Black Lives Matter sends identity politics into a feeding frenzy but it only ends up chomping on itself. The argument here from Matthew Goodwin is simple: a collective sense of self is detrimental to an individual sense of self.
But that’s precisely the argument being Black Lives Matter, isn’t it? Capitalism’s tyranny of the individual has, for too long, ruled over the subjugated collective.
This is only problematic if you think individual subjectivity has supremacy over group consciousness, and that is already the default position of society at large. Strangely, Goodwin is exactly right about idpol — and this is why Black Lives Matter belongs distinctly to something other. It is the “White Lives Matter” crowd who drag it down into the muck of identity politics (read: “individual identity politics”). Because of this, Goodwin betrays a lack of critical reflection regarding this core aspect of the meaning of Black Lives Matter — the correct response to which is an ejection of capitalism’s constant stoking of competition.
Black Lives Matter is distinctly non-competitive. It demands an answer to a simple question: “Don’t we matter?” The collective nature of the retort is hard-baked into their standpoint due to the oppression faced. Individuals murdered at the hands of the police are not murdered for their individuality but because they are seen as “Black people”, i.e. a member of an ethnic group. Part of the oppression of Black lives is that this collective perspective is enforced — the foundation for any instance of profiling. The raising of Black group consciousness is, then, wholly necessary if Black lives are to combat the extent to which society declares “you are the bad ones.”
The irony of “White Lives Matter” is that this statement, in turn, responds defiantly to the implicit message of Black Lives Matter, betraying their blinkered perspective through such a hopelessly myopic misunderstanding of the stakes involved.
This is to say that “Black Lives Matter” declares we are not the bad ones. Proponents of “White Lives Matter”, who betray their racism by demonstrating they can only think in dualisms, are implicitly declaring: well, neither are we! And whitey doth protest too much, methinks, because this response does not emerge defiantly from an oppressed consciousness; it emerges from a consciousness not used to thinking of itself any differently.
Insert Mitchell and Webb meme:
Rather than skulls on hats, the attacks on our nations’ statues illustrate another part of the problem of capitalism. We may not march forth under an explicit banner of death but we do march uncritically under the tyranny of the individual — and many of these individuals have committed crimes against humanity; against the human collective.
All lives don’t matter if Black lives don’t matter — this is the message of BLM rendered most succinctly. But, beyond this, it is also true that all lives don’t matter so long as we retain our flawed devotion to individuals. This is the hypocrisy of London’s Parliament Square. There is an implicit sense that the statue of Winston Churchill, architect of the Bengal famine, is offset by his stone neighbour: Mahatma Ghandi. But in both instances, the championing of the individual covers over the facts: that Churchill killed millions whilst Ghandi fought for millions. But in each instance the deeper point is missed. We champion leaders, not lives, and this is implicitly a capitalist perspective. We champion business leaders, not workers. We declare that, on the few occasions when workers rise through the ranks to be leaders, this is evidence that we care about the mass. But we don’t. We care about individuals.
This is why names like George Floyd float to the top. But Floyd has not been championed because he is exceptional but because he represents a statistic. In fact, it is as an individual that he is denounced. He wasn’t a leader in his community. He wasn’t a figure to rally behind. So why should we rally behind him? But the denouncing of Floyd’s individual character only further highlights the extent to which they miss the point. George Floyd, in the moment of his death, was not George Floyd, he was a Black man. And it is Black lives that matter.