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Regardless of the fact that the process of globalization has been in place for many decades and has brought inclusion, diversity, and homogeneity, contemporary societies remain highly fragmented. The division arises based on old-fashioned beliefs and stereotypes. Due to their impact, different communities in society tend to clash. The United States of America is one of the most multinational countries in the world, and that is why it is known for frequent confrontations between the representatives of diverse social groups. One of the most significant reasons for the division is racism that is now actively opposed with the help of social movements.
In particular, the social movement selected for this case study is Black Lives Matter—a social protest that was initiated recently, but that already has many followers and supporters all across the United States. Black Lives Matter is a rather powerful movement that was founded in response to such phenomena as police brutality, racial profiling, and systematic and institutional racism against Black people in the United States. This paper presents an overview of the movement’s history, an evaluation of its achievements and overall success, a comparison of this movement to similar ones, a description of its uniqueness and commonalities, and a discussion of what can be learned about social movements based on the exploration of this individual case.
Black Lives Matter: History Overview
As a movement, Black Lives Matter was initiated in 2012 by three female leaders: Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi (Miller par. 2). Initially, it started out as a hashtag (#BlackLivesMatter) that became rather popular on different social media. The event that provoked this movement was the incident recognized as an act of police brutality where Trayvon Martin, a teenager of African-American background, was shot by George Zimmerman, who was in a neighborhood watch role. The factor that caused the social backlash was the acquittal of the latter. The official website of Black Lives Matter states that the community was appalled by the fact that “17-year old Trayvon was posthumously placed on trial for his own murder” (par 1.).
Moreover, it is important to note that Black Lives Matter has a primarily feminist and LGBTQ orientation and characterizes itself as “a tactic to (re)build the Black liberation movement” (Black Lives Matter par. 2).
Some of the most significant achievements of Black Lives Matter were made in 2015, when the movement gained incredible prominence after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The man was shot by the police, and the movement alongside the other civil protesters immediately reacted to the incident. The movement called attention to cases like this one and the other racial slurs and made the problem of racism in the United States more visible than it has been in the last few decades (Foran par 1).
Moreover, Black Lives Matter launched a series of activist movements, such as Say Her Name raising awareness about the mistreatment of the Black women by law enforcement services and Campaign Zero protesting the police violence (Workneh par. 4, 10). In addition, multiple student protests held on the campuses of different colleges and universities took place to combat systematic and casual racism Black students report experiencing in the educational institutions (Workneh par. 5-6). In addition, some of the notable protests revolved around the Confederate flag that is still used by many official institutions and was opposed by the Black Lives Matter activists because it represented the times of slave ownership (Workneh par. 7).
Black Lives Matter captured the attention of many well-known politicians and artists. In fact, the list of celebrities who supported the movement included Beyonce and Solange Knowles, John Legend, Snoop Dogg, Kim Kardashian, Kerry Washington, and Drake, to name a few (Grant 2-10). Besides, the activists of the movement met with presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
The student protests stimulated some changes and reforms in educational institutions. For instance, the protests at the University of Missouri resulted in the resignation of Tim Wolfe, the university president (Workneh par. 5). Due to the activism of the students, the university leaders and administrations reevaluated their racial attitudes and attempted to eliminate casual racism. In particular, in Georgetown, the university administration responded to the protests by renaming the campus buildings that used to be named after slave owners (Workneh par. 6).
Overall, the movement has achieved a degree of success, raised the public awareness of the racial issues that still exist and persist in different spheres of life in the United States, and managed to address some of these problems, ensuring the support of influential and outspoken authority figures.
Most importantly, since the massive protests of Black Lives Matter supporters and the civil community resulting from the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson took place, there have been about forty new laws and policies introduced in at least twenty-four states regulating the frameworks for the law enforcement officers and addressing the rate of police misconduct (Fields par. 6).
Comparison to the Other Movements
Black Lives Matter could be compared to the other anti-racist movements that took place worldwide. For example, as a multinational country, France has been experiencing multiple protests whose slogans were based on the Christian values and the support of social diversity and equality by the Christian Church and its authorities. Another well-known protest of this type occurred in South Africa, and it is recognized as the anti-apartheid movement. This movement promoted inclusion and unity instead of the division into groups, communities, and categories with separate rights and freedoms.
Uniqueness and Commonalities
The primary feature Black Lives Matter has in common with the two other movements is the attempt to combat racism. However, its uniqueness is that it is specifically directed against police brutality and institutional racism. Moreover, it has a strong feminist edge and emphasizes the rights of Black women in particular. Besides, the movement does not rely as heavily on Christian values as the movement in France did. Its main difference from the anti-apartheid movement is the fact that the latter fought against the social division into ethnicities but rallied for equal rights for everyone. Black Lives Matter activists are currently opposed by a movement called All Lives Matter; they specify that only through the acceptance of the former motto can the latter be enforced. In that way, Black Lives Matter is against generalization and attempts to emphasize that among all the groups of the American population, there are some that suffer the most from the police violence and brutality.
What Can Be Learned
The history, actions, and achievements of the movement known as Black Lives Matter, as well as the effect it has produced on the communities in the United States and abroad, offer a lot of valuable information. First of all, the movement works based on a decentralized model and includes over a dozen chapters that operate separately. This form of organization works very well for the movement, helping it become very mobile and respond to incidents of police misconduct and unfair treatment within very short periods of time.
In addition, it is important to notice that Black Lives Matter has a history that is very typical of the social movements of recent years: It was initiated and popularized on social networks such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook and only then took the form of an actual movement driving the protesters to the streets.
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Moreover, Black Lives Matter represents one of the neo-liberal, urban working-class movements that exist in a highly fragmented society. In particular, apart from targeting the issues of police misconduct and protecting the Black citizens from unfair attitudes, the movement emphasizes that it was organized by Black women with the inclusion of the Black LGBTQ representatives in order to amplify their voices and their concerns with the problems faced by the communities. In that way, it is possible to notice how social identities contribute to the formation of movements and their orientation. This specific movement attempts to bring the issues of the Black community (women and LGBTQ primarily, to be more precise) to the surface; thus it clashes with movements such as All Lives Matter that argue that the rights of all the individuals affected by police brutality need to be taken into consideration. With the refusal to be considered as a part of “all lives,” the representatives of the movement feel that the needs of their very specific groups of the population are overlooked the most and thus demand justice and change.
Black Lives Matter. About the Black Lives Matter Network. n.d. Web.
Fields, Liz. The Year of Black Lives Matter: A Movement with Mixed Success. Web.
Foran, Clare. A Year of Black Lives Matter. 2015. Web.
Grant, Jasmine. These 10 Celebrities Knew Exactly What to Say About #BlackLivesMatter. 2016. Web.
Miller, Ryan W. Black Lives Matter: A primer on what it is and what it stands for. 2016. Web.
Workneh, Lilly. 11 Big Accomplishments Black Activists Achieved In 2015. 2015. Web.