Black Lives Matter

Written by Karen Stollznow, author of ‘On the Offensive

What do people mean when they say, “Black Lives Matter?”

“Black Lives Matter” is a slogan and a social movement in response to the historical and current social and systemic racism and violence perpetuated against Black people.

Where did the phrase come from?

In 2012, 17-year-old African-American Trayvon Martin was walking home in Sanford, Florida, having just purchased a packet of Skittles from a convenience store. He was spotted by local resident George Zimmerman who reported Martin to local police as “suspicious.” Martin was innocent of any crime, although Zimmerman confronted the young man and fatally shot him, claiming the act was in self-defense. He was acquitted of his crime. Following this incident the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter began appearing on social media, in support of Martin and in protest of social and systemic racism. This incident inspired the Black Lives Matter movement, which was co-founded by three Black community organizers: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi.

Concerns about systemic and social racism against Black people have been reinvigorated in response to recent high-profile, racially charged incidents in the United States. These include the murder of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was shot while jogging in a south Georgia neighborhood, and also the murder of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who died in Minneapolis, Minnesota, after a white police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes while the man was handcuffed. These tragic events inspired worldwide protests that have raised awareness of social and systemic racism and led to a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and its motto.

When the Black Lives Matter motto initially arose, the phrase “All Lives Matter” soon sprang up in response, ostensibly to argue that all lives matter because we are all human beings. Black Lives Matter was misconstrued as confrontational, divisive, and exclusionary.

However, Black Lives Matter does not mean that other lives do not matter. Black Lives Matter does not mean that only Black lives matter. In a world where Black people are undeniably discriminated against, in the past and present, Black Lives Matter recognizes that Black lives matter too.

Countering with “All Lives Matter” derails the specific conversation about social and systemic racism against Black people. The saying dismisses, ignores, or denies the problem of racism against Black people, and it effectively shuts down this important discussion.

Black Lives Matter is a phrase that promotes the peaceful protest of racism against Black people. It also calls for immediate action against systemic and social racism. When said by Black people, Black Lives Matter is a declaration that Black lives do indeed matter. It is a cry for protection and recognition. When said by allies, that is, supportive people outside of the group, Black Lives Matter is a motto that acknowledges that Black lives matter, and says we stand in solidarity with members of the Black community.

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