Some people on the Internet seem to be confused. “In the aftermath of 12 people being tragically shot for no reason in Dallas,” they wonder, “how will Black Lives Matter be able to continue being upset about people getting tragically shot for no reason in other places?”
“How will the Black Lives Matter movement square its criticism of police with this deadly shooting of five police officers?” It doesn’t seem hard. Its agenda is “people don’t deserve to be shot for no reason” and that the category of “people who don’t deserve to be shot for no reason” explicitly includes black people.
There’s no contradiction here.
Other people are busy being eloquent with grief and rage, but I can at least make some analogies to help explain why this line of thinking is bad. There is such a thing as constructive criticism.
It’s like if you said, “I want ice cream machines not to malfunction and kill people,” and then everyone said, “So, you hate ice cream machines?” No. You just want the ice cream machine to do its job, and not kill people. You are not opposed to what it is supposed to be doing, just to what it is actually doing. You are all for it doing what it is supposed to do! What it is supposed to do is great!
Or to take another analogy, do you remember when Cabbage Patch dolls used to malfunction and scalp children by accident? If you said, “Hey, I don’t think Cabbage Patch dolls should be scalping children, maybe we should figure this out before giving them to kids,” no one would turn around and say, “Why do you hate Cabbage Patch dolls? Why don’t you want Cabbage Patch dolls to exist?” They would say, “That’s right! Nobody wants that! That is terrible! Let’s fix them so that we can give them to our kids!”
“Let’s fix this so I feel comfortable having it around my kid” is a very different sentiment from “I hate this!”
And this goes further.
When you say that something could be better, or that it is not living up to what it promised, you are not saying you hate it. If, for instance, President Obama points out that we have a problem with racially motivated fear and violence, he is not inciting violence and saying that he hates America. He is doing the exact opposite of that.
If any time someone said to me, “I think you could be doing a better job,” I responded, “Why do you hate me?” my mother and I would have no relationship at all.
But to many people, it can sound like that. “There are too many things we do not wish to know about ourselves,” as James Baldwin wrote.
I always get unreasonably irritated when people tell me that I have toilet paper stuck to my shoe. I shouldn’t. They didn’t put it there. But until they told me that it was there, I was under the pleasurable delusion that I was not walking around with toilet paper on my shoe. They have robbed me of the delusion, and this upsets me.
Being told that you aren’t living up to your own standards is an uncomfortable thing. If you think you are giving everyone apples, and it turns out that you have been giving a sizable percentage of the population dead rats tied with ribbons instead, that is an unpleasant thing to discover about yourself. So a lot of the anger in America now resembles the anger that you have at your mirror. “This isn’t what I look like,” you say. “I look much better than that.” It hurts to realize that the only reason you thought you didn’t have wrinkles was because the lighting was poor. But it’s not the fault of the light.
A great deal of our self-esteem is dependent upon not fully seeing ourselves. But the first step, as they say, is admitting you have a problem. You don’t have to pretend that America was better than it was to insist that it can be better than it is.
To point out that America has a problem with race, or that our police forces are not living up to the ideals we set for them is not to say you hate America or hate the police. You’re saying that you really like America as a concept, that the ideas that animate this country — free speech, free assembly, being created equal — are wonderful ideas and worthy of belief. You’re saying that we need to stop America from malfunctioning, so we can give it to our kids. Even if the malfunction has been there as long as we have, you’re saying there’s hope.
There is no contradiction in that, either.