Your Words Matter


 Of course blue lives matter. Of course all lives matter. Just don’t say it that way, or use those words on a t-shirt or bumper sticker, unless you want to announce to the world that you think blacks are second-class citizens, and should shut up now and accept their place as permanent suspects in American society.

Because that is what you are really saying when you respond to a legitimate movement with words clearly designed to negate or belittle it.

Words have meaning, and the contexts in which they are used have meaning. The same is true of images and symbols. As an aside, I’ll give you an example.

I do not, and likely never will, display the American flag on my home, car, or clothes.

I must hate my country, right?

Wrong. I like my country. Sometimes I love it. Sometimes it disappoints me. I don’t believe in nationalism, or American exceptionalism, and I do think some countries do certain things better overall than we do, but dammit, I was born here and I live here and I’ll stand up for it in many ways. (Constitutional freedoms and protections: Yes. US World Cup team: Yes. Most wars: No.) I also love its many great cities and its beautiful mountains and lakes and seashore—and its wonderfully diverse people. I don’t think I’d be as happy in Russia, or wherever it is conservatives tell liberals to go and live these days.

But none of that has much to do with why I would never fly the American flag. The reason is, I understand its symbolic meaning. So do most people, whether they realize it or not.

For as long as I can remember, the Republican Party has claimed to be the party of patriotism while portraying their opponents and critics as being soft on communism (then) and terrorism (now). They claim to be on the side of God and country and family values. They wave their flags and talk about making America great again. And they blame tree-huggin’ war-protestin’ welfare-cheatin’ gay-lovin’ Black Lives Matterin’ liberals for the nation’s supposed moral decay.

It doesn’t matter how wrong or hypocritical they may be. It does matter that they have succeeded in associating the display of the American flag with right-wing beliefs and bluster and intolerance. In my opinion, that is the tone of the message that displaying the flag sends. I don’t identify with that, so I wouldn’t fly a flag. That’s all. No disres7pect to you, United States of America.

Back to Black Lives Matter, a protest movement that sprang up when the epidemic of police shootings of unarmed black men became too much to bear any longer without speaking up. A young black man is 21 times more likely to be killed by police than his white counterpart, according to a ProPublica study of more than 30 years of statistics reported to the FBI by local police departments. Because the numbers are self-reported, and many departments don’t report at all, the disparity could be worse.

In any case, the statistics validate the anecdotal narrative we see played out over and over in the news: Police kill unarmed blacks with frightening regularity, perhaps because the ones who pull the triggers know they will almost always get away with it, and also, perhaps, because they harbor an irrational fear that all black men are inherently dangerous. Whatever the reasons, it is an epidemic, and trying to cure it needs to be a national priority.

The Black Lives Matter movement is a lot of people, black and white, saying enough is enough. Hard evidence supports the need for this movement. To counter with “All Lives Matter” or “Blue Lives Matter” is just a way of saying you don’t support the Black Lives Matter movement—and that deaths of innocent blacks are the acceptable collateral damage of robust law enforcement. If your cause really needs a movement, maybe you can come up with an original slogan that isn’t just a smack in the face to an entire race.


Have you shared a fake news story on Facebook today?

If you’re a Facebook user, you should be aware by now how many fake (or extremely distorted) news stories are pinging around the Internet—stories to discredit Democrats, stories to discredit Republicans, stories appearing to discredit Democrats but actually meant to discredit Republicans for being so outrageously false, etc., etc. And of course, wacky and sensational stories that don’t shape opinions so much as they fatten some geek’s bank account because they get so many shares and click-throughs. I don’t know if this by-product of user-driven content will affect this election in any discernable way, but it has never been this bad, has it?

Facebook has tried, and failed miserably, to dam this flood. And for the really gullible people who actually believe Obama was born in Kenya to Muslim parents from Mars, and that Hillary is sending drones out to confiscate your guns and poisoning your water supply with drugs that will turn your children gay, what will this mean after the election when the crazies are looking for reasons to start an armed insurrection?

All I know is, something is terribly wrong when a story from Fox News looks refreshingly credible.

Copyright 2016 Stephen Leon


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