and 3 on this list make it clear to me that that explanation just doesn’t hold a lot of weight, when you examine it. In my very personal opinion, this explanation is either an excuse to not do something you didn’t want to do in the first place, or a reflection that you’re living in fear. Either way, the best way forward is to find the truth and tell it.