Alexander Holt

Roots of the “Black Lives Matter” Movement: The Disconnect

By Alexander Holt

Writing 111: Writing Seminar

On July 13, 2012 George Zimmerman was acquitted for the shooting death of seventeen-year- old Trayvon Martin. After the public release of the much-awaited verdict, the United States—particularly the black community—was thrown into emotional upheaval. In response to a verdict which shook individuals to their core, Alicia Garza wrote a “love note” to the black community (EmergingUS). At the end, she signed: “Black Lives Matter.” Before long, her heartfelt words of solidarity were transformed into a social justice movement similar to the Civil Rights Movement of 1968. Now, over three years later, “Black Lives Matter” has taken on many meanings. Regardless of the differing—and ever growing—interpretations of the hashtag’s meaning, one thing remains constant: many individuals have no idea what the “Black Lives Matter” Movement was originally meant to represent.

The “hateful ideology ‘Black Lives Matter’ has fueled rage against the American police officer” (ThePoitistick). Sentiments such as this one—expressed by Sheriff David Clarke (Milwaukie County, Wisconsin’s Sheriff) —permeate public opinion on the actions and intentions of the “Black Lives Matter” Movement. Conversely, the words of individuals, such as Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry (talk-show host, writer, political commentator, and member of Wake Forest University’s faculty), by emphasizing the plight of the black male, have helped to perpetuate the concept that “Black Lives Matter” was created to support our “black men and boys [only]” (“What it Means to Say ‘Black Lives Matter’” (00:01:31-32)). Although Dr. Harris-Perry may be aware of the intersectional nature of the “Black Lives Matter” Movement, those who listen to her—and to other influential figures like her—may not recognize the intentional exploration of the movement’s different facets. As a result, thoughtful commentary on a particular aspect of the “Black Lives Matter” Movement may be taken out of context. Though the “Black Lives Matter” Movement does advocate on behalf of black man and boys, the initial message of the “Black Lives Matter” Movement differs from both the “hateful rhetoric” characterized in Sheriff Clarke’s forceful reprimand of the “Black Lives Matter” Movement, as well as the androcentric sentiment perpetuated (however unintentionally) by individuals, such as Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry. What was intended to galvanize the entire black community and its supporters into action on behalf of all black people in the United States has been taken out of context innumerable times, resulting in a split understanding (or lack thereof) of the “Black Lives Matter” Movement’s goals and meaning.

Though the meaning behind “Black Lives Matter” has been heavily debated since its inception in July 2012, the group’s principals can be easily accessed on blacklivesmatter.com, and in multiple videos on the internet—videos which derive the meaning of “Black Lives Matter” from the movement’s founders themselves. Ideals such as: diversity, empathy, queer affirmation, and more make up the “Black Lives Matter” cannon, so, why is there a discrepancy over the meaning of the hashtag when their principles are available to the public?The answer to this question is simple: ignorance compounded by the actions and words of purported “Black Lives Matter” activists who do not act within the ideals of the original movement. Examples of individuals waving the “Black Lives Matter” banner and participating in behaviors which conflict with the ideals of the founders are numerous and counterproductive for the cause. Ultimately, the individuals who damage the credibility of the movement manage to sway public opinion away from the posted ideals, and towards the interpretations of individuals such as Sheriff David Clarke—who appeared on CNN. One individual who has managed to inflict significant damage to the credibility of the “Black Lives Matter” Movement is Micah Xavier who murdered five police officers during a peaceful “Black Lives Matter” protest in July of 2016. Xavier, who claimed solidarity with the “Black Lives Matter” Movement before assassinating multiple police officers, represents an (admittedly extreme) example of conflicting ideals on the motivations of the “Black Lives Matter” Movement.

Because people such as Micah Xavier commit horrors in the name of “Black Lives Matter” and because many individuals are ignorant to the fact that Black Lives Matter advocates for inclusivity, “justice, liberation, and peace,” many people are led to believe that the movement is an anti-police or anti- white organization (Cullors et al., “Black Lives Matter | Freedom & Justice for All Black Lives”). Both claims are in direct opposition with, and have been recognized as being common misconceptions about, the “Black Lives Matter” Movement, by the founders themselves. Ultimately, those who believe that “Black Lives Matter” means that “Blue Lives” or “White Lives” do not matter, have fallen prey to anti- “Black Lives Matter” rhetoric. That rhetoric has been re-enforced by the actions of individuals like Micah Xavier and “supporters” who advocate for the murder of police. All three of the founders—Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi—have expressed their discontent with those who seek murder as recompense; after all, “police officers’ lives have inherent value” (Cullors et al., “Black Lives Matter | Freedom & Justice for All Black Lives”).

The founders of the “Black Lives Matter” Movement have addressed the issue of their hashtag’s misappropriation on their website. Where once, the “herstory” and motives behind the creation of “Black Lives Matter” stood in bold relief, now stands a section titled: “The Theft of Black Queer Women’s Work” (Cullors et al., Herstory | Black Lives Matter). This section chronicles the repeated theft, re-branding, and distortion of “Black Lives Matter.” Though the rhetoric of those who oppose the “Black Lives Matter” Movement has caused a great deal of confusion over the aims of the group, there are other factors which have obfuscated its meaning. Among those other factors is the fact that many people simply do not know who started the movement and have consequently come to recognize any explanation of “Black Lives Matter” (many of which are fragmented or completely inaccurate) as the correct meaning. The co-opting of the phrase “Black Lives Matter” began once the hashtag gained initial notoriety. As black communities were impacted by violence across the country, groups such as those who rioted  in Ferguson Missouri, began using the group’s name without subscribing to many or any of the original “Black Lives Matter” Movement’s principles—without  asking for permission to use the motto at all. There were also instances where those who did ask for permission to use “Black Lives Matter” and received it completely ignored the wishes of the original founders, twisting #BlackLivesMatter into something it is not (Cullors et al., Herstory | Black Lives Matter).

This departure from the original ideals of the “Black Lives Matter” Movement should not come as a surprise to anyone, for with any major social movement, there are splinter groups which form. This was evident during the Civil Rights Movement when individuals split into multiple groups, all fighting for the same cause, but often using very different tactics. Such groups included the SCLC (the Southern Christian Leadership Council) and SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee); both groups advocated for equal rights for blacks, but they went about their advocacy in increasingly different ways as the movement progressed. If one were to use the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama as a case study, it would be seen that SNCC began preparing people to go to the polls in any way; this included instructing blacks on how to fight back in cases of violence. Conversely, the SCLC continued to preach non-violence to the Selma residents, a stance which put them at odds with a number of SNCC activists. The resulting tiff between SNCC members, such as John Lewis, and the SCLC leadership, Dr. King in particular, exemplifies the differences that eventually permeate groups with similar or even identical goals. Even SNCC began to experience intragroup splintering due to some members wishing to continue advocating non-violence while others advocated for a Black-Panther-like response to the violence levied against them (Sitkoff and Foner). One could argue, with the Civil Rights Movement as a model, that movements are destined to splinter, to develop factions which pursue avenues different from those who champion the movement (Sitkoff and Foner). The actions of angry citizens and well-meaning activists who inaccurately represent the banner of the “Black Lives Matter” Movement supports this hypothesis. However, unlike the Civil Rights Movement, the “Black Lives Matter” Movement not only splintered due to ideological differences, but because protestors across the country— and abroad—neglected to abide by authentic “Black Lives Matter” ideology.

I have submitted ignorance, rhetoric, and historical information as arguments for why the “Black Lives Matter” Movement has seemingly splintered into a mass of groups with differing tactics and goals—and an unclear agenda. These factors, however, are not the only factors which have contributed to the lack of understanding behind the words “Black Lives Matter.” Another potential factor is the fact that the movement was started by three women, two of whom identify as queer. Initially, this may not seem like a factor which would affect the lucidity of the movement’s meaning, but much like the Civil Rights Movement, the credibility of a movement’s leaders can either positively or negatively affect a movement. This was seen during the Civil Rights Movement when the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP carefully chose who was to stage the historic bus boycotts by refusing to give up their seat (Sitkoff and Foner 39). Rosa Parks was specifically chosen for her respectability. Thus, the fact that two of the three founders of the “Black Lives Matter” Movement represent three marginalized groups (blacks, women, and members of the LGBTQ community) could be said to de-notarize their presence as the creators of the movement tri-fold (Fredman). Consequently, the individuals mentioned earlier (who took the movement in their own directions) could have felt justified in doing so. Individuals such as Jerry Ford Jr., leader of the Houston sect  of the “Black Lives Matter” Movement and one of “the charismatic Black men many are rallying around these days” (Cullors et al., Herstory | Black Lives Matter) is a heterosexual male, and thus carries more social capital than the three women who founded the movement (Grusky and Charles). The reality of gender inequality and the assignment of importance to men, instead of women, is an unfortunate aspect of modern society, but it has very real consequences—such as potentially stripping three women of their own creation and prioritizing male voices on a subject first broached by women. The flexible nature of privilege—as explored by Sandra Fredman in a European Union Commission report on intersectional discrimination—lends credence to the idea that “straight men [could], unintentionally or intentionally…erase [queer women’s] contributions” due to the amount of cultural capitol they possess (Cullors et al., Herstory | Black Lives Matter).

The “Black Lives Matter” Movement, since its inception in 2012, has lost its original, concrete meaning. Though of similar magnitude and impact to the Civil Rights Movement, the “Black Lives Matter” Movement has experienced its own unique reasons for de-centralizing. Splits during the Civil Rights Movement, as explored before, were mainly due to ideological differences or respectability. The “Black Lives Matter” Movement, however, has suffered from more than just those two problems, but from an extended issue of respectability—gender- based disenfranchisement—and the decontextualized co-opting of the hashtag. People’s personal interpretations of the movement’s goals, naysayer’s highly publicized opinions on the topic, and even the founders’ own identities have resulted in a de-centralization of the movement, and consequently, the obfuscation of the meaning of “Black Lives Matter.”

With knowledge of the misappropriation of the “Black Lives Matter” Movement exposed, should the movement’s original purpose be restored? Absolutely! This movement is of vital importance to the well-being of all American citizens. If we combine that importance with the notoriety of the movement, real, lasting change could be inflicted—change the likes of which has not been seen since the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. By getting back to the multifaceted goals of the original movement, by re-focusing on facilitating an “ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise” (Cullors et al., “Black Lives Matter | Freedom & Justice for All Black Lives”), we could pull together the many different groups who now carry the “Black Lives Matter” banner. Such actions could do exactly what President Obama promised to America in 2008: make change.

Make no mistake, I am not suggesting that the “Black Lives Matter” Movement remain stagnant in its beliefs, but only by re-unifying under the original guiding principles (principles which are currently posted on the “Black Lives Matter” website) can the “Black Lives Matter” movement evolve in a positive manner. I am not sure what form such evolution would take—that is for you to decide—but such a reunified form would be more unaffected by the ignorance of those who misinterpret the movement than the current incarnations of the “Black Lives Matter” movement. With re-defined intentions, America—with the leadership of the “Black Lives Matter” Movement— might be able to move towards a better, brighter, more inclusive future together.


Works Cited

Cullors, Patrisse, et al. “Black Lives Matter | Freedom & Justice for All Black Lives.” Black Lives Matter, blacklivesmatter.com, Accessed 1 November 2016.

Herstory | Black Lives Matter. http://blacklivesmatter.com/herstory/. Accessed 3 Sept. 2017.

“How a Hashtag Defined a Movement.” YouTube, uploaded by EmergingUS, 26 Sept. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8-KZ0RIN3w. Accessed 29 Oct. 2016.

Fredman, Sandra. Intersectional Discrimination in EU Gender Equality and Non- Discrimination Law. European Commission, European Union, May 2016, pp. 1–92, ec.europa.eu/justice/gender-equality/document/files/intersectionality. pdf.

Grusky, David B., and Maria Charles. “Egalitarianism and Gender Inequality.” Social Stratification: Class, Race, and Gender in Sociological Perspective, 4th ed., Avalon Publishing, 2014, pp. 327–342. pdfs.semanticscholar.org/ ec81/cd62c777da464c62f2001b9b0ffe402606a1.pdf.

“What it Means to Say ‘Black Lives Matter.”’ MSNBC, msnbc.com/melissa-harris- perry. Accessed 20 Oct 2016.

Sitkoff, Harvard, and Eric Foner. The Struggle for Black Equality, 1954-1992. Macmillan, 1993.

“Sheriff David Clarke Crushes Don Lemon Over Hateful Black Lives Matter.” YouTube, uploaded by The PolitiStick, 17 Jul. 2016. youtube.com/ watch?v=dAu44wVgb58. Accessed 31 Oct 2016.


A Word from Alexander

Picture of Alexander HoltOne thing that remained constant throughout my educational career is the fact that I consider myself a competent writer. This belief was not changed as I entered my first college courses—Writing 111 among them. My writing process, however, has evolved significantly since I first sat down at a desk on August 26th 2016. Where once I relied on the tried and true—but personally constricting—graphic organizer that I learned in high school, I now use a mixture of methods to draft a skillful essay. Brainstorming and “shitty-first drafts,”—in the words of Anne Lamott, are now staples of my drafting process. Following the creation of a shitty first draft, I re-read and re-write my essays until all the information I wanted to add is organized well. The final step of my writing process includes feedback from a neutral audience. In order to ensure that my writing will be understood by the readers, I have someone who is not related to the assignment read my work and give me feedback. This enables me to see how potential audience members would perceive my work. Consequently, I can correct any failings in writer- to-audience communication. As I finish this step, my writing process comes to a close.
Throughout the initial and final drafting processes for my piece on the “Black Lives Matter” movement, I learned a significant amount about both myself and about the socially charged issue of race relations in America. The lessons that I learned came in the form of self realizations while researching and writing. As I researched the meaning behind the “Black Lives Matter” movement and the different perceptions of the movement, I began to understand more fully how the rhetoric employed by the mass media as well as by individuals has a profound impact on society’s views on an issue. Because of the rhetoric employed by both detractors and supporters of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, some U.S citizens have become desensitized to issues which are important to the continued success of this country. While coming to these conclusions about U.S society, I also began to realize the importance of employing my own personal rhetoric—written or otherwise— both ethically and with deliberate intention. As I began to see the increasingly polarized views on the “Black Lives Matter” movement and how such views detracted from the importance of the issues represented by the movement (queer affirmation, support for immigrants, religious tolerance), I realized the importance of submitting—or attempting to submit—an honest, unbiased view of the movement. Eventually this took the form of an unabashed evaluation of the “Black Lives Matter” movement and the individuals who engage with the narrative on both sides of the isle. Ultimately, I hope to have successfully presented the situation surrounding “Black Lives Matter” while avoiding the rhetorical pitfalls that many commentators have continuously fallen into.


From Professor Anne Boyle

Assignment

Argumentative Essay

Your third assignment allows you to build on the work you have already accomplished in this course. You have already shown that  you can rhetorically analyze complicated texts. You understand that writers have a certain exigence as they write; you know how they use evidence, how they construct their own ethos through words, how they work to persuade you through logic and emotional appeal.

Using at least 3 sources in your text, you will demonstrate that you can write a balanced, clear, and cogent argumentative essay. The length should be 4 ½-6 pages.  Your topic should be an investigation  of the following: plagiarism, gendered writing, the Black Lives Matter Movement, writing and technology, the U.S. criminal justice system. A few of you are passionate about another topic. If you choose another topic, you must email me the topic by October 18 and explain how you will narrow the topic to investigate an argumentative claim. I must approve the topic.

Steps to consider:

  1. If you are using 3 sources, you will need to read many more to make certain that you have the best sources given your time constraint, so get researching!
  2. The topics I gave you are very broad. Your first step, which we will workshop in class for a few minutes on Tuesday, is to narrow your topic or field of exploration. As archeologist’s know, the narrower the field, the deeper you can
  3. In this paper, you are not trying to win a debate. Think of your thesis as a critical question that you will investigate in your Once you narrow down your topic to a thesis and pose your critical question, you need to show your reader that there is no easy answer to this question, that the most you can do is interrogate a variety of claims and come up with the claim you think has validity.
  4. We all have biases, but you need to investigate or interrogate your own biases or you will not find the distance that will allow you to read your sources critically and analyze them rhetorically. Your objective is to achieve the objectivity that will allow you to persuade all readers that you have a valid point of view.
  5. “Come to terms” with your source materials as you read them with a rhetorically-aware eye.
  6. As you read your sources, create an annotated bibliography that contains the correct bibliographical citation followed by 2 or 3 concise sentences that describe the author’s claim and the approach used by the Here is an example of the sentences that might be added after the bibliographical citation for Margaret Kantz’s article: Writing to an audience interested in helping students develop their argumentative skills, Kantz compares the processes used by two very students as they write argumentative papers. The less successful, writerly- based Shirley reports on her sources, while the more successful, rhetorically-wise Alice is able to evaluate and analyze conflicting claims.
  7. Consider the structure of your When will you provide an overview of the complexities of the situation you are exploring? When will you use your sources? How will you use evidence and what appeals will you make?
  8. Revise and revise. Then, study the errors you made in other papers and edit.

Professor Commentary

It was inspiring to watch as Alexander Holt drafted, revised, broadened, and then focused his persuasive analysis on how the message of the “Black Lives Matter” movement had been so rapidly distorted, and why the original intention of its founders may have been misinterpreted, ignored, or appropriated. At first, Holt explored the movement in and of itself, but then his ever-questioning mind began to compare how the “splintering” he found in this movement compared with the splintering of various activist groups in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Broadening the focus became problematic; it would demand not only a great deal of research, but the assignment was fairly brief. Recognizing that stakeholders in social change movements often employ different tactics, Holt re-focused his essay on why the founders of BLM movement may have been vulnerable to misinterpretation, if not the intentional distortion of their message. He then proceeded to champion the intentions of the founders.

Alexander Holt’s writing is often characterized by a strong voice. He loves to use dashes and parentheses to establish tone and give the essay an oral feel. He works masterfully to modulate his tone and rhetorical strategies throughout the essay. He knows when to rely on objectivity and logic, but he is also prepared to move his audience by using various rhetorical tactics associated with pathos and ethos. Note how directly he appeals to his audience at the conclusion of his essay.

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