The murder of George Floyd has brought attention to the issues of social injustices and broader societal biases that affect African-Americans. The research question that will be examined in this paper is the social justice movement titled Black Lives Matter (BLM), its origins, and the main issues that the activists are fighting to combat. In opposition to BLM, many point out the need to acknowledge that all lives matter, but this opinion disregards the problem of dehumanization and oppression within the society that the members of the African-American communities experience. The root of the debate is the lack of recognition that BLM activists suggest that the lives of African-Americans matter too, similarly to others’ lives. This paper will provide evidence suggesting that the BLM movement highlights the implicit biases that society demonstrates towards African-Americans and that the movement’s efforts should not be mitigated with the “all lives matter” statements.
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Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement represents a fight for social justice, as a response to systematic oppression faced by the African-American community in the United States. In the article for American Civil Liberties Union’s website, Roberts (2018) explains the origins and purpose of this movement as “the push for Black liberation from state-inflicted violence has evolved into one of the most influential social movements of the post-civil rights era” (para. 1). It was established by three women – Cullors, Garza, and Tometti, who created the infamous BLM hashtag for social media. The main focus is not on changing specific laws to contribute to people’s civil rights, but rather, to affect society as a whole. The constant dehumanization of African-Americans in different domains of their daily lives is often overlooked, perhaps because technically, the laws guarantee fair treatment to citizens of the United States. However, in practice, society does not treat all individuals justly, which is why BLM emerged.
The BLM is a representation of the collective efforts of many organizations advocating for the rights of African-Americans. The examples of cases that BLM advocates point to include the failure to address 68 deaths that were a result of police brutality in Atlanta, which emerged in 2013 (Roberts, 2018). The members of groups, such as YP100, together with Assata’s Daughters, brought attention to the fact that police officers responsible for shooting these people were never brought to justice, which raised questions about social justice. Mainly, many of these cases were attributed to the African-Americans being shot without an apparent danger they posed to the police officers, yet the latter was cleared of charges (Roberts, 2018). Moreover, Atlanta is one of many cities where BLM reported these types of behaviors, and before BLM, the press and the general public dedicated little attention to the issues of African-Americans being killed by the representatives of the law. Hence, the first and foremost issue that BLM activists point out is the consistent violence against African-Americans, leading to many deaths and a lack of prosecution for the police officers committing these actions.
The BLM movement has become the center of attention in recent weeks. Following the death of Geoge Floyd that was filmed and published online, many people witnessed the dehumanization that police officers showed towards the man, which is one of the central issues that BLM aims to combat. As a result, many people chose to protest against the violence and unfair treatment that the African-American community has experienced over the years.
The systemic nature of the treatment and issues that the black community faces daily requires immediate action. Notably, cases of failure to examine the cases of police officers shooting people without an apparent cause described by Roberts (2018) and the death of George Floyd are not the only examples of oppression. The cases of unfair treatment by the police are common across the United States. Moverover, Roberts (2018) states that police corruption, reported by many activists, is another problem, contributing to societal issues. The new governmental policies that target undocumented immigrants and their rights have an indirect influence on the BLM since both relate to human rights and freedoms.
All Lives Matter
The opposite side of the debate claims that “all lives matter,” meaning that human rights and social justice should be guaranteed to all, not only to African-Americans. The BLM only examines and advocates for issues that this group faces, however, in the broader context, no person should be denied their human rights. Hence, the focus on only one ethnicity or race makes some people question the validity and applicability of BLM’s efforts because the activists only mention black Americans. This position disregards the oppression of the African-American community. According to Gallagher et al. (2018), “in response to #BlackLivesMatter, other Twitter users have adopted #AllLivesMatter, a counter-protest hashtag whose content argues that equal attention should be given to all lives regardless of race” (p. 1). Hence, this counter-movement emerged simultaneously with the popularization of BLM, and the disagreement between the two oppositions has been ongoing since then.
Moreover, since the BLM emerged and was popularised through social media, other counter-movements emphasizing the current issues in American society emerged on Twitter and Facebook as well. For example, “#PoliceLivesMatter and #BlueLivesMatter” supporters aim to highlight the dangers that police officers face daily (Gallagher et al., 2019, p. 1). The main idea behind these hashtags is that it is counterproductive to focus on only one group of people or ethnicity. Again, the idea of the lives of individuals being valuable regardless of their race and occupation is reflected in these counter-movements.
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Historically, the conflict between law enforcement and African-Americans has been ongoing. Gallaghar et al. (2018) point out that this tension between the police and black activists makes it challenging to have a conversation about real issues. This explains why the #PoliceLivesMatter hashtags emerged immediately after the BLM movement began on social media. Notably, BLM members do not advocate for the opposite. They state that police or other law enforcement representatives’ lives have no value because their job implies risk or for any other reason. As Gallaghar et al. (2018) note, the BLM began as a response to the murder of Trayvon Martin by the neighborhood watchman. The issue was the lack of action from the law enforcement, as the watchman was not arrested, and no charges were presented against him for the murder. This case, similarly to many others, suggests that people who murder African-Americans do not have to worry about justice, as their cases are usually dismissed. BLM aims to bring attention to this problem, and not to disregard the lives of other individuals, as suggested by the opponents of the movement.
Undeniably, no person should be treated unjustly, and no social movement should advocate for such actions. As Atkins (2018) suggests, people who oppose the “black lives matter” movement with the “all lives matter” counterclaim review the former as an idea that only black lives are valuable. However, this social movement does not deny the value of life, regardless of race or ethnicity. The main idea is to point out the continuous oppression and implicit biases that still exist in our society and mainly affect the African-American community. Such error in judgment is attributed to the so-called “color blindness” (Atkins, 2018, p. 1). Therefore, BLM activists do not want to disregard the value of other communities. However, they want to point out the real social problems that affect black people more than any others.
Another issue with the “all lives matter” claim is that people of other ethnicities may not have the same experiences as African-Americans. While they may recognize that some problems exist within the society, because they are not faced with racism on an everyday basis, they cannot recognize the value of the movement. Roberts (2018) points out that many African-Americans experience racism even today, for example, at Universities. The BLM activities at the University of Missouri highlighted this issue by advocating for the resignation of the University’s president. The latter failed to address on-campus racism. It is improper to expect that white students would understand this because they are not subjected to racism. However, they can acknowledge the problem and admit that their experiences may differ, contributing to the BLM’s message.
Some people perceive BLM as a hate group aiming to promote racism against non-black individuals. The Economist even notes that “some on the right have called for the movement to be classified as a hate group” (“The misplaced arguments against Black Lives Matter,” 2017, para. 1). This attitude is further intensified by the lack of recognition of the group’s efforts and advocacy from the government. President Trump, for example, balmed the BLM representatives, amongst others, for violence that happened in Charlottesville in 2017 (“The misplaced arguments against Black Lives Matter,” 2017). Hence, BLM faces strong opposition, both from the politicians and members of other groups. However, while preparing this research, no evidence of hatred or BLM members advocating for violence against members of other groups were located. Hence, the conclusion is that the counterarguments against the BLM movement are based on misunderstanding or lack of willingness to communicate and find out the truth about the movement.
Freedom is a Constant Struggle
As mentioned, BLM is not the only movement arguing against racism and promoting social justice in the United States. In her book, Davis (2016) provides a collection of works that explore the issue of racism and violence, similar to the BLM movement’s activists. Among other themes, Davis (2016) explores the police brutality that disproportionately affects the back people. Mainly, the majority of people in prisons in the United States are back. Moreover, Davis’s (2016) research suggests that 25% of the world prison population is attributed to the United States, a disproportionately high number. This can be an indication of a broader or a systemic issue with the way crimes are reviewed in the state. Additionally, police officers often shoot and kill back people, as opposed to representatives of other races. Hence, Davis (2016) explores the topics BLM activists focus on, the brutality towards African-Americans, which is mainly manifested through law enforcement actions. Therefore, both BLM and Davis explore similar ideas of racism and injustices affecting black people in the modern era.
Since Davis is an activist and many of the book’s texts are her speeches, an essential element is a call to action that the author presents. The system that allows officers to avoid being charged for the murder of a black person has to change. More importantly, however, the societal perception of such actions and media attention directed at similar cases have to change as well. It is necessary to change the way society perceives and recognizes racism and condemns racist actions, which are the goals of both Davis and BLM.
To summarize, this paper argues that BLM’s central idea is to point out the unfair treatment of this ethnicity in the United States. Hence, the movement’s efforts should not be overshadowed by the idea that “all lives matter.” The activists of BLM do not argue that only their race matters, instead their argument is that black lives matter as well as the others. Hence, people who think that BLM overlooks the idea of fundamental human rights and justices fail to recognize the purpose of the movement —claiming that “all lives matter” leads to social colorblindness and failure to recognize the systemic issues that oppress this community. Hence, the counterarguments against BLM are based on the improper understanding of the premise under which the movement was formed.
Atkins, A. (2018). Black Lives Matter or All Lives Matter? Color-blindness and epistemic injustice. Social Epistemology, 1–22. Web.
Davis, A. (2016). Freedom is a constant struggle. Haymarket Books.
Gallagher, R., Reagan, A., Danforth, C., & Dodds, P. (2018). Divergent discourse between protests and counter-protests: #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter. PLOS ONE, 13(4), e0195644. Web.
Roberts, F. L. (2018). How Black Lives Matter changed the way Americans fight for freedom. ACLU.