While Donald Trump’s election has focused attention on the important racial problems of non-white immigration and Islamic terrorism, it has also been a distraction from the racial problem that has consumed the country for the past several years: white-black relations. This problem will not go away. Shortly after Mr. Trump’s inauguration, another black criminal will be shot by the police, and the call will be sounded—perhaps from atop overturned police cars—that “black lives matter!” Why are whites so offended by this slogan, and how can they best respond to it?
The context of “black lives matter” is nearly always the death of a black man at the hands of the police. Typically, whites say that the death was a result of misbehavior by the black, while blacks say it was a result of murderous white racism. Outside this context, the claim that “black lives matter” is innocuous: It means only that the lives of blacks have value. But in its context, it has a hidden meaning or implication, namely that a black person has died because whites do not believe that black lives matter.
This gap between the literal meaning of “black lives matter” and its implication makes it a remarkably effective slogan against whites. We are all adept at unconsciously grasping what is implied from what is literally said, so whites are vaguely aware that the slogan “black lives matter” is a kind of attack—that it is meant to blame them. Nevertheless, because we very rarely formulate implications of this kind consciously and explicitly, whites find it hard to say what exactly it is about the slogan that offends them. Moreover, the literal meaning of the phrase is unobjectionable; only the most callous person would claim that black lives do not matter. Hence, whites are unable to respond effectively to what amounts to an anti-white slogan.
And this slogan, taken together with its implication, is anti-white. As the latest edition of “The Color of Crime” shows, blacks are more likely than whites to be killed by the police because they are more likely than whites to commit crimes and more likely to resist arrest. “Black lives matter” is therefore a way of implicitly blaming whites for the consequences of black misbehavior. Blacks commit crime, resist arrest, threaten police officers, and are killed for doing so—but whites, through a devious process of linguistic manipulation, are made to feel guilty.
How, then, should we reply to this anti-white slogan? The typical reply—that all lives matter—is ineffective because it takes the slogan at face value and fails to respond to what is truly objectionable: its implication. The counter-reply would then be that if all lives matter, black lives matter too, and anyone who claims that all lives matter should have no more objection to the claim that black lives matter than to the claim that white, Polynesian, or accountants’ lives matter. Of course, this retort hinges on a literal interpretation of “black lives matter,” considered in isolation from its nasty implication.
Instead, I suggest that we reply by using an implication in our own favor. Rather than black lives, crime rates matter! This reply is doubly effective: First, unlike the reply that all lives matter, it replies to the offensive charge that it is whites who are responsible for black deaths at the hands of police officers. Second, it has the added advantage of being as difficult to respond to as the original slogan. Will our opponents reply that crime rates don’t matter? No one believes that people who are more likely to commit crimes and resist arrest are not therefore more likely to be killed by the police. If they reply that black crime rates are no higher than white crime rates they are asking to be educated on a subject about which we know a lot more than they.
I think this is the most effective reply. The next time the media whip up a frenzy over the latest thug gunned down while fighting the police, let us proclaim: Crime rates matter!