The meaning behind the movement that overwhelmed social media and sparked conversation across the world.
December 9, 2016
story by Alex Davis and Margaux Renee, photo by Cassie Hayes
It was the morning of Feb. 27, 2012 when Tracy Martin reported that his son, Trayvon Martin, had been missing all of last evening. No less than an hour later, he would receive a call back from police saying his son had been shot and killed the day before, pronounced dead at the crime scene. Footage from a 7-Eleven video surveillance camera captured the black 17 year old’s last living moments as he paid for a bag of Skittles and a can of Arizona iced tea before walking back out into the night Feb. 26, 2012. What soon followed would be the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin by local neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman. That night began a year long fight for lawful prosecution of Zimmerman by Tracy Martin and his wife Sybrina Fulton, as well as a global conversation on what it truly means to be black in America.
– WHAT IS #BLACKLIVESMATTER –
Trayvon Martin’s story was the catalyst in creating the movement that #BlackLivesMatter is today. Its founders, Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors, were inspired to establish the movement when George Zimmerman was found not guilty of the murder of Martin July 13, 2013. Garza had made a post on Facebook justifying the anger people felt after Zimmerman was acquitted and affirming that “black lives matter.” Cullors saw the phrase and began posting it on social media, inspired by what Garza had written. Tometi soon called Garza and Cullors and persuaded them to create a platform for the movement.
Not only did the hashtag overwhelm social media platforms, but it also found its way into the streets, prompting many to speak out in a new wave of activism, including sit-ins, marches, rallies and peaceful protests. #BlackLivesMatter has since been gaining momentum, especially in response to the killings of more blacks after Martin, including Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Philando Castle, to name a few. Because #BlackLivesMatter is a grass roots movement, promoted almost entirely on social media, its meaning and purpose are not always entirely clear. In order to clear up confusion surrounding the goals of the movement, the founders created the official #BlackLivesMatter website, detailing everything from their mission to the principles that help guide it.
The movement’s mission statement describes #BlackLivesMatter as “an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise.” The movement, it describes, is “an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.” The movement is working to increase widespread recognition of the validity of black lives and to advocate for “dignity, justice, and respect.” #BlackLivesMatter also makes it a point to be inclusive of all black lives, including “Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, Black-undocumented folks, folks with records, women and all Black lives along the gender spectrum” as part of their efforts in “(re)building the Black liberation movement.”
– RACIAL DIVERSITY AS REFLECTED AT STA –
The emergence of the movement has not only invoked a national conversation about racial diversity and inclusion, but also a discussion within STA. The administration and Star Galaxy Committee, a diversity initiatives group here at STA, continue to work towards increasing racial diversity at STA. The student body has now grown to be 16% non Caucasian. STA diversity coordinator Kelly McKee describes the student body to be “racially, culturally, geographically and economically” diverse.
“Students that attend school with diverse populations can better develop an understanding of the perspectives of others from different backgrounds and learn how to function in our multi-cultural and multiethnic society,” McKee said. “St. Teresa’s is committed to embracing and valuing diversity, and this is reflected not only in our mission statement but also as part of [the administration’s] strategic plan.”
That strategic plan encompasses a variety of actions to purposefully promote diversity in a number of different ways, ranging from alumni and student panel discussions, diversity inclusion training for faculty as well as gearing recruitment efforts toward minority students and faculty. McKee admits that it is hard to gauge whether or not the course of action for diversity expansion is doing enough, but she does believe that it’s “moving in the right direction.”
Sophomore Aryanna Wyatt, who identifies as black, didn’t weigh her options of high schools based on the percentage of diversity. However, she did consider not going to a particular school if diversity there was lacking.
“When I thought of STA and most private schools around here, I thought of [the community to be] rich white girls and when I shadowed that was the case, there weren’t very many black people or any minorities,” Wyatt said. “[Now] I notice that I can be the only black person in a class. And sometimes I would like to feel more [included] … I feel more accepted when there is more people that are not just one common race.”
Cultural Diversity Committee vice-president and sophomore Erris Pierson, who identifies as African American, points out as well that racial diversity isn’t very visible at STA.
“There’s a lot of economic diversity for sure, and there’s also a lot of heritage diversity but I feel like there’s not a lot of diversity you can see, like people of color,” Pierson said. “You don’t see Indians, African Americans, people of Asian descent or anything like that because all you see in our classrooms is primarily white [students].”
Black faculty member and co-moderator of the StarWrite Center Michelle Johnson believes that the views on racial diversity are a matter of subjectivity, however, it isn’t something that can be perceived as an “on again, off again” situation.
“[Diversity is] all about where you stand on the issue,” Johnson said. “There’s always going to be someone underrepresented…it’s just the nature of humans co-existing. You don’t cure diversity. You don’t hit a goal. I mean, what goal do you have? Let’s just say all of a sudden we had 30% of the population who are girls of color. Is that the end of diversity? Is that all that matters, the numbers? If it’s 30% girls who bring in diversity but the teachers are mostly all white then does that mean ‘Okay, we’re good’? If it’s the other way around and half of our teachers are people of color but the girls of color are underrepresented, do we go ‘Oh that’s good’? It’s a moving target always … and it’s subjective to what people believe.”
– #BLACKLIVESMATTER AT STA –
One of the goals of the #BlackLivesMatter movement is to ignite the conversation of racial diversity through the presence of the movement itself. Here at STA, the conversation of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and diversity could be approached in history classes or classes that deal with social issues, however for Cultural Diversity moderator Craig Whitney, it would be brought up in a discussion amongst faculty and staff rather than with students.
“[The #BlackLivesMatter movement] does create discussion; it does draw attention to an issue that a lot of people probably don’t really look at, [as] it’s not a part of their reality,” Whitney said. “As far as the racial diversity, my thought would be teachers bringing that up, I guess not really necessarily with students. That’s something that might come up within a faculty, staff, administration meeting.”
McKee sees that one of the movement’s benefits is to create a discussion, but it should also be one that is approachable in a classroom setting.
“Ideally, our students would feel supported and secure enough to have these sort of conversations in our classrooms,” McKee said. “I do think that’s one of the benefits of the #BlackLivesMatter movement … it’s forcing conversations and I think if we’re not having the conversation, at least we’re helping girls to become aware of not only the movement but their place in the movement.”
Despite Johnson’s belief that topics such as #BlackLivesMatter and racism are not ones to be taken lightly, she makes it a point that said topics are often hard to approach in everyday conversation.
“No matter how nice you are, no matter how kindly you say it, there are people who are going to be uncomfortable with the topic,” Johnson said. “Some people – a lot of people frankly – believe that even discussing racism is racist. And that’s why these conversations can become hard.”
Wyatt also agrees that the conversation is a sensitive one when approached with other students at STA.
“Most people feel uncomfortable when you talk about #BlackLivesMatter,” Wyatt said. “A lot of people are accepting but there are those few that just don’t agree with it and don’t want to talk about it or hear about it at all.”
Pierson too believes that the discussion of #BlackLivesMatter is hard to approach, however she says that it’s the matter of subjectivity, much like what Johnson had said before. Not only that, Pierson also attributes it’s tough approachability to familial upbringing.
“I think that [the topic is] almost to the point to how you interpret things and how you were raised,” Pierson said. “[My family is] very big on diversity and they think it’s very important for us to notice it and what’s going on within our own culture … we talk about how to bring it up in a conversation so then it’s not to the point where you’re offending someone.”
Junior Tone’Nae Bradley-Toomer, who identifies as black and is a supporter of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, does her best to voice her opinions whenever she can, but she feels as though expressing an opinion on the movement is automatic grounds for being swiftly judged negatively by others.
“I feel as though we are all put into this mold and any time you try to express … a small glint of your opinion on racial issues then you’re automatically [labeled as an] unintelligible, black supremacist or this problematic girl who doesn’t fit in,” Bradley-Toomer said. “[History classes] sort of prance around a topic thats so alive today because I think [people] are scared to lose a part of something that makes them feel good about [their own culture].”
In Whitney’s case, #BlackLivesMatter or racial diversity has only been brought up a handful of times.
“As a history teacher … when examining some period in time in our previous history, I like to draw parallels to things that are happening now,” Whitney said. “[Discussion of] racial diversity has come up before … And to be honest, I don’t think there was any conflict or controversy about it really. That [discussion] was more just in acknowledgement of how the racial diversity is limited [at STA].”
– ALL LIVES MATTER AND #BLACKLIVESMATTER –
During the course of #BlackLivesMatter’s growth, people have created numerous rebuttals to the movement, a major one being All Lives Matter. Whitney himself prefers to say All Lives Matter, believing that #BlackLivesMatter is “not quite inclusive enough.”
“I say all lives matter, including black people,” Whitney said. “I get where they want to draw attention specifically to themselves, fair enough I understand that. But what would concern me a little bit, is that you’re gonna lose a few people because you’ve labeled it like this … Look at us and how we’re being attacked by police or justice system, whatever the case may be, and I agree with that, but I also see what I would regard as a small flaw in it all it’s that it’s not quite inclusive enough.”
Johnson understands the notion behind All Lives Matter, but also makes it a point that different races are treated disproportionately compared to other races in America.
“It goes without saying that all lives matter in America, it’s just that America doesn’t always act as if all lives matter equally,” Johnson said. “#BlackLivesMatter … is specifically targeting the issue of the disproportionate shootings by the police department against unarmed black men … any other time in America [when] there is any kind of disproportionate negativity … we address it and Black Lives Matter is merely saying that ‘We are addressing this’.”
Bradley-Toomer also believes that the movement is addressing the fact that there is a problem with equality among the races.
“I just think that it’s almost showing everyone that we too are equals, we have the same anatomy, the only thing different is the amount of pigment in our skin,” Bradley-Toomer said. “We’re not any different from you and we’re not going to sit here and be taken advantage of or be marginalized or be mistreated after hundreds upon hundreds of years of taking that … I don’t think that it’s saying we want to be better in any kind of way. I think it’s saying that we are equal and that we know in our rights that we are promised in our constitution that [white people] signed for freedom which is being violated in that respect.”
For McKee, the All Lives Matter group undermines the #BlackLivesMatter movement in that it doesn’t address the issues of the criminal justice system.
“I think that the All Lives Matter movement has not been well received because it does not recognize that within our criminal justice system black lives currently matter less,” McKee said. “It’s negating the #BlackLivesMatter movement by not recognizing that there is some inequality and injustice at play in our society as a whole.”
McKee does believe that in order for there to be a change in American society, awareness to these issues of inequality and injustice must come into place.
“Awareness is often the first step in creating change, and with this in mind, it seems necessary for each of us to look internally and recognize our biases and the advantages that we may have,” McKee said. “It’s important that we listen to each other instead of assuming that we understand someone else’s experiences by creating conversations and finding ways for students to go into those conversations with an open mind and an open heart and dropping [our] biases at the door, which you can’t do unless you’re aware of what your biases are. And I think that has to come before effective conversations can really happen.”
alternative coverage by Kate Jones