“WHITE LIVES MATTER” is a badge of overarching conservative beliefs; it’s overstatement risks slipping into racism proper; and it [unwittingly] plays into the hands of the atrociously backwards belief that we are defined by our biology. Because it uses race as a pivot point for partisan politics, to the degree that it attempts to alleviate presumed overemphasis on race issues, it ends up trivializing it.
I will start off with a confession. My immediate emotional response to this provocative stunt was a sigh of relief. One gets tired of being cast as the perpetual villain who deserves to be maligned, disenfranchised, ridiculed, and belittled as his just deserts. But that only lasted a few seconds before I wrestled the stunt into perspective. While there may be some overlap between my own feelings, and what Kanye and Candice are supporting, I am not in league with their overarching shared world view and agenda. They are card-carrying members of the conservative party, and the words on their shirts are symbolic beyond what they literally state. Taken on its own, WHITE LIVES MATTER is already a dramatic overstatement as compared to the more subtle IT’S OK TO BE WHITE of years ago, but it is additionally part of an agenda that includes anti-abortion; climate change denial; pro-Trumpism; and tax-cuts for the rich and big corporations… It’s a package deal, and I’m not comfortable at all with the slogan taken completely on its own.
I’m not a card-carrying member of anything, except my bank. I have no heroes or role models. I’m having to figure things out on my own and cut my own path. I’m not a part of a pyramid scheme where I get kick-backs for promoting beliefs that benefit some rich benefactor, corporation, political party, or special interest. The conservative agenda strikes me as a crutch, much like the liberal one, because both provide all the answers and tell you precisely what to believe, and either belief system ultimately leads down the path to electing this or that party and individuals to seats of power. Conservativism and liberalism have become locked to political parties, and hence have metamorphosed into partisan belief systems serving power. Ones apperception of reality should not be dictated from above by self-interested elites whose overriding goal is to remain in power and enrich themselves. I reject the conservative platform [just as I reject the liberal one]. But here I will address the slogan of WHITE LIVES MATTER.
The big problem with it is that it inverts BLACK LIVES MATTER! That’s a mistake. It has built into it the [unintended] possible reading of, “No, black lives don’t matter, white lives do”. It becomes an argument over which lives matter. The old ALL LIVES MATTER was a lot safer in this regard, though, as we know, both ALL LIVES MATTER and IT’S OK TO BE WHITE were considered white supremacist slogans and hate speech.
The confusion here is between what the slogans literally state, what they symbolize, and how they are being used for what ends [and those ends always include who gets to be in seats of power]. All of the statements: BLACK LIVES MATTER, WHITE LIVES MATTER, ALL LIVES MATTER, and IT’S OK TO BE WHITE are on the face of it unarguably true. You can’t, for example, flip them without making them into patently immoral claims, ex., WHITE LIVES DON’T MATTER. So, understanding the statements is all about how they are being used, and by whom, and for what ends. Unfortunately, those ends are inevitably hijacked by political parties to serve their own self-interest. The whole context of who and what the slogans serve is a morass that is beyond the scope of this article, or my mind at present, to begin to address, in which case I will primarily try to address the ideas inherent to the slogans themselves.
Let’s start with the comparatively low-hanging fruit of IT’S OK TO BE WHITE. This is not as complicated as WHITE LIVES MATTER because it doesn’t explicitly address BLACK LIVES MATTER and is not inextricable from conservatism and republicanism. It was a “troll” act designed to reveal that in society it was not considered OK to be white. Some may object to that, but I doubt anyone would argue that whiteness hadn’t been on trial of late, or that there was some moral condemnation of the history of whites on the world stage. It could be argued that it was implicitly not OK to be white because whites were defined as culpable for historical and present wrongs including slavery, colonialism, white supremacy, and police brutality against black men. Further, whites came to be portrayed in popular culture as “fragile”, undeservedly privileged, culture-less, parasitical, uncool, clueless, but somehow diabolically clever and manipulative, and hence, in a word, evil. “Who done it” films became predictable because the bad guy would always to turn out to be the white male. Whites became the new “evil other”. People sipped from mugs that said, “KILL ALL WHITE MEN”, and those sentiments were considered progressively provocative, even if on the face of them they were sadistically cruel. How could it be OK to be culpable for slaughtering black men in the street, not to mention the genocide of indigenous peoples at home and across the globe?!
I think there was a real sense that some white people were trying to let themselves off the hook, in which case there was also a reciprocal sense that white people were being put on a hook. Some would maintain that to a large degree the working class whites of today are being held accountable for the sins of the aristocracy of the antebellum South, regardless of their own ancestry. Additionally, there is a case that the notion of white privilege very conveniently serves as a decoy for the incontestable, astronomical, and ever increasing power and privilege of the billionaire class with private jets, ivy league educations, political ties, power, influence, and summer homes on Martha’s Vineyard. Others might still point out that there is only an emphasis on the wrongs that are associated with whites, there’s exaggeration on a grand scale, and somehow every white person must bear the burden of the entirety of it. While a white child born tomorrow could be excused from culpability because obviously it has nothing to do with anything that happened even a day ago, and it would be ridiculous to blame a baby for anything, miraculously that same person would end up bearing the full yoke of the burden for the distant past once they reached adulthood. One body cannot take responsibility for the actions of another, across time and space, merely because they are similar in appearance. THAT is properly known as a scapegoat.
All of the LIVES MATTER beliefs, including those of Candice and Kanye, end up substantiating defining human beings by their biology, even when they are well-intentioned, and are vehemently opposed to how people have been defined by biology in the past. All racism and sexism are rooted in essentialism, which is the notion that you are your biology, and nothing more. Once you are defined as your biology, all sorts of conclusions can then be attached to you, good or bad. THAT is not only backwards, but insipid.
To say that there are WHITE or BLACK lives is a falsehood. Life has no color. This is not to deny that historically, and even presently, people have been brutally and atrociously oppressed, suppressed, enslaved, abused and tortured merely because of their biology and whatever deleterious traits the perpetrators in question attached to it. I am against all forms of racism, sexism, and discrimination based on biology! Rather, it is to say that your thoughts, decisions, and actions throughout your life are what define you, because those are the only things where you had any choice in the matter. To judge someone by their biology rather than their mind is as shallow as judging a card player by the hand they were dealt rather than by their playing ability. As I put in in a post in the past, we are not the avatar, we are the invisible player.
The body is a set of circumstances the immaterial mind finds itself in, along with all the others one has no choice in at the onset of life: where one lives, family, culture, potential opportunities, etc. It is very curious to consider at what point we become accountable for our own being. We have nothing to do with our biology, that we were born at all, the language that we speak, or the underlying mechanisms that even make language possible. Is a grain of sand on the beach somehow independent of the beach? Can I truly take ownership of anything that I think, or say, or do? If so, how and when did I become such an independent force in the universe? This is the dichotomy of our existence: we are a tiny reflection of the overwhelming physical and historical imperative of the entire universe, and yet somehow we experience at every moment that we have choices and are independent.
It is the nature of consciousness itself — which, incidentally, science cannot locate — that it is free from the laws of physics. The brain is firmly an object in the universe, and corporeally inextricable from physical laws. The mind, however, exists in an immaterial ether of consciousness where independent decisions can be made. This is the burden of being human. We have the ability to choose, and hence to influence and affect the environments in which we live. This awesome power is what defines us, and how we use it is how we should be evaluated. Judging us by our bodies reduces us to the status of insects. And so saying someone is a WHITE or BLACK life other than for rhetorical purposes, or for sheer convenience in a limited sense, is counterproductive and anti-human. Surely, we should define ourselves by our most elevated, powerful, and individual trait, which is our conscious minds, and not merely by the shell in which they are housed. And even more undeniably, we should be defined by that which we have had a choice in, and a lifetime of choices made, rather than that which we had no choice in at all, and which was decided for us before we were even born.
The easiest way to think about this — if we could disassociate it from religious context — is to think of people as invisible souls rather than visible bodies. The soul is an excellent metaphor for the immaterial, colorless, gender-less, conscious mind. The soul need not be immortal or God-given. Unquestionably, we have a conscious mind that can and does make independent choices, and it is an experiential, subjective, and immaterial phenomenon (even if absolutely tied to material biology].
Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine a diabolical scientific experiment in which a brain transplant is performed between Candice Owens and Tucker Carlson. The day after the successful surgery, who is the real Candice? Is it her body with Tucker’s brain? Or is it Tucker’s body with her brain? If the answer isn’t obvious, we could try talking to them. The real Candice is now in Tucker Carlson’s body. And the reason we would come to this conclusion is that we know the mind is what really defines us. A lifetime of experience and actions with consequences in the world is who we are, not just the frame we were born in. In fact, that frame is known to us chiefly through our minds and memories.
Seeing people as their bodies is easy and convenient, and sometimes almost impossible to overcome. But it is also patently stupid, and denies our real nature and humanity. This is not to say that it is necessarily wrong or dumb for someone to forefront their biology in a political arena when they feel that they have been discriminated against, or conversely advantaged, because of their biology. There is a sense in which saying something like, “as an indigenous person” addresses a whole set of very powerful circumstances an individual soul finds themselves in. It is entirely relevant to discuss how people are contextualized by their biology, without fixing them indelibly to assumptions, good or bad, about their biology.
I’m confident that there’s nobody who finds that they like, or identity with, everyone who looks just like themselves. People often can’t stand their own family members. What really matters is ridiculously simple once you remove the obfuscation of political manipulation. Is someone being a good or bad person? And this must be based on nothing other than their own independent decisions and actions in the world.
If we are not judging people on an individual basis, that’s a red flag that we are discriminating one way or another. If we treat people as souls rather than bodies, and judge by actions rather than birth certificates, then that is an antidote to every kind of racism, sexism and discrimination. The people who object to this may find that there is one group or another who they want to oppress, take advantage of, extract benefit from, take revenge on, or otherwise sacrifice for their own personal gain. It is an attempt to delimit and encapsulate people, to effectually amputate their souls and treat them as livestock, at which point leading them to slaughter is all the more palatable.
WHITE LIVES MATTER is far more about hammering home a complete conservative agenda — while ostensibly countering the overemphasis of the left — than about countering overreaching rhetoric from the left, or alleviating artificially ramped up racial tension, otherwise it need not be attached obliquely to partisan politics and who sits in the seat of power [and who gets kickbacks for supporting them and the powerful institutions and corporations they represent]. In overstating its case via inverting BLACK LIVES MATTER it is too divisive, when division and ideology are themselves core culprits in all of today’s racial discord.
If I think of people as their own subjective experience, and as radiant souls [the upwelling energy of conscious awareness as it fills the otherwise void universe with being] then we have something extraordinarily special and powerful in common that transcends race, gender, and age. Each of us is a subjective lifetime of experience. If I think of people as bodies, then they are reduced to animals, mere external and finite objects on the landscape, and all the easier to dismiss and disregard.
I tried to think of a clever slogan to replace WHITE LIVES MATTER. It’s very hard to redress BLACK LIVES MATTER without implicitly aligning oneself with conservatives and their agenda. But I think I found it.
INVISIBLE SOULS MATTER
That’s got all sorts of problems, too, if one hasn’t just read this post, so don’t quote me on that. Obviously, the original BLACK LIVES MATTER slogan meant that if black people were killed, nobody cared, and their lives didn’t matter, in which case there was need to assert that black lives DO matter. But I think even in the context of BLACK LIVES MATTER some might agree that one would be less inclined to use excessive force against someone who one saw as a soul not unlike oneself, rather than as a body that was essentially different than ones own. If one wants to free oneself from being defined by the body, and assigned inherent traits, it doesn’t help to insist that some other group is defined by appearance, and automatically harbors negative characteristics. While race, class, gender, culture, age, able bodied-ness, sexual preference, and so on all are significant and contribute to ones identity, the concept of what a human being is should not be reduced essentially to any one of those things. Theoretically, optimistically speaking, if we recognized our fellow humans as radiant souls, just like ourselves, there wouldn’t be a need to assert that any differentiable group matters, or is OK, or isn’t.
As always, this is my subjective opinion at the moment. I wrote this in one sitting with a couple cups of coffee [but ended up going back and editing it throughout the day]. I may change my mind tomorrow on some aspects of this. And if I’m wrong, then I am only wrong until I correct my mistake, and it’s an opportunity for me to expand my horizons.
6 replies on “Runaway Rant: Candice and Kanye’s WHITE LIVES MATTER attire goes too far and misses the point”
What a great article, thank you! A few things would come to mind, but your article already contains enough material 🙂
BTW: By the way, I see some Taoist thoughts in your article and wonder if that was your intention.
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Thanks, Friedrich. Not deliberately Taoist, but I have explored some Eastern philosophy in the past, and there’s a lot of overlap between various strains. Say, I may want to take another look at Taoism. Cheers.
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Another slogan could have been: Guns are for Killing. The 600 US police officers killed on duty in 2021 included . The sore point is the 100 million guns that are circulating in the US. That is the problem that has to be addressed. That is the source of the apparent trigger happiness among law enforcement. That is the source of all mass shootings and most gun related crimes. It’s true that criminals will always find ways to procure guns. But at least some frustrated idiot with a nervous break down wouldn’t be able to put his hands on it without having criminal connections and deep pockets. Making gun possession a felony and reason for immediate arrest would be a step into the good direction.
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Gun control is a bit of a separate but related issue I didn’t want to get into. Also there’s a lot of nitty-gritty political analysis about data of how many people are killed by cops by demographic, and the causes of that which I also didn’t want to get into. Those topics need a lot of stats, and references, and are even more heated.
So, I just wanted to discuss the broader notion of what a human really is, and that we can’t be defined by characteristics like race without trivializing us.
Just between us, and anyone who reads this, I tend to agree with you about guns.
Indeed, a very good piece, thanks Eric. And I am European, so perhaps my reaction is all the more honest, since we are not THAT intensely confronted with the black/white dichotomy, because we are busy hating each other within the confinements of our identical skin color.
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Ha, ha, ha, ha. Yes, it really just comes down to who people are as individuals.
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