Why Martin O’Malley is missing the point
A few days ago, Democratic Presidential candidate Martin O’Malley tried to respond well to the questions of a crowd of Black Lives Matter demonstrators. The keyword here is tried, but perhaps I am still being too generous.
This is what O’Malley said:
“Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter.”
Here are three reasons why this was a disastrous move.
- He generalized the issue of injustice.
O’Malley was spot on until he said that White lives matter. While it is true that White lives matter and that all lives matter, it is also beside the point.
It is obvious that White lives matter; what is more difficult to believe in our country is that Black lives matter—hence the need for a campaign to remind ourselves and everyone else that we do matter and that our suffering cannot be thrown cavalierly into the catchall bucket of social wrongs.
The point of Black Lives Matter is that Black people specifically suffer disproportionate violence at the hands of the criminal justice system and receive disproportionately lower wages as compared to Whites in similar professions. By saying that “all lives matter,” O’Malley ignored the specific suffering of Blacks.
- He promoted a color-blind lie.
By saying that “all lives matter,” O’Malley exposed his allegiance to the false doctrine of color-blindness. By saying that “all lives matter,” O’Malley implied that he would ignore the issue of race if he took office. Black lives, for O’Malley, fall under the great levelling umbrella of “all lives,” where they will rest hidden from view and, therefore, make no progress.
Color-blindness is the belief that race no longer matters in our country. It is the enemy of the Black Lives Matter campaign, whose very name calls out Blackness as its central concern. Color-blindness such as O’Malley’s is subtle and insidious; it tries to take the Black out of Black Lives Matter—sucking out its blood and soul—and hide racial injustice with false inclusivity.
- He didn’t listen.
When O’Malley said, “all lives matter,” he showed that he was not listening to what the demonstrators were saying. Again, their point was that Black Lives Matter specifically; and O’Malley missed it.
O’Malley was busy trying to be a candidate for all races. But in doing so, he tacitly made himself a candidate not for Black people. Democracy is supposed to be rule of the demos, the common people, but the ideal is useless if representatives do not hear what the people are saying.
A title, a microphone, and a platform make our leaders feel entitled to speak. But they ought to act less entitled to speak and more privileged to listen.
Thoughts for the Day
Let’s suppose O’Malley stopped at “Yes, Black lives matter. Yes, I will support the cause of Black people,” and didn’t say anything else. What would have happened? Would he have lost the vote of color-blind White Americans? What if he said, “Yes, I’ll work to end systemic injustice because I am a candidate for Black people.”
What would have happened?