In light of the fact that people are once again having to remind the world that Black Lives Matter, an old smackdown from a law professor to students who insisted “All Lives Matter” and complained about her wearing her BLM shirt to teach has again gone viral.
Back in 2016, Patricia Leary received a letter of complaint from anonymous students at Whittier University, where she teaches law.
The crux of their “concern” was that Leary sometimes wore a “Black Lives Matter” shirt on campus, which they found “highly offensive and extreme inflammatory.”
“As someone who is charged to teach criminal law, it should be abundantly clear to you and beyond any question that ALL lives matter, as it is expressed unequivocally in the law,” the letter reads. “Furthermore, the ‘Black Lives Matter’ statement is racist and anti-law enforcement and has been known to incite violence in this country.”
The anonymous students even went so far as to tell Leary she should be ashamed of herself, and called her “completely ignorant of and uninformed about the social ramifications and implications surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement.”
The ego and entitlement practically oozes off the pages, but Leary does her best to use the situation as a teaching moment. It’s entirely possible the “concerned students” may already have been too biased to learn anything from one of the professors there to guide them into their future lives, but her response gained the respect of many for its unflinching refute of each premise put forth by the letter.
“When your argument is based on a series of premises, you should be aware of them,” she writes. “You should also be aware that if any of these premises are factually flawed or illogical, or if the reader simply doesn’t accept them, your message will collapse from lack of support.”
Leary starts by ripping apart the idea that paying for tuition means students get to “dictate the content” of their education.
In fact, she argues that feeling that way makes it seem as though they “have a diminished view of legal education and the source of our responsibility as legal educators.”
“This allows me to take any criticism from such a perspective less seriously than I otherwise would,” she adds.
The sweet simplicity of the her rebuttal to premise #2 is glorious.
Everyone whose crappy boss tells you that you’re not being paid for your opinion, take note.
Leary also believes the students have a fundamental misunderstanding of the law itself.
The students seem to believe in The Law as something “objective, fixed, and detached from and unaffected by the society in which it functions.”
Obviously, if that were the case, laws wouldn’t constantly be changing to better serve the society they are put in place to protect.
There’s always room for pettiness though.
Especially when it’s facts.
And here we get to the real issue: “Black Lives Matter” vs “All Lives Matter.”
Or rather, the idea that they are at odds with one another to begin with.
“There is a difference between focus and exclusion,” Leary points out, succinctly summarizing the problem with rebutting the former with the latter. “If something matters, this does not imply that nothing else does.”
She goes on to explain what so many who tout “All Lives Matter” fail to understand, which is that it’s necessary to say out loud that Black Lives Matter because our society so often acts as if they do not.
“When people are receiving messages from the culture in which they lives that their lives are less important than other lives, it is a cruel distortion of reality to scold them for not being inclusive enough,” she explains.
The sixth premise is that saying “Black Lives Matter” is racist, but Leary points out it isn’t even a statement about white people.
Context and history are key in understanding any social movement, and are certainly relevant in this scenario, even if the anonymous students would rather ignore them.
“To assert that the Black Lives Matter movement is about violence against the police is to ignore (and invert) the causal reality that the movement arose as an effect of police violence,” Leary writes.
In her final takedown of their premises, Leary reminds the students that their interpretation of reality isn’t necessarily actual reality.
“Unless you speak for the Black Lives Matter movement you have no authority to say what those words mean to the people in it,” she writes. “Things in the world have meanings that exist outside of you.”
In proper teacher mode, Leary went on to critique the actual writing style of the letter rather than simply the deeply flawed content. Both letters can be found in their entirety here.
Whether the students learned anything from the entire mess, who can say. But the rest of us sure got a masterclass in rebutting not only “All Lives Matter” people, but those putting forth bad faith arguments to begin with — looking at you, every relative and former high school classmate on Facebook!