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Ciboski: The Meaning Of 'Black Lives Matter'


There has been some confusion over, or perhaps an intentional perversion of, the meaning of the “Black Lives Matter” movement in America.

Opponents have represented the slogan as an illiberal nationalist claim that only black lives matter. The movement is not intended as a repudiation of the value of white lives in America. As the Yale University philosopher Jason Stanley states in his book, How Fascism Works, the slogan is intended to point out that in the United States, white lives have been taken to matter more than other lives. As Stanley says, Black Lives Matter is supposed to call attention to a failure of equal respect. In its context, it means, “black lives matter, too.”

As Stanley notes, at the core of fascism is loyalty to tribe, ethnic identity, religion, tradition, or nation. But in stark contrast to a version of nationalism with equality as its goal, fascist nationalism is a repudiation of the liberal democratic ideal—it is nationalism in the service of domination, with the goal of preserving, maintaining, or gaining a position at the top of a hierarchy of power and status.

We have seen a resurgence in recent years of white nationalism and white supremacist rhetoric that is connected to this type of fascistic thought, and the willful misrepresentation of the meaning behind Black Lives Matter is a concrete example of such groups trying to maintain their place in the hierarchy of power.

Dr. Ken Ciboski is an associate professor emeritus of political science at Wichita State University.