I agree with the message Black Lives Matter espouses, but I’m not in agreement with the overall movement.
This was the position I took for the most part, although this movement was started nearly 4 years ago. I rarely looked into news items involving BLM. So, I couldn’t really know how I felt until I did some much-needed research.
How do I feel about the Black Lives Matter Movement now? It was not an easy question to answer, but I have always taken exception to criticism of its overriding message and the overall movement.
On April 9, 2016, I came across an article by Marjorie Romeyn-Sanabria. The article was entitled, “Why Bill Clinton Is Right About Black Lives Matter.” I didn’t really care for the article, but some of the comments it garnered were even worse.
Originally, I had planned on pulling a few passages from the article and discussing them. But instead, I made a list to give myself time to gather my thoughts on the issue. Unfortunately, I never made the time to start writing about my thoughts until now. But I did go back and examine the one-year-old article, here.
One reason I wanted to make this post (and series of posts, starting with a review of the 1994 crime bill) was because of articles like the one from Romeyn-Sanabria. I feel that the content and the comments left under the article were dripping with ignorance and obfuscation.
Additionally, I have seen comments since then blaming BLM for making race relations worse, for promoting hypocrisy, or for being the impetus for numerous tragedies.
How do I counter these claims? The best way I can is by doing research and presenting my findings.
What’s the Black Lives Matter Movement About?
The #BlackLivesMatter movement was started in 2013 by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi after the Trayvon Martin case ended in George Zimmerman’s acquittal. In particular, the women were taken aback by how “Trayvon was posthumously placed on trial for his own murder,” which is common in controversial cases involving black Americans whose lives are cut short.
Black Lives Matter is now a network described as “a chapter-based national organization.” There is also a large coalition called Movement for Black Lives which is affiliated with BLM and which produced a six-point platform on August 1, 2016.
The ladies created the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag in order to raise the issue on social media. The hashtag grew out of Cullor’s response to a July 13, 2013 Facebook post Garza made after hearing the Zimmerman verdict.
Eventually, the women wanted to take the movement to the streets and get more people involved. The ladies established the infrastructure for the larger movement and to offer support for other chapters. In 2014, Cullors and Darnell L. Moore started the Black Lives Matter ride in order to support the movement in St. Louis, MO that grew after Mike Brown, 18, was killed by a Ferguson police officer (Darren Wilson, who since retired).
The Main Purpose of BLM
The main goal of the movement is to advocate for the dignity and validity of black lives, which involves fighting against anti-black discrimination in all its forms. This activism goes beyond speaking out against the “extrajudicial killings of Black people by police and vigilantes,” and includes shining a light on other injustices.
As it stands, the women want to “(re)build the Black liberation movement” by serving as advocates for all black lives, not just those of black males, who are the most maligned demographic (to be certain). Garza, Cullors, and Tometi include black people who are gay, transgendered, disabled, undocumented, female, and those who exist across the gender spectrum as part of the overall movement.
While the founders of the BLM movement express solidarity for other human rights movements, they want to have an organization that is dedicated solely to advocating for the rights dignity of black people. The BLM founders also believe other human rights movements were in part inspired by the black liberation movement.
Additionally, Black Lives Matter has 13 guiding principles, which are:
- Black Women
- Black Villages
- Loving Engagement
- Restorative Justice
- Collective Value
- Queer Affirming
- Unapologetically Black
- Transgender Affirming
- Black Families
The Black Lives Matter Platform
On August 1, 2016, The Movement for Black Lives produced a list of demands to correspond with the end of the Democratic National Convention. There were over 60 groups that signed onto the platform, excluding Campaign ZERO, which had release a platform in August 2015. That platform focused on criminal justice reform and called for the use of body cameras, which is opposed by the MBL.
Here’s the list of demands:
End the war on black people. We demand an end to the named and unnamed wars on Black people – including the criminalization, incarceration, and killing of our people.
Reparations. We demand reparations for harms inflicted on Black people: from colonialism to slavery through food & housing redlining, mass incarceration, & surveillance.
Invest-divest. We demand investments in the education, health, and safety of Black people, instead of investments in the criminalizing, caging, and harming of Black people.
Economic Justice. We demand economic justice for all and a reconstruction of the economy to ensure Black communities have collective ownership, not merely access.
Community Control. We demand a world where those most impacted in our communities control the laws, institutions, and policies that are meant to serve us.
Political Power. We demand full and independent Black political power and Black self-determination in all areas of society.
Why Is Black Lives Matter So Controversial?
Black Lives Matter has often been met with derision, hatred, and mistrust, for obvious reasons. Many are tied to some defining moments in BLM history.
1. It’s Often Hard to Talk About Race in Any Country.
When people mention racial inequality, whataboutism ensues and deep-seeded prejudices tend to bubble up, dragging down the whole discussion.
2. General Ignorance
In general, most people don’t know what BLM is about. Nor do some care to find out.
For instance, Dmitry Louet joked about the Black Lives Matter movement and the platform released in 2016 but he revealed how little he actually knew about either, let alone how bad systemic racism has been in the United States.
Yes, it is a political movement. That’s the point.
Also, I would say the #AllLivesMatter sentiment, although it might come from a well-meaning person, is an example of ignorance.
While #BlackLivesMatter might seem exclusionary, it is not meant to be. Basically, the founders of BLM want people to know that “Black lives matter, too.” It’s implied because so often people are told black lives don’t matter from the exclusion in media, from discriminatory hiring practices, to uneven law enforcement.
And if we’re going to play the semantics game, do we believe ALL lives actually matter? Most of the people pushing that hashtag don’t. Ask them about foreign wars.
3. The Perception That the Movement is Disorganized.
In 2015, a couple of girls who said they were affiliated with BLM interrupted a Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle, WA. The two girls were extremely rude and they demanded that Sanders step aside and let them speak. That was his rally and the way the two young women acted tuned people out and made it look like they had nothing of value to say.
On August 11, 2015, a small group from the Worcester, Massachusetts Black Lives Matter chapter met with Hillary Clinton after one of her campaign rallies in New Hampshire. While the protesters weren’t allowed to attend the rally, she met with them personally and she gave them an audience.
At the time, the group was set back because the leader of that BLM chapter, Julius Jones, did not present Clinton with any specific demands.
For her part, Alicia Garza had little to say beyond wanting elected officials to affirm they believed Black Lives Mattered.
All these instances set the movement back because detractors could point to it and say the protestors were entitled and had no plans beyond grabbing attention for themselves. In short, it was used to reinforce narratives.
Almost a year later, The Movement for Black Lives released its list of demands. The MBL platform was met with derision, especially at the mention of reparations.
4. Traumatic Events Which Have Undermined and Defined the Movement Negatively.
In the past few years, the murder of over 10 cops brought undue pressure and criticism on the greater Black Lives Matter movement.
On December 20, 2014, two NYPD cops were murdered by a man who said he was angered at the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown at the hands of police officers. While New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio received the lion’s share of blame because of how he spoke about law enforcement, some people also took umbrage with BLM.
On July 7, 2016, five Dallas police officers were killed by a man who reportedly yelled “Black Lives Matter” before killing the officers. The killings followed the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.
Many people tried to tie those killings to BLM because they said the discussion about police brutality ultimately endangered police officers.
5. Undesired Elements Who Have Attached Themselves to the Movement and the Hashtag.
Throughout BLM’s history, there have been some hateful people who took the hashtag and slogan to celebrate incarcerations or violence against police officers.
For instance, in late August 2015, BLM protestors chanted “Pigs in a blanket! Fry them up like bacon!” at a Minnesota State Fair.
Also, when some of those police shootings happened, there were people who took to Twitter to cheer those murders. In their tweets, they used the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag.
They ultimately conspired to negatively define the movement.
What Is the Biggest Problem Within the Black Lives Matter Movement?
There are more than one, actually.
In discussing the opinion piece written by Marjorie Romeyn-Sanabria, I said that the problem with BLM isn’t the (perceived) unwillingness to talk about violence within black communities. Although it needs discussion and it might seem that BLM is avoiding the issue at times, that isn’t a major flaw within the movement.
No, the greatest problems with Black Lives Matter are:
1. Its Decentralized Leadership
Although the movement was started by three women, the hashtag and the movement largely took off without their knowledge and beyond their control. That meant it could be hijacked and misused by anyone. That should have been expected given the nature of the Internet and social media in general.
It would be better for the movement overall if there was a charismatic, national leader and a chain of command. People have to listen to a leader who can convey the overall message and goals of a movement, whether they like that leader or not. This might make a person a target, but sustained, consistent, purposeful protest and speech eventually win out. However, like John Blake pointed out last year, movements tend to fizzle out once that leader dies.
The lack of decentralized is both a blessing and a curse. While there one person can’t be targeted for the greater movement, there are many different opinions, priorities, and perspectives competing for attention and cause.
2. The Lack of an Apparatus to Make Its Demands a Reality
What do groups like NARAL, the NRA, and the NAACP all have in common? All these groups have money and a grading system.
Important movements need muscle. Money gives groups that type of muscle. I’m not sure about BLM’s fundraising apparatus, but is it significant and what is being done with funds?
I’m not talking about buying off officials, but groups can use their clout to put pressure on officials. For example, if Democrats knew they could lose crucial support among people of color due to a grading system, it might push them to support specific policy reforms. If Republicans know they could steal some support among people of color (or cared), a grading system could help there, too.
And there are many things groups can do with money. That includes buying ads, and paying staff to come up with a coordinated game plan. This is also related to the leadership, because a leader can decide how to raise money and how to allocate those funds (in order to get elected officials to listen).
Leadership can also decide how to put pressure on businesses. In the 1950’s the Civil Rights Movement gained steam after the bus boycott and the Rev. Martin Luther King emerged as a leader. BLM needs to organize more boycotts like it did during Black Friday, but instead target a few businesses that undermine BLM’s goals.
3. The Lack of Interracial Leadership
This is a big flaw. In fact, it might be the biggest one. BLM has a “Black-centric” message, and it is looked upon as a Black-centric group.
While I understand that there needs to be a movement to specifically address the problems within black communities, everyone else needs to understand how the movement can ultimately benefit them.
The Civil Rights Movement had participation of whites. BTW, the NAACP’s first president was white.
The suffrage movement had male allies and activists within it.
And any movement where men need advocates requires the participation of women.
Black Lives Matter needs to appeal to white leadership and align itself with other multiracial human rights groups. There are people out there who not only empathize with struggling black people but are willing to help. They would make important partners for the movement.
I understand what Garza said about how lifting up black lives will also lift up everyone else. This is a sentiment which has been expressed by many and I happen to agree with it. But the argument has to be made in terms most people can understand and appreciate. Including multiracial leadership is a way to make to make that happen.
All Things Considered, How Do I Feel About Black Lives Matter?
After doing the research, I have positive view of Black Lives Matter. And I confidently say I’m in solidarity with it.
In particular, I am most concerned about police brutality, education, and political power (which includes the guaranteed right to vote for all). Thankfully, those three issues are all addressed within the platform.
Regardless of the movement’s flaws, BLM has lasted far longer than a movement like Occupy Wall Street, which also had no centralized leadership. That might be because BLM has numerous chapters which are themselves organized. And those chapters largely built their civil planning on previous civil rights movements.
Ultimately, I would like to see this movement flourish and grow in a positive manner. And of course, I would like to see many of the proposed reforms be codified into law.
As a Lead-Up to The Next Post in This Series
Now, I might not agree with every idea BLM has, but I agree that it helped to (re)start an important conversation we must have about race and racial justice (around the world). However, talking about race is an extremely difficult thing to do, even in this day and age.
Specifically, when people talk about race, they love to bring up statistics. Who do the statistics show us? That’s something I would like to address next week.