Black Lives Matter: From a Hashtag to a Movement

After the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin, a movement slowly began in 2013 with a simple hashtag: #BlackLivesMatter.  This movement gained national recognition the following year after two African Americans, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, died at the hands of police officers.  Described as “not your grandfather’s civil rights movement”, Black Lives Matter is an idea- a hope to end racial bias, mass incarceration of black individuals, and mistreatment by those in power.

This movement has created sharp opposition with offshoot movements such as Blue Lives Matter, White Lives Matter, and All Lives Matter.  As deaths of African Americans fuel the Black Lives Matter movement, the attacks on police officers in the name of the movement have created protests.  Many who oppose Black Lives Matter feel that the idea behind the movement is racist in and of itself.  Former Mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, stated “it’s inherently racist because, number one, it divides us.”  While many protests are of a peaceful nature, protestors have also thrown objects at police, vandalized property, and engaged in looting.

Jesse Williams, actor and activist, countered this type of criticism during a BET Awards acceptance speech.  “If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression.  If you have no interest, if you have no interest in equal rights for black people then do not make suggestions to those who do.”  President Obama spoke on Black Lives Matter, stating “It’s not meant to suggest that other lives don’t matter, it’s to suggest that other folks aren’t experiencing this particular vulnerability.”

Through protests, rallies, and die-ins, supporters of the movement speak up for equal treatment under the law.  Unlike many movements with definitive leaders, Black Lives Matter does not have one voice that is heard above the rest.  Rather, many speak up for this topic, including DeRay McKesson, Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, among many others.  Black Lives Matter is also vastly different from the Civil Rights Movement as to how protestors present themselves.  In the 1960’s, protestors wore suits and ties and used religion in their speech.  Barbara Reynolds, a civil rights activist, is against the way of the new generation.  She admonished protests where “demonstrations are peppered with hate speech, profanity, and guys with sagging pants that show their underwear.”   Yet, this movement deliberately shuns respectability politics, where marginalized groups improve behavior to receive better treatment from the group in power.  A person, and their rights, should be equally respected, regardless of what a person wears or how they speak.

Carmelo Anthony recently spoke on this sensitive matter.  “The problems are not new, the violence is not new, and the racial divide definitely is not new.  But the urgency to great change is at an all-time high,” Anthony asserted.  And, while the Black Lives Matter movement is different than protests of our past, we live in a different generation– one where social media can bring to light injustice and where women and members of the LGBTQ community have voices in a powerful movement.  While objectors may argue about how Black Lives Matter is approaching racial injustice, we are a far cry from racial equality.  The confrontational tone of Black Lives Matter is stronger than many would like; however, we need more than a conversation on racial injustice.  We need change.


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