What's Wrong With 'All Lives Matter'?
January 13, 2015 1:36 PM Subscribe
When we are taking about racism, and anti-black racism in the United States, we have to remember that under slavery black lives were considered only a fraction of a human life, so the prevailing way of valuing lives assumed that some lives mattered more, were more human, more worthy, more deserving of life and freedom, where freedom meant minimally the freedom to move and thrive without being subjected to coercive force. But when and where did black lives ever really get free of coercive force? One reason the chant "Black Lives Matter" is so important is that it states the obvious but the obvious has not yet been historically realized. So it is a statement of outrage and a demand for equality, for the right to live free of constraint, but also a chant that links the history of slavery, of debt peonage, segregation, and a prison system geared toward the containment, neutralization and degradation of black lives, but also a police system that more and more easily and often can take away a black life in a flash all because some officer perceives a threat.George Yancy interviews Judith Butler for NYT: What's Wrong With 'All Lives Matter'?
This is the latest installation of Yancy's 'philosophers on race' interview series, published by The Stone [NYT]. Previous installations are linked and excerpted below.
November 5, 2014: What 'White Privilege' Really Means by George Yancy and Naomi Zack
The term "white privilege" is misleading. A privilege is special treatment that goes beyond a right. It's not so much that being white confers privilege but that not being white means being without rights in many cases. Not fearing that the police will kill your child for no reason isn't a privilege. It's a right. But I think that is what "white privilege" is meant to convey, that whites don't have many of the worries nonwhites, especially blacks, do. I was talking to a white friend of mine earlier today. He has always lived in the New York City area. He couldn't see how the Michael Brown case had anything to do with him. I guess that would be an example of white privilege.November 16, 2014: Lost in Rawlsland by George Yancy and Charles Mills
Other examples of white privilege include all of the ways that whites are unlikely to end up in prison for some of the same things blacks do, not having to worry about skin-color bias, not having to worry about being pulled over by the police while driving or stopped and frisked while walking in predominantly white neighborhoods, having more family wealth because your parents and other forebears were not subject to Jim Crow and slavery. Probably all of the ways in which whites are better off than blacks in our society are forms of white privilege. In the normal course of events, in the fullness of time, these differences will even out. But the sudden killings of innocent, unarmed youth bring it all to a head.
In the case of race, we need to do various things, like exposing the racism of most of the important liberal theorists (such as Kant), asking what the actual color-coded (rather than sanitized for later public consumption) versions of their theories are saying (are blacks full persons for Kant, for example?), and how these racially partitioned norms justified a white-dominant colonial world. (See my "Kant and Race, Redux" in the forthcoming special issue on race and the history of philosophy of the Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal.) As I said above, we need to recognize and investigate the workings of racial liberalism/imperial liberalism, since this is the actual version of liberalism that has made the modern world and that, more subtly today, is continuing to help maintain its topography of illicit racialized privilege and disadvantage. In the title of one of my papers, we need to be "Liberalizing Illiberal Liberalism," a reconstruction of liberal theory.December 5, 2014: White Anxiety and the Futility of Black Hope by George Yancy and Shannon Sullivan
Class and poverty are real factors here, but they don't erase the effects of race and racism, at least not in the United States and not in a lot of other countries with histories (and presents) of white domination. The challenge philosophically and personally is to keep all the relevant factors in play in thinking about these issues. In that complex tangle, you hit the nail on the head when you said that black life continues to be valued as less. Poor white people's lives aren't valued for much either, but at least in their case it seems that something went wrong, that there was something of potential value that was lost.December 23, 2014: Black Lives: Between Grief and Action by George Yancy and Joy James
Let's put it even more bluntly: America is fundamentally shaped by white domination, and as such it does not care about the lives of black people, period. It never has, it doesn't now, and it makes me wonder about whether it ever will.
In a democracy, the implications for an ill-informed citizenry are grim. The recent tragedies remind us that this violence is sadly familiar to those who have a complex memory. We've grappled with racial animus and hatred from overseers, Klansmen and -women, police, segregationists, integrationists and various sectors of society from academia to athletics.Previous works by the interviewer and interviewees:
The implications of public servants and deputized vigilantes violating black life with impunity are profound, especially for young black people. We need to publicly debate whether it is just, moral, and appropriate, or even safe and sane, to believe in modern policing, given the fallibility, corruption and danger present in the institution. Police agencies have a history of racial bias and violence that has been investigated and condemned by governments as well as civil and human rights organizations. Citizens are supposed to flee or fight criminals, not the police. But reality teaches you that in black life you need to be ever vigilant for both.
· George Yancy's author page at Amazon
· Naomi Zack's author page at Amazon
· Charles W. Mills' author page at Amazon
· Shannon Sullivan's author page at Amazon
· Joy James' author page at Amazon
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