This topic guide will help you work with the Black Lives Matter movement. The guide is mainly intended for use in English class, but it may also be relevant for other school subjects such as History or Social Studies.
The guide is designed to give you a good overview of the origins of the movement, as well as its purpose and methods, and some of the criticism it has faced. You can also find specific suggestions for texts to use as reference points, as well as ideas for further thematic perspectives.
The history of African Americans has been plagued by discrimination and oppression from the very beginning, as many were originally brought into the American colonies as slaves. Even in the years following the abolition of slavery, they were subjected to many racist laws, which among other things entailed segregation and restricted access to public facilities.
It was not until the hard-fought struggles of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s that African Americans achieved equality under the law in most respects.
However, the story of US racism did not end there. In practice, there is still much social and economic inequality between African Americans and white Americans today. This inequality is especially visible in the American justice system, where African Americans are greatly over-represented in US prisons - and in some cases they face stricter punishments than white Americans for the same types of crimes. This inequality also indirectly leads to political discrimination, as many states have laws that make felons lose their right to vote.
The debate about racial discrimination within the justice system really began to take off in 2013, when the unarmed African-American teenager Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a member of a privately organized neighborhood watch. After Zimmerman was acquitted of murder, the Black Lives Matter movement was born.
Black Lives Matter is a loosely organized protest movement. Its main purpose is to call attention to the discrimination that African Americans still face in US society - especially in connection to cases where US police have used lethal violence without sufficient cause. In the years following the founding of the movement, a number of further such cases started to emerge in the media - once again often ending with acquittal of the white officers involved in the deaths. To protest the fact that no one was held responsible, Black Lives Matter began to organise protests all across the US, and the movement gradually gained more and more attention and supporters.
However, the movement also faced resistance and criticism from some politicians and some parts of the media. Some accused Black Lives Matter of using violent methods, while other tried to argue that the entire concept behind the movement was itself racist. These critical reactions also gave rise to a number of alternative hashtags, such as #AllLivesMatter and #BlueLivesMatter (the latter in support of the police). These alternative movements have also faced much criticism themselves, however, as some believe they display a lack of understanding of the real purpose behind Black Lives Matter.