The Black Lives Matter is an international movement that opposes violence and systematic racial discrimination against African Americans. The movement regularly organizes protests and marches, where it declares its indignation and the unacceptability of police brutality against African Americans as well as other issues of racism including the systematic injustice in the legal and economic systems of the United States. Besides this, the movement is widely represented online. It was founded in 2013 when a police officer was acquitted by the court after killing an African-American 17-year-old young man Trayvon Martin.
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The three prominent activists referred to as the co-founders of the movement are Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. Today, the movement is the topic of a heated social debate. Many criticize it for its aggressive tactics and emphasizing the importance of just one group of the population. The All Lives Matter and the Blue Lives Matter (for police officers) movements were established by activists as responses to Black Lives Matter. However, if the anti-black racism in the United States is reviewed, including the systematic economic and social discrimination, it can be argued that the Black Lives Matter movement’s confrontational discourse and philosophy are justified by the decades of oppression and unequal treatment as well as continuing discrimination against African Americans in the American society.
The Black Lives Matter movement has been heavily criticized by various individuals and groups in the United States and other countries. The major point of the criticism is that the movement’s slogans, activities, ideas, and agenda emphasize the importance of just one portion of the population while disregarding the rest of it. The opponents and the critics of the movement have claimed that it overlooks the significance of other people, e.g. white police officers, who are the targets of the movement’s reproof, although they often fall victims to violence, too. Even some prominent members of the African-American community, such as civil rights activists Chip Murray, Najee Ali, Earl Ofari Hutchinson, and Barbara Ann Reynolds have made critical statements on the tactics and approaches of Black Lives Matter claiming them to be aggressive, divisive, and confrontational. Barbara Ann Reynolds compared it to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and stressed that the movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. was nonviolent and it managed to gain support by acting in a respectable manner and to change the legislation by conveying a message of unity. The Black Lives Matter movement differs dramatically from these methods.
Another point of criticism was the anti-police position of Black Lives Matter. When two police officers were killed in Brooklyn, New York, in 2014, officials and activists started the Blue Lives Matter movement. The movement was critical of Black Lives Matter because of the latter’s anti-police messages and agenda and exaggerating the problem of police brutality in the United States. The matter of trust for law enforcement authorities is an important social issue because when police officers are feared, it undermines a fundamental principle of a society—the principle of security. Such fear can be ignited and boosted by media coverage and unbalanced representation of police violence. It has repeatedly been emphasized by many speakers that anti-police attitudes are dangerous to the normal functioning of a society. That is why Black Lives Matter, with some of its marchers chanting slogans promoting death to police, is considered a destructive movement.
However, the Black Lives Matter movement can be justified on the basis of specific characteristics of the anti-black racism in the United States. It has been a major issue in the American society throughout its history, and it remains such today. Although slavery and involuntary servitude were abolished in 1865 by the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which was an empowering thing for black people across the country as it declared their equality, Black people kept suffering from various forms of exclusion, discrimination, and segregation, including ones provided for by laws. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s managed to achieve serious changes in the legislation as well as in social attitudes towards African Americans. Nevertheless, the White supremacy is still observed in the United States according to many activists. It is expressed in subtle, rarely declared practices of exclusion, unequal treatment, and prejudice. Multiple cases of violence towards African Americans from White individuals based on hate and the ideas of racial inferiority have been registered in the United States within recent decades.
Based on the notion and the actualities of the anti-black racism, Black Lives Matter built its own philosophy and defined its mission. The movement claims to have adopted the traditional patterns of black freedom movements in the United States. The website of Black Lives Matter states that the movement is a unique phenomenon that is not only about unlawful violence and police brutality towards African Americans but also about affirming the importance of all the lives of all African Americans including women, LGBTQ, individuals with disabilities, those without legal statuses, inmates, and former inmates of prisons. The narrative of embracing and uniting minorities against racist violence has been fundamental to the movement since its inception. Since the movement offers a strong, resolute response to inequality and injustice, the leaders and prominent activists of Black Lives Matter have repeatedly publicly rejected several important aspects of Black liberation movements of the past such as church involvement, political support for the Democratic Party, and respectable discourses.
Among influences that shaped the movement, Black Lives Matter speakers claim the Black Power Movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Pan-Africanism international movement, and the Anti-Apartheid Movement that was unfolding around the world as a response to the racial segregation in South Africa. Also listed among influences are hip hop, LGBTQ social movements for equalized acceptance, and the Occupy Wall Street movement. Hip hop is an important part of the African-American culture with protest and resistance to oppression as its integral parts.
LGBTQ movements demonstrate solidarity of minorities in their struggle for equal opportunities. Occupy Wall Street movement was a strong example of protesting again social and economic inequality. All these influences shaped the Black Lives Matter movement’s tools and instruments of public communication, protesting, and the culture of civil disobedience. However, the movement does not officially declare the values of Black supremacy or publically call upon its supporters to commit violence against any groups or individuals due to whatever affiliation or identity. Although Black Live Matter is a protest movement, its mission is to stop violence, not propagate it, and its philosophy includes strength and perseverance, not militancy and assault.
Another point that the Black Lives Matter movement rests upon is the systematic discrimination against African Americans in the United States. What is meant by systematic is that institutions have been working consistently under fundamentally discriminatory regulations and practices. For example, the Build Black Futures movement promotes the agenda of systematic discrimination. It says on the movement’s website that African-American communities deserve to receive more attention from the government by means of changing economic policies for the purpose of providing them with necessary resources to create safe and healthy living conditions. Therefore, Build Black Futures is not only a protest movement but as well a call for change with certain suggestions and recommendations.
It is argued by the movement’s activists that the policies adopted by the entire economic system of the United States fail to provide African-American communities with equal treatment in terms of investments and distribution of wealth. Also, heavy policing, surveillance, and frequent incarceration applied to these communities contribute to the systematic discrimination. In order to improve the living conditions and treatment of African Americans in the United States, it is suggested by the movement to promote structural economic changes and define development goals that would include the communities suffering from underinvestment and unfair distribution. The movement is also close to Black Lives Matter as it seeks to attract support from all African Americans including vulnerable groups such as women, LGBTQ, the convicts and former inmates of prisons, and the underprivileged people living in poor conditions. Black liberation is declared to be the major value and the main goal of the movement.
Finally, the All Lives Matter movement emerged as a response to Black Lives Matter. The All Lives Matter slogan is critical of the Black Lives Matter slogan for underestimating the value of life of every human being and stressing just one particular group. Many social activists and intellectuals, including African-American ones, supported All Lives Matter as they disapproved of the Black Lives Matter movement’s aggression and claims for exclusiveness. However, in turn, All Lives Matter has been criticized for overlooking the reasons for the narratives and tactics of Black Lives Matter. It has been suggested that the slogan “All Lives Matter” as a response to the slogan “Black Lives Matter” dismisses, neglects, and denies the anti-black racism in the United States.
After reviewing the issues of racism that shaped the Black Lives Matter movement and its philosophy, as well as considering its criticism, in can be concluded that the approach and the tactics of Black Lives Matter are justified by the circumstances of the daunting racial discrimination and oppression. Anti-black racism has been present in the American society for a long time building systematic oppression, discrimination, injustice, and White supremacy. The economic system of the United States has been working towards systematic underinvestment in the African-American community as well as oppressive law enforcement, restricting monitoring, and, most importantly, discriminatory policies and regulations.
African Americans have been subjected to privation and persecuted for decades, and even now, more than sixty years after the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, racism is still a daunting problem. Black liberation provokes a strong response from the society and the White majority in particular. The All Lives Matter movement is a form of such a response. However, the slogan “All Lives Matter” has been criticized for the dismissal, neglecting, and denial of the issues of racism. The Black Lives Matter movement was ignited by particular cases of hate-based violence against African Americans. This fact justifies the movement’s narratives and its opposition to the “All Lives Matter” slogan that fails to recognize the oppression and persecution of African Americans in the present-day United States.