As if racial issues weren’t contentious enough, the debate surrounding Black Lives Matter (BLM) is rife with controversy. Half-truths and misinformation continue to dominate the national conversation. This confusing cacophony demonstrates the need for a clear and nuanced evaluation of some much-neglected data.
Understanding the distinctions between the entity known as Black Lives Matter, the larger movement known as Black Lives Matter, and the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter is essential to successfully navigating the tumultuous and muddy waters of this topic. Consequently, we will explore each of these three components separately, including how they differ and how they overlap.
But first, to provide the proper context, let’s examine a short timeline of BLM’s beginnings.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF BLACK LIVES MATTER
It all began, of course, with the hashtag. #Blacklivesmatter was coined by Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors in 2013 in response to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. To quote from Beyond the Hashtags, a study by the Center For Media & Social Impact,
For more than a year, #Blacklivesmatter was only a hashtag, and not a very popular one: it was used in only 48 public tweets in June 2014 and in 398 tweets in July 2014. But by August 2014 that number had skyrocketed to 52,288, partly due to the slogan’s frequent use in the context of the Ferguson protests. (9)
In November of 2016, three years after the creation of the hashtag, Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza, along with Opal Tometi, incorporated the Black Lives Matter Global Network as an extension of the growing BLM movement. The Global Network has, to date, only 17 chapters divided between 10 states and two provinces in Canada. While membership within the Global Network itself is vetted, “it is not exclusive about who can use the term ‘Black Lives Matter.’”
We will examine “Black Lives Matter” as a phrase a little later. For now, we need only note that, due to the Global Network’s rigid membership guidelines and limited national presence, a majority of those using the “Black Lives Matter” slogan are not affiliated with the BLM Global Network in any capacity.