The protests taking place almost daily around the country purporting to advance civil liberties are actually undermining them. A fresh outrage occurred today in Washington, DC. According to The Washington Post, during a small Black Lives Matter protest today outside an office of the Fraternal Order of Police in Washington, protesters repeatedly assailed the “white privilege” of FOP employees and passersby, calling out “I see your white privilege” and “use your white privilege to walk around.”
What they saw was a figment of their own imaginations. The phrase “white privilege” is itself a disgrace, a dehumanizing rhetorical sleight of hand that endows the accuser with presumptive moral superiority to whites. It elevates race above all, as though human beings are to be defined purely by their skin color, not their innate abilities, ideas and thoughts. Such beliefs apparently animated the protesters not only to block access to the FOP’s offices—including on its property—but also streets. For good measure, they also raised a Black Lives Matter flag on a flagpole in front of the building. As of 10:15 a.m., Washington DC Police had made no arrests. Why not?
The First Amendment provides the right to assembly and to free speech that protect public protests. While some may consider it more than indecent to protest at a police union building so soon after mass police killings in Dallas and Baton Rouge—in this regard, it is noteworthy that Black Lives Matter leader DeRay Mckesson brushed aside the shootings in Dallas—America is of course a free country. Nevertheless, the right to protest does not include rights to block public streets, to occupy private property, or to engage in what the mainstream media would surely describe as racist harassment if directed at African-Americans by white protesters in other circumstances.
Indeed, one can imagine how mainstream media, the Obama administration or the Clinton campaign would react if “White Lives Matter” protesters raised a flag on NAACP property—probably with moralistic calls for sensitivity and unity. Yet both the administration and the Clinton campaign have already embraced the Black Lives Matter movement and by extension an ideology that would be called racist if adopted by any other group in American society. Attempting to attack double-standards in some areas by creating double-standards in others will not bring Americans together, but tear them apart. Tolerating disruptive protests that employ racially-charged language, illegal tactics and impugn whites as “privileged” will only worsen this problem.
President Obama deserves credit for calling for a major conversation about race in America. Unfortunately, his and Hillary Clinton’s apparent vision of this conversation is for African-Americans to explain their grievances and for others to understand and accommodate them. This can’t—and won’t—work. Any successful national conversation on race will have to go in two directions and should begin with the assumption that while some groups on both sides are problematic, Americans of all races are decent and well-intentioned individuals. Otherwise, the conversation may all too quickly become a shouting match.
Image: Black Lives Matter avatar created by Spartan7W. Public domain.