Although February 2021’s Black History Month has come to an end, the significance and messages of cultural identity, awareness, and Black stories are forever of annual spirit and importance. These messages can be summarized in the contents of a simple and well-known phrase: Black Lives Matter.
Although the term has been used in debates surrounding social justice, invoked at protests, shorthanded (BLM), and even made into a viral hashtag, its purpose has always meant to raise recognition of the injustice faced by Black people not only in America but worldwide. This seemingly simple phrase remains a much-needed reminder, even in the year 2021, that “Black lives matter too.”
THE ORIGINS OF BLACK LIVES MATTER
The term, one that has received plenty of backlash since its release, was initially popularized by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi in 2013 following the murder of Trayvon Martin. After teenage Martin’s shooter, George Zimmerman, was found not guilty for the crime, Alicia Garza first posted on Facebook the phrase “Black Lives Matter.”
From there, a movement was born and continuously gained popularity with every injustice faced by the Black community. Too often the victim was a black man, the killer was a policeman, and the perpetrator was not jailed. This repeated pattern allowed for the Black Lives Matter movement to raise awareness of the serious police reforms needed to protect Black lives, as well as shed light on the institutionalized racism held within our justice system.
THE HISTORIC SUMMER OF 2020 AND BLM
When a video surrounding the traumatic encounter with police and later death of George Floyd was posted, many Americans were understandably outraged. Not only had an innocent man been murdered while wrongfully taken into custody, but no officer on the scene was discharged or faced serious charges until after mass protests had already begun.
During that summer, thousands of people attended protests that were held in all 50 states as well as multiple international countries; the Black Lives Matter movement had taken the world by storm.
The mass amount of protests we saw in 2020 have not continued to 2021, however, the movement still prevails with a larger following than seen in previous years. Policies have been put into place to address police reform, policies that show the demand for racial justice can prevail. Despite the continued existence of institutionalized racism, 2020 was the beginning of much-needed progressive corrections that will be made to the American justice system, and these changes will work to further protect minority groups disproportionately disadvantaged by prejudice.
HOW BLM HAS BEEN ROMANTICIZED BY THE MEDIA
The main issue with the media’s portrayal of Black Lives Matter is that its focus is on the victimization and police-murder of African Americans. Although police brutality is another major issue that Black communities are disproportionately affected by, Black Lives Matter does not exist to point out the murder itself, but what occurs afterward: the justice unserved.
The media disgustingly romanticizes the deaths of Black individuals instead of focusing on the reform and reparations that need to be achieved. They publish articles citing “BLM” instead of “Black Lives Matter” because the latter is a commitment, a constant fight for the equity of black Americans that they are unable to dedicate to. Often a name will be spoken for as long as an audience is interested but will go unmentioned even when justice does not prevail once that interest fades.
Of course, it is not the media’s job to administer racial equality, only to inform, but the media does reflect the public’s interests. If articles are not being published on racial injustice, the question of whether or not the public truly cares for these issues emerges. That is the true problem with the overuse of the shorthanded version of the phrase, at its core — it does not necessarily express the dire need to dismantle the affairs of systemic racism in the way the full phrase elicits.
While Black Lives Matter is a call to action, BLM is an act of solidarity. We, as a movement, and a community of activists, must diligently acknowledge the difference.
THE FUTURE OF BLACK LIVES MATTER/BLM
Yes, Black lives matter, but if your activism stops with a “#BLM” in your social media bio and you do not continuously educate yourself on the topics of police brutality, the prison industrial system, institutionalized racism, and reforms that must be taken to protect Black Americans, your allyship stops where information covered by the media ends.
As February has ended, unfortunately, so will corporate shoutouts to Black-owned businesses from Target, The Home Depot, Saks, and so forth; press highlights of Black narratives; and mass education of Black history, but this does not have to be the norm. Year after year, Black History Month does not need to be the solitary month the world chooses to care about and bring awareness to Black issues. Continue to support small Black businesses; educate yourself on the injustice Black people face; and, if possible, use your privilege to uplift Black voices.
As is often said, “Black Lives Matter today, tomorrow, and every day after that.” We must start actively living through this quote, and this starts with truly believing that Black lives matter.