Associate Professor, Philosophy
Q: What is the biggest misconception about the Black Lives Matter movement?
The idea that the movement is concerned just with police violence. The movement launched after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the killing of Trayvon Martin, which was not a matter of police violence, but rather a miscarriage of justice. The Martin killing and failure of justice was in many ways the most tragic representation of the institutional insecurities blacks face continually. The series of police shootings that got covered, for many, defined the movement because leaving a body in the sun is much less abstract than protesting food deserts in the inner city. So the movement became closely associated with police violence, despite it initially being concerned with black well-being very broadly understood.
Additionally, black folks saying “black lives matter” was never meant to signal a desire for priority. Rather, it was a demand for equality, because in America, it has already seemed that all other lives already mattered; we just wanted to be accorded the same value. It’s important to emphasize that no one has seriously suggested that black lives come first or over and beyond. It’s a basic matter of equality.
Q: Is the BLM movement sustainable?
The slogan has kept the movement alive in our minds for longer than I think would otherwise be the case. But movements like that can’t last because the American people’s attention span and capacity for racial sympathy and imagination are at this point very limited. I am also skeptical of leaderless movements. America, for better and often worse, is a land of branding and spokespeople. To most people, movements on principles are abstract, but a personality is something they can hold on to. The movement has decided to be leaderless for some very understandable reasons, but without a leader, the movement is not long for this world, I think.
Lebron is the author of The Making of Black Lives Matter: A Brief History of an Idea.
Washington D.C., USA – December 13, 2014: A young woman holds a sign at the protest march in Washington DC to bring attention to the recent shooting deaths of several unarmed black men by police.