With the recent series of protests taking place, I believe it both crucial and valid to look back on perhaps one of the biggest movements against racism and discrimination of our time. Before you read any further, keep in mind that this same concept of unifying in order to raise awareness is one that applies to all groups regardless of ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender, and the like. It is also important to remember that while much can be debated when it comes to what each protest has become, it may be separate from the original idea and purpose to these movements. The movement we discuss today is Black Lives Matter.

Having been raised in the age of technology, it comes to no surprise that we are savvy when it comes to social media. What was once a soapbox is now a social platform on the Internet and whether we like it or not what we think and say is now open to the comments and criticisms of a global audience; meaning that this very article and the comments you post –they have the potential to be powerful and at times even dangerous.

It was the statement made by Alicia Garza, a workers’-rights activist on Facebook soon after the verdict of the George Zimmerman case -the shot that was heard around the world; the one fired at Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager in a gated Florida suburb. Black teenager. That was all it took for them to label him. And this label is a force to be reckoned with because this label is a social construct made to create a hierarchy that justifies the exploitation of who is deemed inferior –which for many centuries has been the blacks.

Tanya Golash-Boza, an associate professor who focuses on racial identity and human rights, illustrates in her piece "Race and Racisms" that racism has not disappeared, but simply hidden itself in bias biological and cultural aspects of color blind racism. In attempts to silence this movement, white voices have protested the message of #BlackLivesMatter with #AllLivesMatter. What may be seen as a rude retort actually speaks volumes on the fact that the issue with this colorblind message is that it attempts to forego all of the inherent inequalities that blacks face.  

Similar to the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements, activists focus on physical occupation of these public spaces that will undoubtedly amplify their voice in social media and garner the attention of other supporters, as well as people in power, forcing them to take action and recognize the struggle against oppression. By causing discomfort, people in society are able to feel the pain and frustration of living as a black American. Because as Iris Marion Young points out in Five Faces of Oppression, the focus should not be on the material goods and resources, but on the decision-making structures in our government, the division of labor in our economy, and the culture in our society. And to start doing so we must ask the right questions –the most important being about where the movement will go from here.

And who better to call upon than our previous president, Barack Obama? In his meeting with the youth of London, he acknowledges the efforts of Black Lives Matter but simultaneously offers some critique.

“The value of social movements and activism is to get you at the table.”

Because though the movement has effectively brought attention to such issues, young activists hesitate to work alongside political leaders, putting more emphasis on criticizing from outside the political process.

“You can’t just keep on yelling at them.”He further advises them to take responsibility in preparing an achievable agenda and to be willing to compromise. The backlash towards his stance, however, is that Obama is almost too willing to compromise and had simply not done enough during his presidency. At a meeting in the White House on February 18th, he invited activists of different generations, ranging from the director-counsel of the NAACP to the head of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights to the prominent figures of Black Lives Matter. The response to his invitation was split, some rejecting him for fear that they were being used as a political ploy, others accepting it graciously. This divide also reflected the conflict over what the objectives were and whether in trying to reach it with this new form of protesting and online activism, it would prove to be dangerous.  

I for one can understand the hesitation because as said before, social media and outlets at large can be both powerful and dangerous. With no specific goal in mind and so many different forms of anti-racist objectives, it can be difficult to unite and advance as a whole. By compromising, they may be accepting the color blind version of reality. And protests, though they are successful in getting attention, can also take away from the movement. Freestyle disruption may lead to people wondering how the movement chooses its targets and may even further question whether they are at times going too far and risking peoples’ lives further.“We all lose when bullying and personal attacks become a substitute for genuine conversation and principled disagreement.”

Even the leader of the movement, Alicia Garza, has been forcibly silenced by those who are deemed as the Internet trolls and haters that we know all too well. People who are taking this opportunity to spread their racist sentiments (white or black) are threatening the survival of the movement. The solution and the next step that I stand behind is the organization of the protesters and the cooperation between them and officials that is needed in order to make actual change to the system. Garza calls activists to action,

“If you’re not in one [organization], join one or start one. Make a plan –because they have one. They are sitting in a very well-funded think tank right now figuring out how to squash this. They’re going to figure out a way to squash this if we are not organized.”