Black Lives Matter (BLM) is a contemporary social justice movement dedicated to combating systemic racism and institutionalized police brutality targeting African Americans in the United States. The initially small and insignificant group comprising loosely connected individuals but united by the shared purpose has progressively created change, highlighting the effectiveness of collective actions in driving transformation. The movement was characterized by the distinctively small and inconsequential protests, which have increasingly gained popularity and mutated into major lobby groups with enormous public support.
The sustained onslaught against social injustices attracts a wide range of responses, including brutal crackdown by the police, creates a perception among disparate groups that they are all victims of inequality, thereby promoting their union. Notably, the individual experience of participating in such causes creates large-scale implications for the society, including fostering continued commitment and involvement in intergroup activities. Although campaigns organized by BLM have been relatively peaceful, the violent response by law enforcers earned the group public empathy, promoting even bigger protests.
How Protests Mobilize Support and Elicit Backlash from the General Public
Inspired by the successes of the Civil Rights Movements of the 1960s, BLM is an activist group dedicated to combating the racially motivated police brutality, which has historically targeted African Americans. According to Iheme (2020), the law enforcement agencies have perennially deployed cruelty against blacks as a tool of oppression. Numerous riots and protestations have been organized following multiple incidences where police officers have been acquitted for shooting and killing unarmed African Americans. The sustained demonstrations birthed the BLM, which occurred at a time when America viewed itself as an emerging post-racial or colorblind society.
The creation of the group was inspired by the acquittal of George Zimmerman, a police officer who fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an African American teen (Iheme, 2020). It was formed by Opal Tometi, Patrisse Cullors, and Alicia Garza, which initially operated as an online platform through which they shared their insights, perspectives and organized protests.
The heavy-handedness in polices response in quelling the riots motivated and mobilized more people to participate in the demonstrations. Selvanathan and Jetten (2020) contend that BLM protestors initiated confrontations with the law enforcement agencies to mobilize more people to participate in the collective action. For instance, BLM protestors in Seattle and Portland engaged police officers in bloody clashes where multiple injuries and arrests were reported in 2020 (Scruggs, 2020). From this perspective, BLM has mobilized public support and elicited backlash by confronting law enforcers.
Additionally, BLM organized collective actions in public places where they would result in the most significant disruption of activities and everyday life alongside confrontations designed to capture the attention of the targeted audiences. Generally, a significant proportion of society expects the marginalized and oppressed groups to use persuasion in educating them about their specific grievances and concerns. However, Yoganathan (2020) notes that BLM recognized that the exclusive convincing of the community could not facilitate the realization of substantive systemic changes.
Daum (2017) corroborates this view by asserting that the dominant society is generally inclined to tolerate discourses and actions, which will leave the distribution and arrangements of privilege and power intact. As a contemporary social movement, BLM has forcefully imposed its power and grabbed public attention by thrusting messages and narratives on the masses. Moreover, the activists enhance continuity by preserving their actions in society’s memory through street graffiti, perpetuating the message and evoking more public responses. In this regard, BLM has been evoking public support by imposing their messages and narratives on the general populace and utilizing such tools as graffiti to advance their agenda once the protests subside.
Further, BLM has recognized that the continued exposure of protest events to the general public impacts their attitudes and ultimately influences their opinion. According to Selvanathan and Jetten (2020), the sustained witnessing of collective actions promotes long-term shifts in peoples’ perspectives, resulting in the progressive buy-in of the protestors’ narrative and reducing the masses’ implicit bias.
For instance, anti-black prejudice has been reducing progressively following the unrelenting campaigns and demonstrations organized by BLM. Saguy and Szekeres (2018) note that unabated advocacy and protests increasingly acquire public support and sympathy while reducing the negative feelings and perceptions towards a social justice movement after the creation of a shared identity.
According to Adams (2020), BLM, which started as a hashtag, has sustained its agitation and now defines a generation in its eight-year push against racially inspired police brutality. Consequently, there has been a surge in conversations surrounding eradicating white supremacist ideologies and the need to intervene to stop the violence inflicted on the Blacks. In this regard, the enduring nature of BLM has been integral in the movement’s increasing popularity and mobilizing public support.
Moreover, BLM’s collective actions have won public support and sympathy by reinforcing their commitment to nonviolent demonstrations. Notably, the protests organized by this contemporary social justice movement have been largely peaceful, highlighting the few incidents of anarchy as initiated by polices’ aggressiveness. Demonstrating with civility is a tactic proven to earn movements enormous amounts of public sympathy. Conversely, violent collective actions erode the levels of support enjoyed by social groups. For instance, aggressive and destructive four-day-long riots in Barcelona resulted in an overall 12-point decline in the degree of public support enjoyed by the 15-M faction (Movement violence, 2019).
The usage of violence leads the general populace to view a social movement as less reasonable, even when the anarchy is directed to a highly reviled target (Simpson et al., 2018; Munoz & Anduiza, 2019). In this regard, BLM has legitimized its activities by emphasizing its commitment to nonviolence, thereby presenting itself as moral victims. Moreover, the brutal response by the police towards peaceful protests has earned sympathy for the group. Therefore, BLM’s choice of nonviolent means has been critical in mobilizing the support of the masses.
How Participating in Protest Movements Foster Ongoing Commitment to a Cause
The experience of participating in collective actions can potentially contribute to decisions of being committed to social activities. Movements are conceived with the hopes of sustaining them over prolonged periods, thereby necessitating the construction of a collective social identity. From a psychological perspective, involving oneself in group protests engenders social embeddedness, solidarity, and deeply running intergroup relations (Selvanathan & Jetten, 2020).
Additionally, movements construct and entrench the concept of shared social character and deepen the feelings of inclusivity. This implies that protest outfits enhance the peoples’ ability to view themselves as a constituent of the wider society and a vital cog integral for the effective functioning of the community. In this regard, participating in collective actions has long-lasting psychological consequences, which foster commitment for social activities in the future.
Additionally, movements yield profound perceptions of efficacy, where people feel empowered to alter any policies or conditions through collaborative protests. Indeed, the belief that societal-related challenges can be addressed through collective efforts reflects the extent to which an individual recognizes the value of their input in changing an undesirable situation. In this regard, the experience of participating in a protest reinforces the conviction of communal effectiveness, which encourages future engagement and commitment to social activities.
Social movements advance a wide array of protective benefits to protest participants, including improved physical and mental advantages. Selvanathan and Jetten (2020) assert that identifying with a group is accompanied and associated with an awareness of shared fate and similarity, which buffers the occurrence of adverse outcomes. Consequently, people have a propensity to change their perspective to become more socially oriented, generating an inner obligation to participate in future events. From this perspective, collective identities emanating from participating in social movements ultimately become the propellant of collective actions in succeeding periods. Therefore, participating in protests is an influential motivation, which fosters deep commitment and devotion to future social causes.
Contemporary social movements, such as BLM, utilize innovative and creative strategies, which mobilize support from the general populace. The group was initiated in response to the acquittal of a police officer who shot and killed an unnamed African American.
The movement has organized numerous peaceful demonstrations against the wave of police brutality, which has historically been used as a tool of oppression by law enforcers. BLM has sustained its collective activities by promoting a long-term relationship and cohesive group identity among the participants. Notably, BLM ranks among the prominent contemporary social justice movements whose actions have triggered large-scale implications and extensive societal changes. The experience of participating in the protests organized by such groups can potentially foster a person’s commitment to future social causes due to the various protective benefits and psychological implications accruing from the engagement.
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Scruggs, G. (2020). Seattle Black Lives Matter clashes spark 45 arrests, 21 police injured. Reuters. Web.
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Yoganathan, N. (2020). Black Lives Matter movement uses creative tactics to confront systemic racism. The Conversation. Web.