A banner reading ‘White Lives Matter Burnley!’ was towed by an aeroplane over the Etihad Stadium during Burnley’s game against Manchester City. The plane circled over the stadium five times just after kick-off after players and staff had ‘taken the knee‘ in support of the Black Lives Matter movement moments earlier.
Predictably, the reaction to this was vitriolic. ‘Offensive’, ‘disgusting’, and ‘racist’ were some of the terms being spat out by a triggered populace. The perpetrator needed to be ‘banned for life’ and subjected to a ‘police investigation’, so went the social media mantras.
Offensive and disgusting to not have a comma before the vocative ‘Frank‘, but that’s as far as most discerning people would go.
As far as the Black Lives Matter debate went, the reaction was a stunning example of lost bearings.
I can understand the ‘disappointed’ and ‘sad’ responses. Disappointed and sad that there is still a long way to go before the message behind the protests gets through. These were the only measured voices of the night, who all understand that change is a country mile away. For all the noise and hullaballoo, we as a society are still where we were four weeks ago. A few cosmetic touch-ups maybe, but that is the extent of it.
So, about the banner? Yes, it is perfectly reasonable to deduce that phrases such as ‘All Lives Matter’ and ‘White Lives Matter’ reflect a lack of understanding of the present context. So that begs a few questions about the people who utter them. Are these folk not the pieces in the inequality puzzle whose lack of empathy facilitates injustice? Should we not be helping them to understand? Should we not be educating them?
Alas, that is not happening. We have only venom and the apt analogies and memes that pervade social media. These do illustrate the points pithily but only to the people who would doubtless already be in accord. Yet preaching to the converted is not spreading the word. And spreading the word is exactly what this should be about.
Our racist cohorts know the game well. They have absolutely appraised the context, which is why they put up their counter-slogans. In doing so, they steer the ambivalent towards the everyday meaning of words, and thereby away from the cogent arguments. And this is the strategy which, if unaddressed, will spike the momentum of BLM. It is the one that, in appealing to semantic logic, keeps the inactive, well, inactive.
In labelling the banner ‘racist’, our fake, woke wonders have stumbled into the greatest trap. They have unwittingly positioned the BLM ethos as wild, unthinking race-carding. The masses who are unschooled on the context will now see the protesters as having one massive chip on their collective shoulder. The far-right are good at this game and excel in stimulating attitudes. It is power without attaining power.
If we want to talk about those who ‘do not get it‘, we might lump into that group those who thought that by faking some gestures, offering up some platitudes and pretending to empathise, the problems were going to go away. These people are as much part of the problem as those who do not give inequality a second thought. If systemic racism is to be eradicated, the process will feel manifestly uncomfortable. It won’t be delivered by dropping to one knee and throwing a hissy fit because one guy out there disagreed. And if they never expected dissent, they would likely not have felt the need to be make their gesture in the first instance.
But they need to up their game. ‘Offensive’, ‘disgusting‘, and ‘racist’ sound the kind of reaction of people who just do not have any arguments. It smacks of playground name-calling. Surely the plane incident was a time to re-iterate the case? After all, what counter argument could there be against racial equality?
Talk about missing an open goal. Another missed chance to take the protests forward and to embed it into a new way of thinking. But most of the ‘offended’ and ‘disgusted’ do not have any arguments. They have never been engaged with the issues and are hardly engaged now. They are engaged with the moment. They are feeding off it.
But they are simply those who have been propping up the apparatuses of inequality for decades and who are vitriolic in their outbursts in order to deflect from their own culpability and to be someone. And accordingly, their debating position is as empty as the racists whose goal is to maintain an imbalance of status and rights. The hand-wringing fakers are the ones who have all but guaranteed inequalities in society through their ambivalence and inaction.
The person who pulled the stunt likely wanted a reaction, and they certainly got it. Perhaps they simply need to be educated. And if the latter is the case, then kindergarten name-calling isn’t going to cut it. There is no magic wand for this one.
The only outrage today should be at those who have allowed the potential for serious debate to vanish into a sinkhole of empty vitriol. It has all now become slogan vs slogan. To win an argument, you make the case – no matter how obvious the injustice. It’s painful and it demands hard work to alter perspectives.
It is not just the guy who commissioned the banner who needs to be educated. It is every person who today has offered up faux outrage. And if their outrage is genuine, they just don’t understand the challenges ahead or appreciate their role in addressing them.
It is not dissimilar to the 2016 referendum. All those people who held that the case for Remain was so obvious that they never needed to make the case. Brexit happened while Remainers postured and wallowed in their own self-righteousness and allowed the debate to descend into a moshpit of emotive slogans.
And that is the essential takeaway. Racists may have counter-slogans, but they do not have counter-arguments. Open up the debate, and they will sink. If everybody stays in the zone where insult-trading is the stock-in-trade, those pressing for equality will lose. Nobody wins the battle, but the racists win the war because the status quo is their preference.
At the moment, the slacktivists and the hangers-on are the ones who are circling five times over society with their banner and pretty soon, unless they ditch their posturing in favour of committed action, they’ll be gone too.