Unworthiness, Shame, and Fear: BLM and the Slavery Comparison
The release of Birth of a Nation, a new film about the Nat Turner slave rebellion, has spurred more than a few references to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in the liberal press. Though the movie is obviously being marketed with modern controversies in mind, the comparisons are spurious, as the BLM movement, based as it is on a contrived and false narrative, bears little or no relation to the Turner uprising. What the left-leaning mainstream media will not acknowledge is that the movement that reflects the spirit if not the exact dynamics of a slave uprising is the one pushing Donald Trump's election. And that is also why the media and Washington elites are so desperate to kill Trump's bid.
Reviewers less than blown away by the film, like at the Washington Post (2½ stars), still feel compelled to mention BLM. The New Yorker, in an even less enthused review, nonetheless notes the "stubborn recurrence of killings of black men at the hands of police," though not explicitly mentioning BLM. Others certainly do, and the BLM movement itself has tried to tie itself to the themes of the movie.
Turner's uprising was a terrible moment in American history for multiple reasons, from the brutal and oppressive system of slavery that provoked it to the merciless and bloody revolt itself to the equally ruthless and violent retribution visited on slaves afterward, whether involved in the revolt or not.
Unlike Turner's revolt against real oppression, the BLM movement protests the predictable and indeed inevitable consequences of law enforcement in a country of with a population of over 320 million, approximately 40 million of whom are non-Hispanic black people, half of whom are male (about 15.5 million adults). This population is unfortunately disproportionately involved in criminal activity, at a rate roughly three times what it should be based on demographics. Out of this rather large population of men, a statistically excessive minority of whom are involved in criminal activity, a very small number are occasionally shot by police in violent encounters.
The BLM movement is a ready-made liberal faux cause precisely because it predicates itself on inevitable social and demographic facts (that among a large population in a very big country, some will inevitably be killed by police). It attaches to that a provocative and false cause, endemic white racism, even when the most clearly objective of facts demonstrate otherwise, as when black men are killed by black police officers. In this the BLM movement is not at all different from such other liberal "causes" as climate change, poverty, and sex. What they all share is naturally occurring physical and/or social phenomena to which the left attaches nefarious causes, and proposes disruptive and/or oppressive solutions that benefit liberal elites.
Slavery, the peculiar institution that Turner revolted against, was neither a naturally occurring phenomenon nor a matter of social inevitability or necessity. To be sure, slavery had long been a part of the human condition, but never necessarily so, and by the 19th century, most Western nations had cast it aside. Likewise, other slave revolts through history could hardly be gainsaid or morally condemned simply because slavery had long been accepted in many human societies. To compare the condition of enslaved blacks with modern American blacks is absurd and bizarre.
On the other hand, the revolt against elites represented by Trump's candidacy bears a much closer relationship to Turner's uprising or other historical revolts against real oppression. The proof is in the reaction of elites to the two movements.
By their very nature, slave revolts incite the most profound reactions among elites in the societies against which they are waged. The historian Plutarch wrote of the "unworthiness and shame" plus "fear" that the Spartacus rebellion provoked in the Roman Senate. The Haitian slave revolt that predated Turner's by only a few years elicited similar responses among its French victims (and Europeans in general), from written accounts to horrific propagandistic prints. Turner's uprising prompted similar reactions.
By contrast, the BLM movement has been positively adopted by the Democratic Party, its chief candidate for president, and by most of the elite mainstream press in this country. Its leaders are not derided, but feted. Hillary Clinton's increasingly likely election will cement the BLM movement as a permanent tool of Democrat politics and social manipulation, something that probably would have horrified Nat Turner.
Now consider how Trump and his followers are described by American elites, particularly but not exclusively on the Democrat side. Unworthiness, shame, and fear accurately encapsulate the view of elites in politics and the press toward Trump and his followers. Hillary Clinton's description of Trump's followers as "deplorables" mirrors almost exactly that of slaveholding elites toward the rebellion of their human chattel. Take just this piece from the Huffington Post in which Trump is described as a "serial liar, racist, narcissist, buffoon, " inducing in normal people "vomiting," and likening him and his "blind" followers to a rolling "dirty snowball" and a "fungus[.]" Just the kind of invective embodying unworthiness, shame, and fear that has always marked the palpable dread among elites to the revolt of their unwashed inferiors.
And while Trump's followers are hardly slaves, they do legitimately see themselves as oppressed, with no less than Hillary's husband recently confirming the same, in describing the imposition of Obamacare on the ordinary working population. It is an economic and not merely metaphorical yoke upon their own health and livelihoods, along with myriad other artifacts of progressivism.
Trump's latest troubles, which may cost him the presidency, are partly a consequence of his own oafish personality, but also the double standards attached by the media and elites to the escapades of the would-be leader the revolt that they so fear. Isn't uneasiness over the wolfishness of men like Trump and Bill Clinton a matter of unsophisticated middle-class moralism, according to Democrats? Another Roman historian, Tacitus, described the barbaric morality of the Germans, who actually honored their wives and marriages, something sophisticated Romans sneered at. Of course, the answer for the sophisticated liberal elite is that a wolfish Bill Clinton is charming, while Trump is a misogynist scumbag – like his supporters.
Slave revolts throughout history were relatively rare, successful ones extremely so. Overcoming the power and disdain of elites, particularly once fully motivated by their shame and fear, is no easy thing. It won't be this time, either, and it just got harder.