When the Music Stops
Most liberal discourse about Black Lives Matter seems to me to fall short. The reason Black lives matter, the logic often goes, is that inequality is unfair, and the solution is to grant equal access to the fruits of the existing system. Having been excluded, people of color suffer the consequences — hunger, poverty, lack of education, the sense that they don’t belong — so inclusion in the system is the key to making an unfair system fair.
Yet is it enough to include excluded people in a system built on privilege — an exclusionary system, whose very nature is to have an underclass? Don’t we risk playing “musical chairs,” in which someone’s always left without a chair? Or must the system be reimagined to change the outcome when the music stops?
What if our system, that acts to exclude, is by its very nature unjust? What if our system, with its capitalist legacy of unbridled competition, requires outlier classes in order to keep it going for the privileged rest of us? Yet, what if our only future is a system in which no one is excluded — and which depends upon listening to the wisdom of those who have suffered the plight of exclusion?
The truth that “Black Lives Matter” should be as obvious as any truth we know. Yet, from conservative retorts that “all lives matter” which strive to silence those who plead for racial justice, to liberal assertions that fail to recognize what we will have to give up, our entitled arguments can serve to perpetuate the injustice of the system, becoming hypocritical excuses for not doing something about it. So, the question remains: what has to change to make good on our claim that Black Lives Matter?
Satirist Fran Liebowitz observes, “The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting.” What may be missing from our liberal discourse is the silence of white privileged voices — long enough to listen to those have suffered exclusion at the system’s expense. Let us listen to our leaders of color, in their astonishing generosity, that together we might come through this desolate time into the light of tomorrow.