In a recent interview with ES magazine, musician and outspoken proponent of Syrian and refugee rights M.I.A. opened up about her thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement and it's dissemination through pop culture. When asked if she'd seen Beyoncé's latest performance for 'Formation' at this year's Super Bowl - the former Destiny's Child member's empowerment anthem aimed towards females and people of colour - M.I.A. encouraged a broader view on the subject, taking to task the movements unequal hierarchy on the long list of racial issues facing the world at large.
"It’s interesting that in America the problem you’re allowed to talk about is Black Lives Matter," she mused. "It’s not a new thing to me -- it’s what Lauryn Hill was saying in the 1990s, or Public Enemy in the 1980s. Is Beyoncé or Kendrick Lamar going to say Muslim Lives Matter? Or Syrian Lives Matter? Or this kid in Pakistan matters? That’s a more interesting question. And you cannot ask it on a song that’s on Apple, you cannot ask it on an American TV program, you cannot create that tag on Twitter, Michelle Obama is not going to hump you back."
Later, the star took to Twitter to further explain her views.
M.I.A.'s quotes, like the movement itself, quickly went viral among the easily insulted SJW circles of Tumblr and Twitter. And as is typical in race discussions, those in support of the movement were loath to allow her the opportunity to expand the conversation beyond what was already being had, instead criticising the 'Paper Planes' rapper for diverting the attention away from the issue at hand. Such an argument is routine in the political culture of today, in which competition over representation is preferred over uniting cultures under a single banner - you cannot bring up male rape statistics, because it distracts from female rape; and you cannot bring up injustices faced by Syrians, because it is insulting to African Americans.
But M.I.A.'s critiques of the movement were likely justified. Far apart from the obvious commercialization of the movement (the fact that it was referenced at the Super Bowl suggests it's probably being used more as an attempt for commercial gain than for actual social change), the Black Lives Matter movement (and indeed most racially charged protests in the past few years) has quickly become something of an elitist club in which skin colour determines entry. Those who don't fit neatly into the categories of "privileged white person" or "racially stereotyped African American" are left out of the conversation, effectively excluding the viewpoints of huge portions of Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans and hundreds of other races - and that's not even getting started on those mixed race individuals.
And outside the US, the situation is even more dire. It can be difficult to step outside the insularity of America to examine the problems of other countries, but it's worth remembering that in the Middle East there is still an ongoing War on Terror which has almost completely obliterated entire countries. Everyday, thousands of people lose their lives in this war - an estimated 1.3 people million in total, most of which would be civilians. It's easy to look at this situation at a distance - after all, people in the Gaza Strip don't look like us, think like us or behave like us. But what cannot be forgotten in this particular war is America's own undeniable influence behind it. After all, if it weren't for George Bush's administration, none of these citizens would have died in the first place.
As M.I.A. suggested, part of the problem in this equation is the media. It's natural for the US media to fearmonger and bandwagon only causes which relate to their own citizens - it will encourage the most moral panic, and thus the most hits. But an equally large part of the problem is the forced censorship of activists by those who are only interested in US affairs. When Black Lives Matter activists criticise M.I.A. for trying to broaden the conversation, they are not only ensuring their own insularity, but silencing millions of voices whose opinions and lives are just as sacred as their own. Instead of setting up African Americans and Syrians in competition, and allowing only one of these minorities to be focussed on at a time, they should unite those that fall outside the white Anglo-Saxon majority together. Maybe then, with a majority viewpoint made up of thousands of minorities, actual social change could be enacted.