For much of its seven-year existence, the Black Lives Matter movement has been seen by many Americans as a divisive, even radical force. Its very name enraged its foes, who countered with the slogans “Blue Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter."
Times have changed — dramatically so — as evidenced during the wave of protests sparked by George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police. Black Lives Matter has gone mainstream — and black activists are carefully assessing how they should respond.
A few examples of the changed landscape:
Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican stalwart, joined a Black Lives Matter march. Some NASCAR drivers, whose fan base includes legions of conservative whites, embraced the phrase. So did NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The mayor of Washington ordered the words painted in large letters on a street near the White House. Now, Black Lives Matter Plaza turns up in driving directions from Google Maps.
Like many black activists, Sakira Cook is pleased by such developments but also cautious. She and others worry that businesses and politicians will hijack the slogan without any real commitment to doing the hard work needed to fight racism.
“Black Lives Matter is not just a rallying cry,” said Cook, director of the Justice Reform Program at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
“It actually means you have to start to interrogate the systemic racism and inequalities that exist in our society and help to dismantle them. You must make sure you’re not co-opting this for your own purposes.”
The Black Lives Matter movement emerged amid anger over the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the Florida man who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012.