A little over two decades ago, some time after having taken some philosophy courses at Mt. Hood Community College, (from an instructor who referred to himself on handouts as Spade Cooley, for reasons which remain a mystery) I distilled some of what I’d learned from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics into this statement: “Don’t be proud of who you are; be proud of what you do.” A variant upon this theme turned up in pop culture when Christian Bale’s Batman said, in Batman Begins, “It’s not who I am on the inside, but what I do that defines me.”
In the early 2000’s I found myself in a deep conversation with a new (at the time) friend of mine who happens to be gay. I spoke about my previously mentioned philosophical distillation and asked him how it might relate to the gay pride movement. I can’t recall his exact words, (and wish I could) but he countered my assertion that pride in an inherent property (in this case, being gay) didn’t make sense by noting, rather brilliantly, that pride movements develop out of persecution.
What this seems to boil down to (if you’ll forgive a distillation metaphor) is that taking pride in an inherent property makes sense when the purpose of feeling that pride is to elevate one’s self and the group one is in to a state of parity, both in terms of self-esteem and esteem in the broader community, with the privileged majority.
It will come as no surprise then, that #BlackLivesMatter may be easily understood as a (profoundly necessary) pride movement.
In a much more recent conversation, a different friend of mine asserted that the statement, “Black lives matter,” is inherently racist. I didn’t argue the point out of a desire to avoid our conversation becoming heated, but the wrongness of what my friend said is plain to me. Hari Kondabolu puts it most succinctly:
Or there’s this longer, more metaphorical explanation of what “Black lives matter” does and doesn’t mean.
Of course, there are full-on racists out there who will assert nonsense like #BlueLivesMatter and #WhiteLivesMatter. I think a false sense of persecution must be at least partly a driver for such vile absurdity.
When I reflect once more upon my original statement concerning pride, it occurs to me I thought of it largely in a personal context. I’ve never felt any pride over being white, male, heterosexual, American, or for any other inherent or inherited property of my being. It always struck me as silly. (Almost as silly as that shitpile of a song by Lee Greenwood, which is apparently achieving renewed popularity.) I’ve come over the years to recognize that when others express pride over related sorts of things, like Blackness, homosexuality, alternative gender identity, ethnicity, religious affiliation, etc., it’s not silly at all. It’s vital in the struggle for survival and equality in a nation whose privileged majority has little to be proud of in its ongoing failure to live up to the ideals we claim to hold dear.
I thought I might dedicate this post to Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, but I don’t think this post is the right way to honor their memories (or those of Tamir, Sandra, Michael, and a host of others). I would rather dedicate this post and other, better future efforts, to all the names I don’t know and hope never to see in the form of a hashtag. We can best honor the dead by working to achieve justice for the living.