“Black lives matter” is a simple statement of fact. Black lives matter. It doesn’t offer any additional explicit meaning.
So if you think it means anything other than simply the lives of black people matter, you’re inferring.
For example, you’re inferring if you you think “Black Lives Matter” really means black lives matter but other lives don’t, or black lives matter more than other lives.
And you’re inferring incorrectly.
What evidence or reasoning are you inferring from?
Here’s what we have to base our inferences on:
- The meaning implied when people use the statement
- The context in which people use the statement
- The people who use the statement
- Our own preconceptions
The meaning implied when people use the statement
Obviously when people use a symbolic statement, they’re typically implying more than the explicit meaning within the statement. (Because powerful symbolic statements must be short and catchy, so they can’t say much explicitly, and instead usually tap into an undercurrent of social sentiment.)
So what are people implying when they say “Black Lives Matter”? Well, from all I’ve seen, they’ve been very clear. They’ve consistently said they’re implying the American judicial system does not value black lives highly enough. For example, here’s the first image I found when I Googled “Black Lives Matter”:
In fact, they also say that “Black Lives Matter” means a whole lot more than that. For instance, the About page of blacklivesmatter.com says this (click to zoom):
Clearly they’re using the statement “Black Lives Matter” to highlight the fact that black people are not treated as if they matter.
The context in which people use the statement
Obviously if a statement is tapping into a social undercurrent, then we need to examine that social undercurrent in order to infer anything about the statement.
The above About page describes the overarching context very well. But although the #BlackLivesMatter movement started in 2012, the “Black Lives Matter” statement has only seen a lot of airtime in mainstream media in recent months. Basically since the killing of unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri (in the US). This event was the catalyst that turned an established movement into a social undercurrent.
Brown has become the focal point of a desperate struggle against police brutality and its disproportionate impact on blacks. The Counted project illustrates it very effectively:
So the meaning we can draw from the context is the same as the meaning we can draw from what people imply when they use the statement. That black lives are currently undervalued by the police.
The people who repeat the statement
We can also learn something about popular statements and symbols by looking at the people who use them.
Millions of people have voiced the “Black Lives Matter” statement. Of all races, cultures, upbringings and socioeconomic standings. The only common thread I’ve seen is a desire for social justice and equality. Search Twitter, Facebook or Google+ for the #blacklivesmatter hashtag to see who’s voicing it. They’re not just black people, and they’re certainly not people who appear to value black lives over other lives.
So the only meaning you can draw from looking at the people who use the statement is that it’s about social justice and equality.
“But it devalues white lives!”… BULLSHIT!
If you still think “Black Lives Matter” devalues other lives, then you’re clearly not inferring from the evidence. The statement itself doesn’t explicitly say anything about other lives. The activists aren’t implying other lives are less valuable. The context supports the claim that black lives are undervalued. And there’s nothing about the people who say “Black Lives Matter” that suggests they value black lives over other lives.
So why would you jump to that conclusion?
The only possible reason is that you’re inferring from your own preconceptions. Another word for that is “prejudice”!:
A final note
No, I’m not saying that everyone who opposes the “Black Lives Matter” statement and movement is inferring incorrectly. For example, some people think it’s – perhaps intentionally – divisive (although for it to cause division, people must first make incorrect inferences). Some believe that racism doesn’t exist. Others simply believe black lives don’t matter. I’m sure there are other reasons for opposition too.
But if you believe the statement “Black Lives Matter” devalues other lives, there’s only one reason…
You want to believe that.