Last fall, I published an op-ed in the Stanford Daily that criticized the Black Lives Matter movement. Since then, I've explored this topic further through casual conversations with family and friends, further responses in the Daily, emails with students, and even Zoom calls with readers I've never met. These discussions helped me clarify my perspective and gave me insight into Stanford's ideological climate. I'm writing this article to reflect on what I've learned, share some of the conversations I've had, and pose a question to the Stanford community.
If I could go back in time and rewrite "The case against BLM," I would do several things differently. First, I would clarify my intentions and choose a different title–perhaps something along the lines of Andrew Samsone’s “Black Lives Matter, So Refund the Police.” I wanted to raise my concerns about aspects of the BLM movement precisely because black lives matter, and a more precise title would have conveyed this goal more effectively. Second, I would underscore that my goal wasn’t to provoke. I wanted–and still want–to contribute to a good-faith discussion. My article synthesized critiques issued by true intellectuals: Coleman Hughes, Chloé Valdary, Erec Smith, Glenn Loury, John McWhorter, Shelby Steele, and more. Some are conservative, many are liberal, and all have devoted tremendous thought and care to the issues at hand.
I knew that publishing a criticism of Black Lives Matter would elicit intense pushback, so I wasn’t surprised by the gist of the articles responding to mine. I’m certainly not one to shy away from debate; I’m ready and willing to have my ideas challenged. But the responses that the Daily published in the days after publishing my piece were clearly written to malign me, not to engage in good faith debate. They ranged in tone from condescending to vitriolic, and I had trouble making sense of their perspectives.
One author responded to my claim that the Black Lives Matter movement has risen to zealous extremes by citing disagreements among “anti-racists,” an argument that misses the point entirely. Sure, scholars might disagree about the specifics of the 1619 Project, but the central tenets of BLM remain unchallenged --and those who push back in a substantive way are labeled heretics. The paragraph in which I described the disproportionate homicide rate among black males was deemed “racist,” “irrelevant,” and “callous” and therefore not worthy of response. Strangest of all, the suggestion that police may fear for their lives when arresting criminals was met with a statistic showing that loggers and truck drivers are more likely to die on the job but “manage to hold off on carrying out extrajudicial executions.” This rebuttal is absurd. Under certain circumstances, police officers must act in self-defense, whereas loggers and truck drivers interact with logs and trucks–not violent offenders. Another memorable op-ed characterized me as a racist Republican who prefers "hot takes" over constructive debate, concluding that I'm not "owed the respect nor civility of the same Black people [I] insulted.” (it’s an open question whether the same applies to black people who critique BLM -- are they owed any respect or civility?)
I reached out to both authors in hopes of talking more. One never responded. The other did so indignantly, declaring that speaking with me "sounds like a chore I cannot subject myself to." These interactions are surprisingly dissonant with what I've always imagined the goals of social justice to be.
The final installment of this saga took place in March when I embarked on a project to research students' perspectives on social justice. I sent out hundreds of emails to recruit participants. Some students declined, many accepted, and I went on to conduct dozens of interviews. A small minority responded with remarkable hostility and rudeness. Here are a few noteworthy excerpts:
"No. You're disgusting for trying to exploit and frame student's experiences, labor, and frustration in a poorly informed and negative light."
"How did you get my email? I would advise you to be more honest about your intentions when you email people out of the blue like this."
"I'm not really interested in participating in research around activism that's led by somebody who writes articles like The Case Against BLM and this gross misunderstanding of what activism is about. I'm glad you've found peace with yourself, but I don't want my words or answers to be used in the crusade you seem to be leading against people who want to make the world a better place. Get well soon."
"I find it truly unconscionable that you contacted me…you seem like you're struggling witt [sic] your positionality and I feel for that i guess, but please check yourself before activating and bothering people on "research topics" that we experience as targeting, systemic violence, genocide, and overall campaigns for our destruction. you can sit all the way down and engage in deep self study about where your points of inquiry are actually coming from before being so bold and arrogant to come up in Black and Indigneous [sic] folks' DMs with that kind of nonsense”
All the authors of the above emails reiterated their commitment to social justice, yet none was willing to speak to me. "Don't fucking ever contact me again," one warned. Another instructed me to "stop reaching out to low-income students of color," and a third threatened to report me for harassment if I ever emailed her again.
I want to have difficult conversations, but I can't do it alone. I appreciate everyone who has reached out to continue the dialogue and help me see things in a new light. As the Stanford community continues to grapple with complex and controversial issues, I hope we can embody this spirit of intellectual rigor and respect. After all, what is justice without kindness?