Robyn Urback: On that contentious Black Lives Matter tweet…

One of the better commentaries:

…. I sort of understand why members of the Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLMTO) group all but shrugged this week in response to a controversial tweet put out by one of its co-founders. The tweet was originally posted back in February, but only came to light this week after Jerry Agar, a local Toronto radio host, reported on it on his show. In the tweet, BLMTO co-founder Yusra Khogali wrote, “Plz Allah give me strength to not cuss/kill these men and white folks out here today. Plz plz plz.”

It was a dumb thing to post, especially for a leader of movement that — one would think — would want to covet potential allies rather than ostracize them. And it shouldn’t be surprising that some people found it offensive. But rather than acknowledge the inappropriateness of the tweet, apologize for it and move on, BLMTO members dug in their heels and went on the defence: the group’s other co-founder, Sandy Hudson, refused to comment on it during an interview with a local television station, and instead criticized the reporter for focusing on the tweet, rather than the issues about which BLMTO was trying to get attention. In the Toronto Star, journalist and activist Desmond Cole explained Khogali’s tweet as a “common response to violence and injustice,” “an honest appeal to restraint and wisdom in the face of violence, racism and misogyny.” And Khogali herself refused to comment on the issue altogether.

Meanwhile, critics of the BLMTO movement latched onto the tweet as a sort of “smoking gun,” which supposedly proved the violent intentions of the group. But to make that assertion is a pretty remarkable stretch: people say and post all sorts of hyperbolic things when they’re angry — and despite some progress in recent years, black Canadians still have plenty to be angry about — but that doesn’t mean they actually intend to act on it. And it also doesn’t mean that the group’s core message should be wholly discredited because its co-founder posted one thoughtless, offensive tweet.

None of this is to say that Khogali’s tweet was in any way acceptable, though her defenders have demonstrated some phenomenal mental gymnastics in attempting to explain why it’s somehow OK to post a prayer to God, asking for the strength not to kill people of a certain group and gender. It’s not. The impulse to hunker down in this case is understandable, especially as BLMTO is slammed with criticism, seemingly from all sides. But it’s ultimately disingenuous: no group is, or should be, above criticism — not Black Lives Matter, not Orthodox rabbis in New York, not National Post columnists who, perhaps unwisely, wade into the most contentious of social issues.

BLMTO representatives say they would prefer we talk about carding, or wage discrepancies, or violence against blacks at the hands of police — which are all worthy topics of discussion. But at the same time, there is no better way to get people interested in a tweet than insisting that the media stop talking about it. Had BLMTO led the discussion, and heard the criticism, I suspect the conversation would have been over by now.

Source: Robyn Urback: On that contentious Black Lives Matter tweet…

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

5 Responses to Robyn Urback: On that contentious Black Lives Matter tweet…

  1. gjreid says:

    I think Yusra Khogali was pissed off, she was angry, and she expressed that anger. It was certainly impolitic to do so, but lots of groups – blacks, first nations communities, etc – have lots of reasons to be angry. And, after all, she was appealing to Allah NOT to do something bad.I think we put too high a fence around expression of emotion – and too many inhibitions about even recognizing it – and this sterilizes much of the conversation about race and other identity-threatening, vital, existential, gut-wrenching matters. [Aside from that we have become extraordinarily literal-minded about what is ‘inappropriate’; irony has disappeared from the mental toolbox: on one level her desperate plea to Allah can be seen as funny] On the other side, in the US a TV anchor was fired for stereotyping young black men when she made a – very impolitic and badly formulated – imaginary description of who may have committed an unsolved crime, and what conditions would have caused them to commit such a crime. She expressed what many people, black and white, might have guessed, perhaps wrongly, about the authors of that particular crime. She should, I think, have been invited to discuss her stereotypes and the meaning of her comment; that would perhaps have been more productive than throwing her out the door. Shooting the messengers and adopting euphemism and evasion and censorship don’t lead to catharsis or to solutions. Donald Trump and his ilk rise, in part, when everybody else has to tiptoe through the tulips. A cult of euphemism and evasion can be counter-productive, and open the door to the worst kind of demagogue.

    • Andrew says:

      You may well be right. But I really think that there is a challenge for all of us, no matter which side of an issue we are on, to consider how our words advance our position or not. I agree with a lot she says in terms of substance but her goal is not to convince me but rather others who may not be aware. When one is in the political arena, phrasing matters.

      • gjreid says:

        I absolutely agree, Andrew, that phrasing matters. I myself am generally quite cautious – except perhaps here – and try my utmost to be tactful, considerate, and rhetorically scrupulous in treating contentious topics and conflicts. However I fear that the bar may be set so high about what is ‘inappropriate’ (a horrible hateful shifty dishonest word) that self-censorship will make any honest dialogue near-impossible and we end up shadow boxing in namby pamby land. There is a fairly big disconnect, I find, between what is ‘allowed’ in public discourse and what is talked about, believed, felt, in private. It may be that I am biased towards irony and excess, having spent much of my life in a country – well in countries – where being outspoken is the norm, and where political correctness has not yet cast its deadly pallor over all honesty and all contentious and energetic thought – Italy and France.

  2. Andrew says:

    Agree. Risk runs in both directions!

  3. gjreid says:

    Yes, I think that is absolutely right.

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