The structure of America was built by the people that are still oppressed today. While social progress has accelerated for African Americans in recent decades, Black Lives Matter (BLM) has underscored the notion that this progress is not equivalent to a finished product. In other words, many people consider progress made in addressing racial inequality the same as achieving social equality. Further, many view racism as a distant problem because they are not personally affected. However, BLM, a movement that “began as a call to action in response to state-sanctioned violence and anti-Black racism (6),” has managed to illuminate tactics of oppression, introducing a new term — allyship — to represent the efforts of non-African Americans who aid the movement and ultimately amplify black voices to create long-lasting social equality.
BLM addresses one of the most prevalent forms of racism in America: systemic racism. Systemic racism or “systems and structures that have procedures or processes that disadvantages African Americans (7)” takes many forms such as housing, healthcare, and the criminal justice system. For example, in 1934, the Federal Housing Commission “adopted a system of maps that rated neighborhoods according to their perceived stability.” This process became known as redlining. “On the maps, green areas, rated “A,” indicated “in demand” neighborhoods that, as one appraiser put it, lacked “a single foreigner or Negro.” These neighborhoods were considered excellent prospects for insurance. Neighborhoods where black people lived were rated “D” and were usually considered ineligible for FHA backing. Redlining went beyond FHA-backed loans and spread to the entire mortgage industry, which was already rife with racism, excluding black people from most legitimate means of obtaining a mortgage (2).” And while this practice was banned in 1968, the policy that was set in motion still shapes the wealth patterns of Americans today (4). One example is Chicago, “one of the most segregated cities in the country, a fact that reflects assiduous planning (2).” The structures put in place still make it disproportionately more difficult for African Americans to prosper in comparison to white people.
Police brutality is another form of systemic racism. Although people of color (POC) represent only 13% of the population, they comprise a disproportionate 24% of fatalities at the hands of police, making African Americans three times more likely than a white person to be killed by police, regardless of the crime rate in the city (1). BLM seeks to address the cause of these statistics of inequity.
BLM also has a notable impact on non-African Americans in the form of allyship. Many allies have found countless methods that promote affirmative, proactive decisions with the intent of bringing change. The first step towards understanding the BLM movement and the struggles of African Americans is acknowledging privilege. White privilege is the concept of “having greater access to power and resources than people of color [in the same situation] (3).” BLM believes recognizing this privilege is critical for two main reasons: 1) acknowledging the advantage non-POC have in society increases empathy; and, 2) it minimizes a frequently occurring circumstance: attempting to change the harmful parts of society yet withdrawing from the equation when feeling like the change removes some privilege to which they’ve become accustom.
Positive movements with good intentions are not without their complications. As BLM has gathered momentum, it has provided an avenue for less legitimate supporters to create a facade of activism for their own self-serving purposes. Legitimate supporters of BLM strongly advocate against less committed people posting trending articles and leaving the powerful words solely as proof of their position. This is known as “performative activism.” While posting on social media and shedding light on educational articles has benefits, allies oppose performative action with a savior mentality; rather, allies endorse a difference of intention — one of making change. A fine line allies tend to walk is the distinction between knowing when to advocate and when to listen.
To learn more about the Black Lives Matter movement/organization and allyship, consider the following resources:
(1) Mapping Police Violence, mappingpoliceviolence.org/.
(2) Coates, Story by Ta-Nehisi. “The Case for Reparations.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 16 June 2020, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/.
(3) Dillard, Coshandra, et al. “What Is White Privilege, Really?” Teaching Tolerance, http://www.tolerance.org/magazine/fall-2018/what-is-white-privilege-really.
(4) Jan, Tracy. “Analysis | Redlining Was Banned 50 Years Ago. It’s Still Hurting Minorities Today.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 28 Mar. 2018, http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/03/28/redlining-was-banned-50-years-ago-its-still-hurting-minorities-today/.
(5) Shayanne Gal, Andy Kiersz. “26 Simple Charts to Show Friends and Family Who Aren’t Convinced Racism Is Still a Problem in America.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 8 July 2020, http://www.businessinsider.com/us-systemic-racism-in-charts-graphs-data-2020-6#when-they-tried-to-get-financing-from-banks-black-mortgage-applicants-were-more-likely-to-be-denied-loans-than-aspiring-homeowners-of-other-races-16.
(6) “What We Believe.” Black Lives Matter, 7 Sept. 2019, blacklivesmatter.com/what-we-believe/.
(7) Yancey-Bragg, N’dea. “What Is Systemic Racism? Here’s What It Means and How You Can Help Dismantle It.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 19 June 2020, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/06/15/systemic-racism-what-does-mean/5343549002/.