How social media has bolstered the black lives matter movement
by McKella Sylvester
What began as a simple hashtag by three black women frustrated by the killings of black men by white police officers has become a movement that has captured the attention of the 2016 presidential race.
It began with a Facebook posting in 2013 by Alicia Garza expressing anger about racial violence. It inspired Patrisse Cullors to create the Black Lives Matter hashtag and with help from Opal Tometi, the movement exploded on social media and attracted a new generation of young activists.
“#BlackLivesMatter is a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society,” according to the Black Lives Matter website. “It is a tactic to (re)build the Black liberation movement.”
The movement has been successful largely because online activism has become popular among a growing number of young people. Millennials and Generation Z have become spokespeople for their generation and have people listen to them.
Even the Presidential candidates are responding to that Black Lives Matter call to action. During the Democratic primary, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders made it part of their campaign platforms. Republican candidate Donald Trump has given the ‘All Lives Matter’ response to protesters who showed up to his rallies.
The current popular movement has similarities to the civil rights movement. In the 1950s, a grass-roots movement was sparked in part by the death of Emmett Till in the Jim Crow South. The 14-year-old was killed and mutilated after allegedly flirting with a white woman.
The movement by young men and women of Till’s generation aimed to acquire basic human rights for black people. This is similar to what young people today in Black Lives Matter are doing in response to institutional racism and police brutality.
Today’s are generally more accepting of people, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or religion. However, statistics show that teenagers believe there is a race problem in this country.
According to a 2015 study by Newsweek, 82 percent of American teenagers view racial discrimination as a problem for their generation. This is nearly double the findings in a 1966 Newsweek poll that found that 44 percent of American teens felt that way about race relations at the height of the civil rights movement.
Black Lives Matter protests erupted around the country after the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of the man charged with killing him, George Zimmerman.
“After seeing the unjust court decision of Zimmerman being found innocent, I was completely disgusted and outraged,” said BLM member Kenyela Horn, an incoming senior at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School and president of the Black Student Union. “I was especially outraged at the fact that Trayvon Martin was only 17 years old when he was shot and killed after being racially profiled.”
Like the multiple waves of black liberation throughout history, Black Lives Matter has amassed a large following, primarily comprised of young people. What is so significant this time around, is the effect social media has on activism.
Social media, which is commonly used amongst young people, has also played a large role in how the media and the public engage with the reality of police violence. This has helped to change the conversation surrounding race in America.
Tumblr, for example, is a blogging platform popular amongst young people and has a prevalent activist community. Kamri Grose, 17, of Philadelphia, has a Tumblr blog that has recently become popular due to her acclaimed poem, ‘Not His Type.’
‘Not His Type’ discusses the harsh realities young black girls experience in the dating world. It explores the Eurocentric standards of beauty and stereotypes about black women.
“When I wrote my poem “Not His Type”, I honestly did not expect for it to get that big. I thought it would get around 10 notes and then it would just float around the internet. But when I got 13K notes on that poem along with 1.5K tumblr followers, I really realized that I was doing something right,” said Grose in an email interview.
With the success on social media, Grose’s online activism has found a way to appear in her day-to-day life. “Any time we are given projects or essays I try to incorporate anything about black culture in it. I want my white classmates to know that I’m aware and conscious of their prejudice and racism every chance I get,” she said.
The reality of race relations for black American teenagers is harsh. A 2015 Newsweek study reported that a staggering 91 percent of black youth said that racial discrimination is a problem for their generation. Approximately four in ten black adults strongly supported Black Lives Matter and were more inclined to do so than whites and Hispanics, according to a Gallup survey.
“Most people know me from my viral poem ‘Not His Type’, so I used the success from that poem as a platform to encourage black people,” Grose said.
Whatever side of the issue people find themselves, social media has likely played a part in forming their opinion.
Teenagers, says Horn, can “be the voice and bring up situations of injustice in other school clubs, voice opinions on social media and more. I believe these are the first steps, and they are important to becoming involved in the community and working to make a change in the world.”
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