Black Lives Matter (BLM) has gotten increasingly more attention and support in recent months due to the killing of George Floyd, in which a police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes as three other officers looked on. Although BLM was a prominent subject in the news for weeks after Floyd’s death, gaining support from millions across the globe and eventually becoming one of the biggest movements in the U.S., it has garnered less attention recently from media outlets. BLM is an activist movement advocating against police brutality and racially motivated violence toward Black people.
Although BLM dominated the news in May 2020 and became a major topic in many conversations, it has received less attention from news outlets since then. However, the movement continues to be a widely discussed subject on social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Through these sites, people have shared numerous resources on how to learn more about BLM and what can be done to help the cause; for example, posting threads with links to petitions to sign and GoFundMes to donate to. Through these social media posts, more awareness has been raised about certain events. This is evident in the case of Breonna Taylor: people continue to plead that her killers be held accountable over four months after she died. Through the use of social media, the news is more efficiently distributed to a wider audience, with videos and statements being shared from direct sources as well. For example, on July 21, a line of mothers shielded protesters from police and federal agents in Portland, and the agents sprayed the mothers with tear gas as they were peacefully protesting and protecting others. Through videos and photos shared on social media, the incident quickly gained traction and attention on national news outlets. Support from corporations like Old Navy and from celebrities such as Halsey and Harry Styles has also helped to highlight the movement. They have shown their support for BLM by actively participating in protests and by bringing attention to Black-owned companies.
Although social media has been helpful in providing more exposure to the cause, it has also brought more instances of performative activism. This occurs when a person only expresses an interest in activism in order to increase their social capital, rather than because they are genuinely devoted to the cause or want to facilitate meaningful change. They are vocal when the topic is trending, but do not make any attempt to contribute meaningfully. Several influencers have been criticized for performative activism when they showed up to protests to stage photos for social media and then left without actually protesting. This performative activism is detrimental to the BLM movement. In an event called Blackout Tuesday, which was started by music executives Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyeman, many people posted black squares on social media platforms like Instagram as a way to show their support for BLM. However, many people also used #BlackLivesMatter in their posts. The harm from this was twofold: first, the BLM hashtag was used in posts to highlight relevant information for protesters, but with the number of black squares flooding the hashtag, it was deemed less effective. Additionally, posting the black square and deleting it the next day makes it seem that it was only a trend. The event was supposed to bring awareness, but if people just used the post as an act of performative activism instead, it goes against the message.
The BLM movement originated following the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February 2012 by George Zimmerman. At the time of the shooting, Zimmerman was not charged, and he would later be acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter by a jury in July 2013. Afterward, people tweeted out #BlackLivesMatter in protest of Zimmerman’s acquittal, and Martin’s first name was tweeted over two million times within a month after his death. Subsequently, hundreds of students from his high school staged a walkout, and rallies, marches and protests were also held across the nation. A petition created on the website Change.org demanding the prosecution of Zimmerman would later become the website’s largest petition with over 2.2 million signatures.
The movement would gain more momentum in 2014 after the murders of two more unarmed black men: Eric Garner in New York and Michael Brown in Missouri. Since then, millions of people, not just in the U.S. but all over the world, have protested in support of BLM.
Anyone can support the BLM movement from anywhere. Actions such as signing petitions, donating money, supporting Black-owned businesses and going to protests are major acts of support. However, out of all these, education is most important. Educating not only yourself but others on how to be anti-racist and how to help the movement is the best support you can give. It can be as simple as sharing an educational Instagram post or reading a book.
By Milin Santizo-Escobar, Staff Writer, and Kaylee Haas, Contributing Writer