This week, we spent a lot of time discussing mass incarceration, the war on drugs, and racial inequity. In recent times, a racial justice social movement has emerged directly challenging what...
This week, we spent a lot of time discussing mass incarceration, the war on drugs, and racial inequity. In recent times, a racial justice social movement has emerged directly challenging what Michelle Alexander calls, "The New Jim Crow." Black Lives Matter has become increasingly criticized for its untraditional tactics such as disrupting traffic and interrupting political speeches. What social (not psychological) conditions motivate movement organizers to adopt such methods of institutional change? How do your social identities (race, class, gender, sexuality, etc.) and experiences shape your perception of this movement and its related tactics? How might you perceive the movement differently if you possessed a different social identity?
Black Lives Matter, frequently referred to as BLM, is a loosely and locally-organized movement unlike its civil rights predecessors, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which were centralized. Different factions generally engage in similar methods of protest, however. The disruption of traffic, for instance, is a common method of protest. I should note, too, that this method is not exactly new. Let us not forget how Dr. King, Coretta Scott King, Congressman John Lewis, and others marched across Edmund Pettus Bridge from Selma into Montgomery in 1965 to protest obstructions to the black vote.
BLM members stop traffic because they do not want Americans, particularly white Americans, to continue on with their quotidian lives without paying attention to the injustices committed against fellow Americans. The disruption of traffic is a small inconvenience, but it is one that impacts time managed and spent. It forces people to confront the ways in which police brutality and injustice disrupt, and all too often end, black lives.
Political speeches are disrupted for similar reasons. Some may remember the two young black women who disrupted a Bernie Sanders speech in Seattle earlier this year. Whatever one's feelings may be on their tactics, their purpose was to question the integrity of white liberals who claim to be advocates for civil rights causes but who do not wish to be confronted with their own white privilege. They may also not wish to be confronted by their own racism, which is pleased to see people of color in rally audiences, but perhaps less pleased to hear their voices questioning structural racism and white privilege. Political disruption forces predominately white audiences to deal with their feelings, however ugly or uncomfortable, about black people privileging their own voices even at supposedly inopportune moments.
Clearly, as any thread on a social media website will show you, a lot of people have a problem with this. If one is white and unconscious of the mechanisms of oppression, both large and small, one would be inclined to cite BLM members as troublemakers needlessly complaining and disrupting people's lives just because some "thugs" were shot by police. Such comments are common and reflect, however unknowingly, a racist bias.
If you are female, particularly black and female, you may be exasperated with the ways in which BLM (an organization founded by a pair of black lesbians), reinforces patriarchy. This, too, is not new to civil rights struggles: the agonies and abuses of black men are addressed while those of black women are rendered invisible or are forgotten. We have seen this most recently with the death of Korryn Gaines.
If you are queer, you might be annoyed with the ways in which BLM neglects or overlooks the deaths of LGBT people. However, it is often forgotten that BLM's major intention is to address police brutality and injustice -- not every racist abuse committed.
As with every civil rights organization that has ever existed, BLM has its flaws and blind spots; but its work is noble and necessary if we are earnest in our pursuit of a more just and equitable society.