However one feels about the Black Lives Matter movement, it has proven to be an instructive barometer for 21st century America. We continue to be a nation with an unhealthy reliance on oversimplification on issues critical to our common life.
Those not directly involved could define Black Lives Matter by its name, along with how one views those three words taken together via a sound bite or video footage that affirms any preconceived notions.
Black Lives Matter was created in 2012 after George Zimmerman was acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin. Though known by many primarily through the lens of advocating on behalf of black victims who died by the hands of white police officers, its guiding principles include, but are not limited to, affirming the black family, LGBT equality and enhancing intergenerational relationships.
Contrary to the popular narrative, Black Lives Matter is also concerned with black-on-black crime.
But Black Lives Matter as a phrase, for one who oversimplifies, becomes the piece de resistance. Almost assuredly, one emerging from the oversimplification category will respond with the oft-used "All lives matter!"
Whether intentional or not, it is a phrase designed to not hear the opposing viewpoint. Of course all lives matter, who would argue? But that's not the point of Black Lives Matter. It is suggesting that, for far too long, black lives have not mattered. The historical record suggests the latter statement should be just as obvious as "all lives matter," but it is not, hence the movement.
But the discomfort of the topic organically creates reflexive responses on both sides, designed more to drown out any opposing perspective than to ascertain authentic understanding.
Ironically, the strength that propelled the origins of Black Lives Matter has also proven to be a double-edged sword.
A movement started by the power of social media finds it harder to control the narrative. Invariably, in such cases, oversimplification wins out.
Sweeping statements are the norm. Regardless of its stated purpose, should violence occur at a Black Lives Matter rally, the BLM participants are assumed to be the provocateurs.
How quickly our historical memory fails as we seek to make an apt comparison, wrongly assuming that violence never broke out during the epic civil rights campaigns of the 1960s. What was different then was the absence of social media, which made it easier, some 50 years ago, to control the narrative.
Moreover, the issues are more complex and nuanced today than 50 years ago. It is actually easier to eradicate Jim Crow segregation than it is to provide corrective measures nationally for tens of thousands police departments -- local municipalities with different training methods and standards.
The public narrative truncates Black Lives Matter as being concerned only when a black person dies by a non-black police officer, with the ideal narrative being when the police officer is white.
There are supporters of Black Lives Matter for which all other facts quickly become subordinate, emotion becomes the primary motivator and the definition of justice equates to one's desired outcome. The natural, but unproductive, impulse is to craft a one-size-fits-all definition, creating, in the words of H.L. Menken, a narrative that is clear, simple and wrong.
Assuming the accuracy of the reports, should we conflate the shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge with that of Walter Scott in North Charleston? Scott, unarmed, while fleeing from a police officer, was shot in the back five times. Sterling was shot at close range while resisting arrest in possession of a firearm.
As long as the narrative remains on the oversimplified terrain of "unarmed black man killed by white police officers," we can offer our unexamined assumptions unabated.
Most of us, in varying degrees, are bogged down in the quicksand of race. It becomes much easier to label someone racist or to suggest a group is anti-American subversives than to have our prevailing assumptions challenged.
Whether it's Black Lives Matter, trade agreements, illegal immigration, the economy or something else, we crave oversimplification for a recipe that requires nuance. We seek the simplistic answer when only the difficult response will suffice.
At a time when we should be demanding difficult answers from our political leadership, we accept the insipid intellectual fare of pabulum, believing somehow it will provide the nutrients necessary to maintain our existing assumptions.
The Rev. Byron Williams, a writer and the host of The Public Morality.