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What is the Black Lives Matter Movement?

What is the Black Lives Matter movement? Why does this movement matter?

Racism is present in everyday life for black people and is not only reflected in insults and physical violence, but it is present on a personal and state level as well. This ranges from racial profiling, legislation, street names, and discrimination within school education, to the media, to access to employment and housing markets. In addition to all of these issues, current events from all over the world are constantly showing us that protest is necessary.

In the "Black Lives Matter" demonstrations, people are seeking to set an example against racism. But where does the movement actually originate from?

The Black Lives Matter movement has come together in the United States to raise awareness of racism and violence against African Americans and people of color.

Quick Facts about the Black Lives Matter movement:

  • Although the full name is “Black Lives Matter”, it is more commonly referred to by its acronym, BLM
  • It is an American movement against violence towards African Americans and people of color based on race or ethnicity
  • The movement managed to reach many people through effective use of social media and hashtags on platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

What is the Black Lives Matter movement? Why is it considered as one of the most political Black Lives Matter is a social movement that originated in 2013 and is directed against racial violence by the police in the United States. This movement got a lot of attention with the hashtag # BlackLivesMatter. After the death of the African-American teenager Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman, people were shocked and greatly disturbed a what they saw as blatant injustice; in protest, there were riots and demonstrations across the country. 

The BLM movement is also associated with the phrase "I can't breathe ". This phrase became the movement’s main motto after the death of George Floyd, an African-American man who was killed in a recorded police operation. The entire country and the world watched the footage of George Floyd’s last minutes, with him repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe” and were shocked at the use of unnecessary physical violence against an individual of color. 

What is "Black Lives Matter"?

"Black Lives Matter" is the name of a movement that has formed in the African-American community in response to violence against blacks. The final decision for the emergence was above all the acquittal of the neighborhood guard George Zimmerman, who shot the unarmed African-American student Trayvon Martin in 2012. The movement works decentrally and does not follow a clear, formal hierarchy. Accordingly, there is no leader.

It started with a hashtag.

"I could not imagine that in 2013 a white person could shoot a young man as they passed by and would not be held accountable," explains Patrisse Khan-Cullors, one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement in a letter on her website. Khan-Cullors posted the spontaneous exclamation "Black Lives Matter" of her co-founder Alicia Garza and added a hashtag. Together with the third founder, Opal Tometi, they set up an online community under the motto "Black Lives Matter" and organized protests.

The slogan became more popular a year later when the young African American Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson by a police officer under unsettled circumstances. Ferguson was also unarmed, and the policeman was not convicted. In addition to impunity, the partisan approach of the judicial authorities caused anger and despair, especially among the black population. Hundreds of people demonstrated in Ferguson against racist police violence.

All Black Lives Matter

In addition to street protests, the Black Lives Matter movement also consciously uses social media to network and bring its issues onto the political agenda. This is how they managed to raise public awareness of racism. The Black Lives Matter Foundation, Inc, which emerged from the movement, is now represented in the USA, England, and Canada. It is committed to exterminating "white supremacy" and strengthening local black communities.

Black Lives Matter not only stands for the fight against police violence against blacks but it also draws the supporters' attention to structural racism. Structural racism not only emanates from the authorities but is also prevalent in all areas of life for all black people, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion, nationality or financial status. The activists criticize the fact that previous protests have mainly focused on heterosexual men.

Black Lives Matter inherited the civil rights movement of the 1960s

The Black Lives Matter movement can be traced back to the American civil rights movement in the 1960s. At that time, Martin Luther King fought against discrimination in the form of racial segregation and campaigned for equal rights for the black population. At least on paper, he was successful: discrimination based on race, skin color, religion, gender, or nationality was prohibited by law through his efforts. 

"We'll keep fighting like crazy."

But in reality, racism still lives on. In the last few years of the movement, this has not changed, as Black Lives Matter founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors explains in her letter: "We were forced to go to prison, we were monitored, they were on us, we were called terrorists, wrongly classified by the FBI and some of us have lost our lives.

The fight will go on; she is certain. "We fought for our freedom like crazy, and we will continue to fight like crazy."

Black Lives Matter: Foundation and Philosophy

The movement with the hashtag # BlackLivesMatter was co-founded by three activists from the black community in summer 2013: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi acted after George Zimmerman's acquittal for the killing of Trayvon Martin. Black Lives Matter's philosophy is against racism, police violence, and discrimination against African Americans in the United States.

After George Floyd's death in 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement became louder and bigger than ever. Millions of people have demonstrated in the United States. Several thousand also took to the streets in different countries to show their solidarity with the activists. The Website Black Lives Matter provides information about protest marches in the United States.

From New York, Amsterdam, Berlin, London, to Mexico City, the list of cities in which protests over the violent death of African American George Floyd have taken place continues to grow. People all over the globe take to the roads to set an example against racism and police violence.

The phrase "Black Lives Matter" can always be read on their posters. There are different slogans, representative images, and figures that have risen in prominence to represent the movement, but at the core of every protest is that famous slogan: Black Lives Matter.

Black Lives Matter - Protests and Demonstrations

More and more sympathizers of the Black Lives Matter movement demonstrated against the deaths of several African Americans through police actions. The demonstrations kept calling for slogans that reflect what the victims had to endure. Slogans such as: "Hands up don't shoot” refer to Michael Brown's death in Ferguson in 2014. A policeman killed the 18-year-old with 12 shots. Or "I can't breathe" refers to the death of George Floyd but is also reminiscent of the African American Eric Garner, who passed away in New York in 2014 after a policeman strangled him after being arrested.

Obama and Black Lives Matter

In the beginning of the movement’s activism, former United States President Obama met with older generation civil rights activists and Black Lives Matter activists at the White House. Obama praised the group and said he was convinced that the movement could help America grow.

But only two months laterObama criticized the movement sharply. The activists had protested loudly at election events. “Shouting alone is no use, you also have to be willing to sit down at the table with political opponents”, Obama said.

Black Lives Matter on the Internet and Social Media

Black Lives Matter uses the Internet, especially social media, to make public where possible social grievances can be seen. In this way, people were directly faced with the consequences of their racist actions. With the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, which was invented in July 2013, activists on Instagram reached a lot of people and found a platform to directly involve a larger audience in their movement. Social media attention is high when it comes to supporting something important. The activists have found a large forum for exchange. Their approach is to deal directly with the problem at hand through protests. To do this, they hold rallies and demonstrations.

Superstars like Beyoncé and Rihanna also commented on Instagram on the death of George Floyd. "We cannot normalize this pain," says Beyoncé Knowles-Carter in a video message

And singer Rihanna writes: "In the past few days, the level of devastation, anger, and sadness I have felt has been overwhelming, to say the least! Watching my people being murdered and lynched day after day hit my heart hard!"

Black Lives Matter - First Successes after Street Protests and Social Media 

#BlackLivesMatter gained national attention in the United States after two African Americans, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, were killed by police officers. The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter gave people cohesion when they went to the streets to march and shout for equality for weeks after this and other deaths.

The hashtag migrated from just being a hashtag on social networks to being the main phrase of the demonstrators' posters. What began as an outcry turned into an organized movement with large-scale protests. The first successes were quick. Soon, the entire country was seriously debating about police violence and racism. In 2014, the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was named Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society. The network of the movement continued to spread across the country, and their fight against racism had tangible consequences: police chiefs were fired, the President of Missouri University had to resign, and the presidential candidates were grilled on their support for Black Lives Matter.

In addition to major street protests, the Black Lives Matter movement members also make use of social media to draw attention to racism and violence against people of color worldwide. After the video of George Floyd's death in May 2020 went viral on the Internet, people worldwide posted black tiles on their social media profiles and showed solidarity with the victims of police violence as part of "Black-Out Tuesday."

Political slogans such as "I can't breathe" (referring to the deaths of George Floyd and Eric Garner) or "No justice, no peace" also became popularly distributed by the movement in the form of hashtags on the Internet in order to raise awareness of the problem and to call for demonstrations. Body gestures such as kneeling, refusing to salute the flag and kneeling instead, raising the fist (like the one depicted of the raised black fist) are also symbolic of the movement.

Are Blacks More Likely to be Victims of Police Violence in the United States?

Since 2015, the Washington Post has documented every killing by a police officer in the United States. According to those statistics, African Americans are shot by the police disproportionately: The report says that while African Americans made up less than 13 percent of the US population, the police killed African Americans twice as often as they killed white Americans. Hispanic Americans were also killed by the police more often than white citizens.

White support for a black movement

The Black Lives Matter movement is currently louder and bigger than ever. Many show solidarity with the protests. The movement researcher Nicole Hirschfelder says: Whites can only help the movement if they deal with their own racism.

Since George Floyd's death, many people in various cities in the United States have taken to the roads against racism and police violence. 

The Reputation of the "Black Lives Matter" Movement

Suddenly the slogan is everywhere: "Black Lives Matter" signs hang in house entrances from San Francisco to Boston. Starbucks hands out printed T-shirts to his baristas. Companies like Nike, Netflix, and Citigroup express solidarity with the movement. Washington (DC) recently renamed an area opposite the White House to "Black Lives Matter Plaza."

The "BLM" movement has undergone a change in image in the past few weeks. Within two weeks, public support for "BLM" has increased as much as in the two years before, reports the Civiqs survey institute. Two-thirds of the Americans now support the movement. How can you explain the sudden approval of a group that a majority rejected two years ago?

Decentralized Organization

Black Lives Matter is a loose movement with countless informal and 13 official branches in America. The latter is committed to general guidelines, such as the global fight against black oppression and the inclusion of minorities. But every branch is fighting for change within its community and has its own priorities. The non-profit organization of the same name, registered since 2016, mainly deals with fundraising and helps with organizational questions.

This decentralized organization was important to the three founders of "Black Lives Matter." The three came together by chance: in summer 2013, when a Florida court cleared white neighborhood guard George Zimmerman, who had shot black teen Trayvon Martin the previous year, that the 32-year-old African American Alicia Garza from Oakland turned to Facebook to express her frustration over the ruling She wrote on Facebook: «I am always amazed at how little the lives of black people are important. Black people, I love you, our lives are important. » A friend commented on "#BlackLivesMatter," and a third suggested spreading the catchphrase on social networks. The movement was born. Although it wasn't until the following year that the three really caused a sensation when, after Michael Brown died in Ferguson, Missouri,

Unlike black civil rights movements in the 20th century, the founders did not want to appoint a single leader like Martin Luther King junior, Jesse Jackson, or Malcolm X. They were based on the organizational structure of the Occupy movement: local branches should set up their own networks with politicians and activists. Seven years later, this very structure made it possible for protests against the murder of George Floyd to spring up in more than 2,000 American cities within a very short space of time, and for the activists to use the momentum to make concrete reform proposals in the respective communities.

Criticism of the Protest Methods

But after the first protests in Ferguson in 2014, criticism of the movement quickly arose. According to the Ministry of Justice, there was a "Ferguson effect" in police work, the murder rates in 56 major cities had increased because the police officers had withdrawn. A nationwide debate about whether only the lives of black people are important triggered counter-movements such as the right-wing nationalist "White Lives Matter."

Other black civil rights activists have criticized Black Lives Matter's sometimes radical methods of protest, in which protesters block bridges and highways or willfully damage property.

In the following years, however, hair-raising cases of police violence against unarmed blacks caused public opinion to slowly develop greater sympathy for the movement. However, Black Lives Matter no longer attracted as much attention as in Ferguson, and its offshoots also began to argue among themselves. Just a few days before the murder of George Floyd, experts described the movement on the Economist as increasingly irrelevant.

But that changed suddenly at the end of May. For weeks, hair-raising killings of blacks had made headlines, be it by police officers or vigilantes. Glued to the couch during the Coronavirus crisis, millions of Americans read about these cases and saw on their smartphones the videos of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, and then footage of police officers pounding peaceful demonstrators. Without the Coronavirus cases, these cases would probably have evaporated in the hectic pace of everyday life, activists from "Black Lives Matter" later said in interviews. But as if under a magnifying glass, the grievances in race relations were now apparent. Instead of sitting on the couch, many Americans joined local protests.

"The global Black Lives Matter movement has reached historic proportions," says Tyler Parry, a professor of African American history at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. It shows what a civil rights movement looks like in times of social networks. The important question now is whether it can also bring about sustainable change, just as previous movements would have cemented it with the Civil Rights Act.

Why you shouldn't answer "Black Lives Matter" with "All Lives Matter."

Why not "All Lives Matter"?

Especially from the right camp comes the accusation that instead of Black Lives Matter, it should actually be called "All Lives Matter." The activists counter that the lives of black people in a world in which white people are primarily in power are seen as life without value.

The slogan "Black Lives Matter" has often been criticized in the past and labeled as selfish "All Lives Matter" is the more appropriate term for the movement. However, the reason for this criticism is not the accused selfishness, but rather the misinterpretation of the motto. "BLM" does not mean that just black lives are important or even more important than white lives.

The motion would rather testify that black life also is important to black life also count and that black life also is valuable, just as white life. "Black Lives Matter" tries to put black and white people on one level. The slogan "All Lives Matter" would make the aspect of systematic racism and discrimination secondary, since not all people experience exclusion and disadvantage because of their skin color.

Maybe well-meant, but actually Problematic

The death of George Floyd, a black American who was so brutally attacked in a police operation that he died shortly afterward, caused a wave of outrage across the world. Since then, there have been protests or actions on social media worldwide that express grief and anger at the deed and show solidarity with black people and against all forms of racism.

The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter (whether on the web or on posters) is one of the fighting spells used to point out injustice. But with this striking slogan, many feel called to insist on an #AllLivesMatter ("All lives are important"). Could you actually sign that way? Yes and no... Because whoever insists on this distinction has not fully understood the underlying problem.

Reason 1- It's not called "Only Black Lives Matter."

The first assumption, which is probably the basis of many people who would rather look at an "All Lives Matter" instead of the saying "Black Lives Matter," is that when one uses the statement “Black Lives Matter” to speak about the rights of blacks, that person is saying that the lives of black people are worth more than those of other races.

A law professor explained this to concerned students in a letter published on Imgur. They asked him to stop wearing his "Black Lives Matter" t-shirt because it should actually be called "All Lives Matter." According to the professor, the students were viewing it as if there is an "ONLY" before the saying "Black Lives Matter," meaning "ONLY the lives of blacks count." If something counts, it does not imply that nothing else counts, "he writes.

"Black Lives Matter" fights for the equality and equal treatment of all black people against police arbitrariness and racism in the USA, Canada, and Great Britain. There are now branches of the English movement in some European cities, such as Berlin and Hanover. The organizations also draw attention to social and political grievances, which particularly black people feel through systematic racism, exclusion, and disadvantage.

 

Reason 2: We should address the more obvious problem

So it should be clear to everyone that the claim "Black Lives Matter" is by no means to be equated with the requirement that the lives of blacks (or any minority) are more important than others. This movement is precisely about a specific problem: namely, that blacks are disadvantaged due to their skin color. Be it with extreme examples such as police violence, or in everyday life. This is called structural racism. And that is exactly the problem that the "Black Lives Matter" movement wants to draw attention to -- that it still makes a difference when you are born with black skin.

If you now loudly demand that it should be called "All Lives Matter," you are denying that there is a problem that is urgent and that we should all address together.

There are many comparisons on Twitter to help explain this concept. Insisting on “All Lives Matter” in place of "Black Lives Matter" is equivalent to the following:

  • "Running around and calling at a cancer conference, THERE ARE OTHER DISEASES."
  • "Going to the doctor with a broken arm, with the doctor telling you that other bones are important too."
  • There is a house next to a burning house and you first extinguish the non-inflamed house (or also) with water, because all houses are important

A Reddit user has another good example: If a portion of food is opened at the family table except for yourself, you would say, "I should get my share." It does not help if the distributor now says, "EVERYONE should get their part" - because the others already have theirs, and you just wanted to draw attention to the problem that one has not yet received anything.

Reason 3: #AllLivesMatter often comes from the political right

Another reason people insist on "All Lives Matter" is that this demand is commonly supported by the politically right-wing camp. However, many people simply want to express that everyone should be treated equally and want to emphasize that they do not want to emphasize people because of their skin color. But even if the wish behind it is well-meaning, the argument has become so interwoven with views that already include racist tendencies that the actual intention behind the reformulation can hardly be recognized.

Reason 4: #AllLivesMatter refers to other oppressed minorities

For some people, "All Lives Matter" stands for all BPoPC (Black People and People of Color) who have to deal with racism and structural disadvantage. Unfortunately, all migrant groups are thrown into one category with this hashtag, which can be problematic. For example, black people and non-white people do not experience the same racism. Thus, the term "All Lives Matter" does not contribute to solving a problem. It is not clear what different experiences minorities have, which means that individual grievances cannot be dealt with in a targeted manner.

Debates always creep in from people who want to normalize the events that have happened. Again and again, you read comments like, "And what about the people who have to go hungry? They are also doing badly". The fact that both subjects are two completely different topics is usually ignored. The goal is to manipulate the opponent with questions like "What about ...?" And to distract them from the actual problem. This is not helpful constructive criticism, but a relativization. This phenomenon is also called "whataboutism."

"Black Lives Matter": What is "White Privilege"?

In order to fight for equality for all people, people must first recognize that BPoPC have more challenges due to their skin color than their white fellow human beings. This does not mean that white people don’t have any problems. It should rather be shown that these problems are not related to their own skin color and that this does not make life harder. This social problem is called "White Privilege."

Black Lives Matter - 7 things we have to do now against racism

"I can't breathe": Again, police officers in the United States killed an African American - George Floyd's last-minute pictures went around the world. Floyd's death is the result of deeply rooted racism, which is also common among us.

For nearly nine minutes, cop Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd's neck. "I can’t breathe," said the latter, also: "Please don't kill me." But Chauvin kept pushing him to the ground, and Floyd choked.

The recordings leave you stunned; at the same time, Floyd's case was not an isolated incident. In March, 26-year-old Breonna Taylor was shot dead by police in Louisville, and last October, 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson was killed at home. Police violence against African Americans has become a long-standing, quietly-hidden tradition in the United States.

Those who are not themselves affected by racism will find it difficult to understand how black people are currently dealing with Floyd's death. However, one thing is clear: people all over the world suffer from racism; in the worst case, this can be fatal. This is reason enough for all of us to take action against it. This is how you, as a supporter and ally, can help.

1. Contact black friends and acquaintances.

Do you have black friends, acquaintances, or colleagues? You've probably spent the past few days following the protests in the United States, and seeing even more police violence against blacks. Contact them, ask them how they are doing at the moment and if they want to talk. Show them that they are not alone with their grief and anger. Solidarity from those who are not affected can do good right now.

2. Take part in protest actions.

A concrete way to show solidarity: take part in protests against racism. For example, Black Lives Matter demos are held in different regions. If protests are currently too unsafe because of the Coronavirus, you can attend demonstrations after the pandemic ends or take precautionary measures during the protests. Here, the signal you are sending to BPoPC (Black People and People of Color) is important: You don't have to fight racism and injustice alone.

3. Raise your voice against racism

The aunt talks again at a family celebration that all refugees are criminals? Is your grandpa joking about Turks? Does anyone insult a black person on the subway? Don't leave racist statements or insults uncommented. Address the speaker that the statement is racist and unacceptable. Depending on the situation, you can discuss the content of the statement with the person. Those who remain silent in the face of blatant racism help to ensure that racism remains invisible and normalized.

4. Find out

In order to be able to speak out against racism, you first have to recognize it because it does not only express itself in insults and violence. Much of the everyday racism that BPoPC is experiencing is hidden. Therefore: inform yourself. Knowledge about racism also helps to identify your racist thought patterns, and to reduce them.

5. Listen to BPoPC (Black People and People of Color)

Starting from supposedly "well-intentioned" remarks to racist violence, when those affected tell you about it, listen without relativizing their experiences. Avoid sentences such as "that was definitely not what they meant" or "you are too sensitive." Someone who is BPoPC has had many years of experience with racism and can classify it accordingly. Talking him down is another step towards normalizing racism.

6. Support Anti-Racist Work

There are numerous associations, clubs, and initiatives that work to fight against racism. They organize demonstrations, provide information material, give workshops, and cooperate with schools, the media, and politics. Their work is extremely important; however, they are mostly dependent on memberships and donations if you want to donate or support.

7. Be aware of your Privileges.

Be aware of the opportunities that you have due to your skin color, and the opportunities that others do not have because of their skin color. For example, an opportunity to interview, view an apartment and be approved, not being interrogated by the police, and the ability to be left alone by yourself. These are privileges that people enjoy or are deprived of, because of their skin color. In short: you have many privileges that black people and people of color do not have. You have advantages because they have disadvantages. "Acknowledge that it is a privilege that you have (if you know) and use that privilege to break it," says American activist DeRay Mckesson.

Becoming aware of your own privileges is not so easy because we take them for granted. 

 

Whether this is your first encounter with the Black Lives Matter movement, or you have continued to see their work in your neighborhood, the greatest first step we can take is to be informed. Regardless of skin color, political affiliation, or personal opinion about the demonstrations of the BLM movement, what is clear is that we all must participate together in the fight against racism.

 

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