(September 26, 2020)
Given Breonna Taylor did not receive justice for her tragic murder, I want to address a particular type of venom seeping from certain Christian and right-wing groups.
Many circles, including Catholic-based ones, have expressed negative views toward the Black Lives Matter (“BLM”) organization based on a video clip from one of the co-founders stating that two of the BLM co-founders, Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza, are “trained Marxists.” Note this claim is solely based on a single video excerpt from 2015, which will be further explored below.
Certain Catholic ideologues have cited that the group’s inherent Marxism renders the movement at odds with Church teaching, and therefore supporting BLM is contrary to Church teaching.
Others have cited violence from protests, statues being toppled, and a circulated video of alleged BLM supporters chanting “F- Your Jesus” as further evidence that Catholics and Christians as a whole ought not support this organization.
When challenged for not supporting Black lives, many from these circles respond with “Of course I believe Black lives matter.” However, the “of course” suggests that Black lives mattering is a stated given. But if Breonna Taylor can be murdered while sleeping in her bed and the police officers involved are not charged with murder, then this is not a stated given.
Breonna Taylor’s murder suggests that Black lives do not matter. A Black person can be murdered while sleeping and there is no real repercussion.
To denounce an entire movement based on reference to Marxism or isolated incidents of violence (note 93% of protests have been peaceful) is a Straw Man Fallacy that results in diminishing the importance of Black lives.
Gaslighting is also a means used to diminish the relevance of the Black Lives Matter movement by Catholics who assert that the movement is at odds with Church teaching based on the “trained Marxists” video clip. These Catholics use what is near and dear to fellow Catholics, the faith, as ammunition against the organization.
The argument is as follows: Marxism is contrary to Church teaching, therefore BLM is incompatible with Church teaching. Additionally, this argument causes confusion rather clarity, diffusing the central thesis of anti-racism inherent in the movement and conflating the organization with direct Marxism.
Firstly, regarding the Marxism claim, Sam Rocha astutely clarified this. The statement derived from the video needs to be understood from its context:
– Rocha highlighted that the video in question included a response to the concern of BLM’s durability as a “hashtag-based and online-born social movement.”
– “This tension is the interpretive key to what [Patrisse] Cullors’s ‘trained Marxist’ remark really means in its full context in the year 2015, the toddler stages of BLMGN [the Black Lives Matter Global Network]. To be absolutely clear: [Jared] Ball, a sympathetic Black activist interviewer, challenges Cullors to reply to BLMGN’s potential limits, including objections from within Black activist and abolitionist circles. The interview is intergenerational, tense, and critical. If one misses or ignores this crucial aspect, the resulting interpretation will suffer. I repeat: Ball is an agonistic and agnostic interviewer regarding BLMGN, asking Cullors to defend BLMGN from not only external critics but, more forcefully, from internal critiques from older generations of radical Black activists,” wrote Rocha.
– “This already, yet perhaps prematurely, hints at what is happening in the interview when, as we will see, Cullors says, ‘we, uh, are trained Marxists.’ This much-cited disclosure is not a strong identification. Instead, it is a demand for respect, trust, and credibility from their activist elders while, at the same time, pivoting away from the previous generation’s demand for ideological clarity,” continued Rocha.
– I believe the “uh” is significant and should not be overlooked. This sounded like if one were in a job interview and was asked if one had strong Microsoft Excel skills. Beginning the response with “uh” would have the connotation that one’s skills are not necessarily strong but the responder is struggling to win over the interviewer.
– The heart of Rocha’s article is in this statement: “Noting these complexities, I believe it is clear to any reasonable person that selectively using Cullors’s ‘trained Marxists’ remark from a suddenly-relevant 2015 interview, complex in its own right, as an easy means to dismissing BLMGN and, more scandalously, to demonize the slogan ‘Black Lives Matter’ entirely out of hand, is dishonest, ignorant, and lazy. It is also a classic rhetorical strategy of US white supremacy in media narratives.”
Citing the entire movement is inherently Marxist based on a proof-texted video clip taken out of context IS gaslighting, Straw Man, and circumstantial ad hominem. To more maturely and cogently critique BLM, one ought to use its mission statement as the basis.
The central thesis of the Black Lives Matter Organization was founded on a love letter towards Black people written by co-founder Alicia Garza following the decision on the murder of Trayvon Martin.
“I didn’t want [the shooter] George Zimmerman to be the period to the story. I didn’t want his name to be the name held up over and over again by the media, by his fellow white supremacists,” wrote Garza. The point of the letter and the hashtag was to combat anti-Black racism.
Additionally, according to the About page of the Black Lives Matter Global Network, the movement has as its mission “to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes. By combating and countering acts of violence, creating space for Black imagination and innovation, and centering Black joy, we are winning immediate improvements in our lives.”
Based on this mission statement, if someone has issue with BLM, it is because one has issue with dismantling white supremacy and anti-Blackness. A movement centered on promoting Black joy: one who is against this movement is also against this promotion of joy.
I believe this is why BLM as an organization has been getting so much pushback, and people have resorted to circumstantial ad hominem, Straw Man Fallacy and gaslighting to render the movement invalid for people of faith.
The very notion of a group seeking equity for Black people enrages and incites white fragility, as certain white people experience their privilege being challenged and fear their “place” in the world, one of false superiority, being unmasked.
BLM seeks to reveal that the emperor doesn’t have clothes on, and white supremacists don’t want to be exposed in their nakedness.
Secondly, if a person were against an organization because it has a tenet that is against Church teaching, this litmus test would be applied universally.
However, many of these same people avow the US Republican Party, which also has elements contrary to Church teaching such as capital punishment, anti-immigration and anti-Islamic rhetoric, among other contrary ideals. Hence, this rationale fails the litmus test.
Therefore, the hackneyed reasons to diffuse the importance of BLM stem not from truth but from inherent racism.
The very organization created to stop anti-Black racism is being blocked by racists using these fallacious and empty arguments to further promote racism.
One cannot follow Christ and be racist. Hence, to be anti-BLM is to also be anti-Christ. To be anti-BLM is to be against Church teaching, which calls believers to promote the equal dignity of all people predicated on being created in the image and likeness of God (CCC 1934).
Tear-gassing the BLM movement with gaslighting not only promotes the sin of racism but is inherently racist, and it is time for the Church to confront rather than harbor racists.