The ouroborous effect: what is productive activism?


author: nick giokascontributor

Credit: Dorret via Flickr

See, the underlying issues with BLM aren’t just with BLM, they’re global ones.

Black Lives Matter has quickly established itself as the seminal social movement in America in this decade, and with fame comes both success and shortcomings. In the past month, we saw a perfect example of this balancing act between these successes and shortcomings in Tulsa and Charlotte. Black Lives Matter (BLM for short) had risen to the international stage with such velocity due mostly in part to its decentralized nature; anyone could start a chapter, or BLM movement, where they saw injustice; however, BLM’s rise to prominence has proven to be an example of a modern Ouroboros: a snake devouring its own tail.

For every victory BLM has, they’re met with another defeat, and there is no better example of this than that of Tulsa and Charlotte. On the one hand you have BLM pressuring a police department to be accountable to the people, bringing justice for an innocent man gunned down by police, and bringing a nation’s attention to the plight of those who are held back in their pursuit of a better life.

In Charlotte, we saw the snake eat its tail: a man wielding a gun, who had a history of violent felonies (and was therefore facing jail time for the possession of that weapon), was shot by police. By all means, a justified shooting, and yet Charlotte burned. The prime issue surrounding BLM is that for many people the straightforward question of “are you for or against BLM?” can’t be met with an honest, straightforward answer because of the decentralized nature of the BLM movement. The only valid answer there can be is: “Which BLM do you mean?”

Now, don’t get me wrong, the positives of the BLM movement are overwhelmingly and undeniably positive: too often, and for far too long, whites in America and Canada have refused to acknowledge the fact that racism is alive and well. Minorities are faced with situations and circumstances that are, at every level, unfair. Whether it be the in your face racism of outright discrimination or the more insidious racism of treating white as “normal” and anything else as “outside the norm.” BLM has done a fantastic job of calling into question what we in North America consider “normal.” They’ve brought to light the horrendous oppression wrought by institutions, such as the police, and individuals as well. The only issue is that signal, which we all ought to listen to, gets lost in the noise.

BLM has always been a decentralized movement and the issues with this setup became apparent from the get go. As with any decentralized movement, there is always going to be the danger of those with extreme views hijacking the movement and shifting the dialogue away from a constructive one to a dangerously reductive one. We’ve reached the point where every police shooting is considered to be unjustified in the eyes of many. The biggest issue with BLM is that through its nature it has legitimized and normalized a dangerous amount of cognitive dissonance. The shooting in Charlotte was justified, yet people still go through outrageous mental gymnastics to argue why it wasn’t. The unfortunate truth is that due to the leaderless nature of BLM, a culture of toxicity has taken root. It’s now a common occurrence to hear the chant: “What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want it? Now!” at BLM protests. What’s more BLM has become an open recruiting ground for Black Supremacist groups such as the Black Hebrew Israelites and the Nation of Islam. Now, this isn’t meant to try and downplay or hand-wave away the accomplishments of BLM but rather to draw attention to a very real and urgent problem with political discourse in the present day.

See, the underlying issues with BLM aren’t just with BLM, they’re global ones. We’ve reached a point where we don’t face reality, but instead insulate ourselves in fiction generated by our peers. Rather than wait for the facts many people simply jump straight to outlandish conspiracy theories circulating on social media. Whether it be issues on race, economics, or foreign policy there is a dangerous trend of eschewing debate and dialogue for self-gratified anger.

This isn’t a new issue, but we’re continually refusing to come to terms with it; instead we continue to divide ourselves and devote our time to a bizarre, amorphous game of political point-scoring where there are only ever two sides to a given issue. Personally, I refuse to accept that, so while I’m overjoyed by the very real victories brought about by BLM, I firmly believe that we need to keep its extremist elements in check.

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