SPLC on BLM: Important Distinctions When it comes to Hate Groups

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Let’s look from another important angle at Black Lives Matter (BLM), their message and goals, and the recent murders of police officers in our nation.

As I have done in the past, I turn for wisdom to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), whose work I have followed and supported for decades. Recently supporters received an email message from SPLC’s President, Richard Cohen. He reminded us that the census of domestic hate groups published by SPLC every year is used “extensively by journalists, academics and government officials alike.” Lately SPLC has had a number of requests to include Black Lives Matter on that list, citing the killing of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. The Governor of Colorado, in fact, has begun a petition to do this.

SPLC will not include BLM on the hate crimes list; officials at SPLC maintain that “these critics fundamentally misunderstand the nature of hate groups and the BLM movement.” Americans need to understand why SPLC is standing by this decision (and I encourage everyone to read the full statement by Mr. Cohen):

  • Hate groups, according to the SPLC and federal law, are those that vilify entire groups of people based on immutable characteristics such as race or ethnicity. Some hate groups, such as the New Black Panther Party (NBPP), which has leaders known for anti-Semitic and anti-white tirades, are on SPLC’s list, so not all hate groups are white.
  • Cohen states that, to date, they “have heard nothing remotely comparable to the NBPP’s bigotry from the founders and most prominent leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement and nothing at all to suggest that the bulk of the demonstrators hold supremacist or black separatist views.” In addition, BLM is supported by people of all races across the US and, unlike the NBPP’s leaders, BLM’s leaders have condemned violence.
  • Some individual protesters have said offensive and violent things at BLM rallies. But we are hearing similar rhetoric from a current nominee for President, and we are not putting the Republican Party on the hate group list…
  • BLM’s critics claim that its very name is anti-white, which has led to the counter-response that “all lives matter.” Unfortunately, this misses the point. Because of our nation’s history of slavery, Jim Crow and endemic racism, the lives of African Americans have long been marginalized; those of us who are white automatically have advantages and privilege that do not accrue to blacks, even when we are not doing well ourselves. Thus BLM stands for “the simple proposition that ‘black lives also matter.’”

Democratic Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton is calling for (as others have called for over the past few decades) mutual understanding between the races. (A ground-breaking article on white privilege by Peggy McIntosh, Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley College Centers for Women, is still relevant almost 30 years after its original publication in 1988.)  We who are white must try to understand why our black fellow citizens often feel threatened instead of protected by law enforcement officials (they have really good reasons!). And all of us must remember the sacrifices our law enforcement officers make every day.

Significantly, we must further recognize that our perceptions of falling behind as a nation are largely true. (I point readers once again to Steven Hill’s Europe’s Promise, as well as to the new book, The Nordic Theory of Everything by Anu Partanen, and Michael Moore’s documentary, Where to Invade Next.) The extreme income inequality noted so forcefully not only by Sen. Bernie Sanders but also, a few years ago, by the Occupy Wall Street movement, effects all but the very top income earners in our country (and statistically it effects people of color vastly more than it effects whites). Almost none of us are getting ahead anymore, and millions of us are not even treading water! (No wonder there is anger and frustration throughout the land.) However, this is not a problem of “black racism,” immigration, or discrimination against us whites, as some on the conservative spectrum might have us believe; this is rather a problem of regressive social and economic policies going back at least 30 years.

Until and unless we follow the lead of other nations who are way ahead of us on most quality-of-life measures, as I have argued in previous blog posts, we will have no hope of creating a better America for any of us, of any color. This is not the time to irresponsibly attack or malign BLM or other movements that are trying to make things better. This is the time to push ourselves and our local and national leaders to enact legislation to curtail the excesses of capitalism and put in place robust social safety net measures that will ensure healthy, prosperous and peaceful lives for the vast majority of Americans, not just the wealthy few.



Hill, Steven. Europe’s Promise: Why the European Way is the Best Hope in an Insecure Age. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2010.

Partanen, Anu. The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2016.