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Why ‘Black Lives Matter’ alienates the audience it should influence

Tom Starkey / Share:
Protesters gather in a call for justice for George Floyd, a black man who died after a white policeman kneeled on his neck for several minutes, at Hennepin County Government Plaza, on May 28, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. AFP

I can hear the responses already as I write this. Simply from the headline I can feel the outrage: “You wouldn’t know what black lives means because you’re not subject to oppression” or “You’ve written this from a perspective of white privilege.”

You would be right; in fact, I have written this from a point of privilege. I am white, have not been subject to racial oppression and cannot resonate with the black struggle. I can, however, offer this sentiment: “Black Lives Matter” (BLM) isn’t a conversation that needs to be had by black people, it’s a conversation that needs to be had by white people.

The catalyst for BLM to go global was through the killing of George Floyd, epitomising police brutality and highlighting racial discrimination in the United States.

The statistics are evident; African Americans are more likely than their white counterparts to be arrested and, when arrested, more likely to be convicted and, once convicted, more likely to experience lengthy prison sentences.

Yet, as ethical as BLM is, wider society has been split in its reaction… but why?

The truth is, people don’t want to be presented with a problem, especially one that doesn’t affect them.

The vast majority hasn’t witnessed police oppression on ethnic minorities first-hand, hasn’t experienced targeted racial profiling and definitely hasn’t been kneeled on for eight minutes and 46 seconds.

Onlookers, devoid of facts, context or experience, are left to form an opinion on a movement with a former criminal at the figurehead and a symbol of security – the police – in the wrong.

That’s not to say that people can’t empathise, but counter-movements such as “All Lives Matter” are testament to the fact the essence of BLM hasn’t transcended from the echo chamber of the oppressed and empathisers.

Mainstream media hasn’t helped either, opting to relish in the controversy – sensationalising the ugly side of protests and obsessing over the destruction of national property – tossing aside the reasoning behind the outrage.

The uncertainty surrounding the movement has also been exacerbated by BLM groups unified by the cause but scattered in their proposed solutions, diluting an already convoluted message.

Despite the access to technology and wealth of information we have, people still judge on face value and the bottom line is, BLM hasn’t purported inclusivity.

Does this justify racism? No. Does it call into question the movement? Surely not. Yet it does in effect hamper potency in the pursuit of parity.

The most significant movement against oppression in the United States is synonymous with a man who had a dream. His dream was apparent, unifying and conveyed with captivating conviction in delivery.

BLM is complex and systemic – undoubtedly – but just like the late great Martin Luther King evidenced, the message cannot be and a comprehensive but succinct, movement defining rhetoric must be embellished to preach beyond the converted.


Tom Starkey has a background in humanitarian work and international development. He is from Manchester, UK


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