Letters from your black friend: #BlackLivesMatter

The transformational shift for racial justice, recalibrated by the Black Lives Matter movement, is defined by co-founder Alicia Garza as “a call to action for black people after 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was posthumously placed on trial for his own murder, and the killer, George Zimmerman, was not held accountable. It was a response to the anti-black racism that permeates our society. It centers around those who have been marginalized within black liberation movements and is a tactic to (re)build the black liberation movement.”

Allies from around the world have joined in Black Lives Matter, taking charge to not just stand in solidarity, but also to investigate the ways in which anti-black racism is perpetuated. As #BlackLivesMatter took into the streets, varied adaptations of the movement rose — BlueLivesMatter, LatinoLivesMatter, AsianLivesMatter, VeteranLivesMatter, DisabledLivesMatter, AllLivesMatter — and in light of the recent Chapel Hill murders, MuslimLivesMatter, have been born to express support, outrage and hurt regarding different unique causes.

However, black has been removed from the conversation, homogenizing the call to action, pushing for unity at the expense of taking a moment to understand the concrete differences in context, experience and oppression. Specifically, stand-your-ground laws and the killing of unarmed black people are becoming increasingly normalized. The justification for lethal violence in the name of self-defense is reserved for those who have a publicly recognized self to defend. Each grand jury decision emboldens the acceptability of police brutality and validates continued assaults on black bodies. Those whose lives are not considered to matter, whose lives are perceived as a threat to the life that embodies white privilege, can be destroyed in the name of that life.

Black Lives Matter specifies the conversation. By using #AllLivesMatter, legitimate race grievances are shut out, leading into a different kind of racism, pretending race isn’t a factor.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, professor at Princeton University, claims that by arguing against the expansion of the Lives Matter Movement, we reduce solidarity, treating politics as property, whereas we should aim to “understand the connections, intersections and overlaps in oppression and racial exploitation as a way to build, broaden and strengthen the movement.” For other marginalized groups, the black liberation movement has always been a source of inspiration and framework for the oppressed around the world and this country.

Here, #BlackLivesMatter was born from a racial injustice felt by a people who cannot, and should not, be molded to fit another people’s struggle. Solidarity is important, but we cannot risk co-opting entire movements. The pattern of violence against black people is unique within America. This it not to belittle or undermine the injustices other minority groups experience but rather to uplift them by not equating the struggles of various groups, recognizing that these are multifaceted, complex issues that cannot be simplified or toned down with #LivesMatter tacked on the end.

That said, nothing is wrong with saying, “Latino lives matter,” “Muslim lives matter,” “Disabled lives matter,” and so on. However, when they are used the same way as #BlackLivesMatter to evoke the same concept, it leads towards an unproductive result, explaining unique struggles of separate communities. Selective, intentional language assists in uplifting all social movements.

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