After protests and violent riots erupted across the country in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, many resorted to the familiar attempt to segregate people into one of two categories - the good and the bad. Unfortunately, the American propensity for categorizing individuals by immutable characteristics results in descension into arguments over irreconcilable differences, promoting nothing but further division and hatred.
For some, the protests and riots were conflated as an equally valid expression of rage in the face of systemic racism and vicious police brutality. For others, they were seen as an opportunistic excuse to justify violence, destruction, and looting.
For some, Black Lives Matter is an entirely just cause, fighting against the perception that black lives are seen as less valuable in the eyes of law enforcement or general society. For others, Black Lives Matter is seen as a violent political activist group who judge the validity or invalidity of deaths solely by the racial characteristics of the victim and alleged perpetrator, while simultaneously ignoring a multitude of politically-inconvenient victims and politically-inconvenient perpetrators.
For some, All Lives Matter is built solely upon the refusal to acknowledge the notion of racism at any level in our society, or the existence of individual racists. For others, it is the acknowledgement that every innocent life that is lost is an avoidable tragedy which should be equally condemned, regardless of political implications.
The problem is that there are elements of truth and falsehood in every categorization, with a broad spectrum of positions in the ideological No Man’s Land which exists in between. However, with the destruction of nuance, objectivity, and respect, the extreme viewpoints are the only positions given any oxygen in our vicious political arena.
The Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter movements should be arguing in favor of the same objective - the prevention of the destruction of innocent life. Instead, both sides are deliberately misinterpreted to solidify the division. Black Lives Matter becomes a movement which sees every police officer as a figure of racial injustice, and All Lives Matter becomes a movement which dismisses the notion that any single police officer is guilty of wrongdoing with racist intent.
Such binary categorization is the foundation of the very racism which many claim to abhor. While this foundation remains in place, nothing will change. Until we see people as individuals and judge their actions and choices accordingly, we will be incapable of achieving justice for those who fall victim to racial violence. Until we see people as individuals, we will be unable to separate the protesters from the rioters, the genuine activists from the political opportunists, or the consistent anti-racists from the sporadic anti-racists.
This past weekend was one of the worst in recent American history. However, through the smoke and the blood and the rage shone the moral righteousness that is at the heart of the American spirit. People of all races, all genders, and all backgrounds came together to protest peacefully and voice their valid opinions. They came together to decry the violence and protect businesses and police officers from violent attacks. They even volunteered to clean the streets in the mornings after the violence had temporarily subsided. These people didn’t share a skin color or a political affiliation, but they did share a common compassion and empathy for their neighbors, exemplifying what it means to be an American.
The toxicity of binary ideology is poisoning our country’s very core. Instead of acknowledging the broad and virtually unanimous position that racism is deplorable, it is seen as one of America’s most reliable political footballs. Politicians rush to blame their opponents, the media rush to focus on the worst amongst us, and we rush to categorize ourselves and our opponents as the entirely “good” or the entirely “bad.” Meanwhile, racism continues unchallenged.
Instead, let’s focus on where we agree. Let’s focus on what should be our common goal. Let’s focus on moving forward together in the objective fight against racist individuals, rather than allowing the fight against “systemic” racism to be hijacked by the politically hypocritical who only seek to fuel further hatred, division, and violence.
Judging those around us solely by skin color is racist, and we will never end racism with racism.