Using social media to encourage positive discourse about race
When Alicia Garza found out that neighbourhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was acquitted of murder in the killing of an unarmed African-American teenager Trayvon Martin, she checked her Facebook feed for responses. “What I saw was really disappointing,” she said. Many of the responses were “blaming black people” for their own problems, rather than addressing widespread racism.
African-Americans make up just 13.2% of the US population, but 26% of those killed in fatal police shootings. Garza was scared that her own brother could have just as easily been shot, because he was black, 6ft tall and wore an afro. That evening, she went to Facebook to post a love letter to the black community, ending with the words “black lives matter”.
Her post was shared by Patrisse Cullors, who added the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. With the help of another activist, Opal Tometi, the three women created an online campaign to raise awareness of institutional and police racism.
While social media movements are prone to scepticism, #BlackLivesMatter has had significant impact. There are now 38 local chapters, and last year the movement inspired college students to successfully protest against the University of Missouri’s failure to address campus racism, which led to the University Chancellor’s resignation.
In April this year, a bystander captured footage of a police officer shooting a fleeing black man in North Charleston, South Carolina, and turned to a Black Lives Matter member to share the video. The officer was later arrested and indicted for murder.
Crucially, the movement has pushed the issue to the forefront of national elections. Earlier this year presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wrote on her Facebook page, “We need to acknowledge some hard truths about race and justice. Black lives matter.” To make sure you’re part of the conversation, tag your posts with #BlackLivesMatter.
Image courtesy of Chrisena Allen
Last updated: 13th of September, 2016