Black Lives Matter, Explained, For People Who Still Somehow Don’t Freakin Get It » VSB

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Black Lives Matter, Explained, For People Who Still Somehow Don’t Freakin Get It



What is Black Lives Matter?

Black Lives Matter is a social justice and activism movement founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. It derives from the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, created in 2013 in response to George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the death of Trayvon Martin.

It uses non-violent means — hashtag activism, protests, marches, die-ins, and intentional social disruptions — to both mobilize people interested in spreading their message and, most notably, to force people who are either apathetic about or antagonistic to it to pay attention.

And while the media has appointed several prominent people — the founding women, Deray McKesson, Johnetta Elzie, and Shaun King, to name a few — as “leaders,” there’s no concretized hierarchy or organizational structure.

Also, while the Black Lives Matter movement is relatively new, it has actually existed for decades. Centuries, even.

How so?

Even before Black Lives Matter became a thing, the latent message behind it — that Black people’s lives are not valued by America — has been around as long as there’s been Black people in America. Naturally, the message has undergone some nuanced and situationally-dependent changes. 60 years ago, segregation was the antagonist. Today it’s police brutality. And its become a bit more sophisticated and progressive — making sure to include all Black people, not just (straight) Black males. But it has existed for quite some time. It just has a name attached to it now. Martin Luther King, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman — all theoretical members of BLM.

Interesting. Well, if you could summarize today’s message in 25 words, how would you?

25? Ha! I can do it in 24.

“Hey everyone. It hurts when police officers shoot us. Because we’re human. And sometimes we die. Which really sucks. So stop doing that, please.”

That’s it?


Nothing about killing police officers?


Or even just being anti-police?


How about being anti-White?

Nada. In fact, many White people are down with BlackLivesMatter, including Patricia Leary, a professor at Whittier Law School, and quite possibly the wokest White person who ever lived. Actually, forget the “White” qualifier. I’m pretty damn woke — not five cups of espresso woke, but definitely at least a quart of RC Cola for breakfast woke — but I’m a fucking Ambien compared to Professor Leary.

So if it’s not anti-police or anti-White, why is BlackLivesMatter considered so revolutionary, terroristic even, to so many people? 

I’m tempted to just say “because people are fucking stupid” and leave it at that. But since this is an explainer, I’ll explain.

Among the people who do consider BLM to be a negative thing, there seems to be two separate and frequently overlapping segments.

A) Those who believe that anything even remotely critical of the police is anti-police and pro-anarchy

B) Those who believe that anything with the word “Black” in it is exclusionary and anti-White

If you’re a Black person in America, the people comprising segment B) shouldn’t be new to you, because these are the exact same people who say things like “Why is there a Black Entertainment Television and not a White Entertainment Television?” and “Why are Black people allowed to have EBONY Magazine? Because if I started IVORY Magazine, I’d be called a racist.”

And, when encountering these types of people, you’re left with two choices:

1. Educate them. (“Actually, BET exists because networks such as MTV rarely featured work from Black artists. And HBCUs exist because for a very, very, very, very long time, Black people weren’t allowed to attend White schools. And “White schools” were “literally every other school.“)

2. Ignore them, remind them that you want cheese on your Whopper and no ice in your raspberry iced tea, and leave Burger King.

Regarding Black Lives Matter, they seem to think that it’s really saying Only Black Lives Matter. Or, Black Lives Matter, Bitch, And All The Rest Of Your Lives Can Go Eat A Pigeon’s Dick. Which completely — and, some would argue, intentionally — misconstrues the message, which is Black Lives Matter…Too. 

I get it. I guess this is where the All Lives Matter reaction comes from, huh?

Yes. Ultimately you have people either so emotionally and intellectually fragile that they believe BLM is a collective thumbing of the nose to White people or people just too dense and/or myopic to grasp the historically-wrought social and cultural context behind asserting that Black Lives Matter.

But even more dangerous than the All Lives Matter dunderheads are the people who consider BLM to be an inherent threat to the safety of police officers. Which ultimately does nothing but exacerbate an already existing “us vs them” dynamic that seems to persist in police culture; especially in regards to policing urban and Black communities.

So by referring to police culture are you insinuating that police officers are mostly bad/racist?

Of course not. This is not a blanket indictment on all police officers. I would imagine that the quality of cop is distributed just like any other occupation. Some are great at their jobs, some are terrible, and most are just average joes trying to get through the day, collect some overtime, and get home and watch Fear The Walking Dead like the rest of us. But the problem is that policing is an occupation where the people who happen to be terrible at their jobs can seriously fuck shit up. A terrible secretary will forget dates and mislabel appointments. A terrible cop will straight up murder people. And then, adding insult to injury, these terrible cops are often protected. Which makes the act of distinguishing between “good cop” and “bad cop” extremely difficult.

To wit, Saturday night, members of the Minnesota Lynx — a WNBA team — wore shirts to recognize the police-involved violence that occurred last week. On the back of the shirts were the names of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, the emblem for the Dallas Police Department, and Black Lives Matter. Before the game, the players spoke out and said they wished to end all violence and expressed their support for the protestors, the men killed last week, and the fallen police officers. But four off-duty cops working security for the game were so offended by this aggressively inoffensive act that they walked off.

You’d hope that they were admonished by their superiors or appointed leaders, but the President of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, Lieutenant Bob Kroll, supported the officers and even added a dig at the WNBA.

When he was asked if more than four officers had walked off the job, Kroll told the Tribune, “They only have four officers working the event because the Lynx have such a pathetic draw.”

So while bad cops might comprise a minority of the police officer population, it’s an extremely dangerous and protected minority.

Understood. Are there any Black people who consider BLM to be a negative thing?

Of course. You have Black people who also believe its racist and anti-police. In honor of Stacey Dash, the patron saint of these people, I’ll refer to them as Dash’s Dummies. But then you have those who disagree with some of BLM’s disruption-related tactics, and some who believe that disruption is BLM’s only goal. These are (somewhat) understandable but ultimately misguided critiques. The disruption might look and sound ugly and might seem fruitless, but you can’t deny that it’s helped police brutality become a national conversation. Also, social activism has to be disruptive. Without it, things won’t change, because there will be no clear and immediate incentive to at least acknowledge that things need changing.

Any others?

Yeah. There exists some Black people who refuse to be a part of a movement that was founded by Black women and prominently features and fights for members of the LGBTQ community.

How do you combat that type of criticism? 

Well, first you attempt to educate them; teaching them that Black equality means equality for all Black people. But if that doesn’t work, just call their grandmothers and tell them they’re using the house wifi and all bandwidth to browse PornHub.

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at Or don't. Whatever.

  • Mortal Man

    I’ve started attending #blacklivesmatter events in Little Rock and an eager to contribute more. I’d encourage everyone to see if your local town has a chapter so you can contribute.

    I also believe the lack of central leadership hurts the movement. We are making police brutality a national issue. But we’re going to need centralized leadership to do the dirty, hard work of change policy on local levels.

    • Aly

      When you say “events” do you mean meetings? I’m curious what types of events is your chapter doing besides protests.

      • LMNOP

        I’m curious too, I’m not in a big city, so our local BLM is not even part of the larger national one (not listed as a chapter) and it seems to be mostly protests, and protests are great, but I feel like a range of different approaches is even better, so I’d love to hear more about what different people and groups are doing.

        • Aly

          Yeah, that’s exactly where I was going with my question. I’m trying to tread lightly because I think what the organization is doing is great, I just want to see more. Also, I went to the BLM website to sign up to get involved with the chapter here and so far it’s been crickets.

          • LMNOP

            Check if there’s a local BLM Facebook group, if you like it, that’s probably the easiest way to find out what they’re doing and when.

            • Aly

              Yep, following them on Twitter. So far all I’ve seen is protests.

          • Amber

            I signed up with my local chapter. I think it would be great if more VSB and VSS got involved to share our varied experience and maybe help with being more strategic and policy driven.

            • Aly

              I saw up above that you joined Campaign Zero. How are you involved with your chapter? What work are you guys doing? I think policy work is more my speed.

              • Amber

                I just joined over the weekend. I haven’t heard anything yet. But it seems like CZ has several arms and categories that people can fall into.

                • Aly

                  Gotcha. Yeah, their website is very detailed.

                • Epsilonicus

                  Campaign Zero is not doing much organizing. It is much more of a policy clearinghouse. People go there to see what is happening in gov’t around addressing issues with police. So you get the info there but then find another group/s to organize around those issues with.

                  • Amber

                    Right, from what i understand volunteers research and provide policy analysis and that’s what Im interested in doing.

      • Mortal Man

        Here in Little Rock, there was a vigil held last Friday.

        Yesterday, there was a community think tank held to generate ideas for unified action at a local HBCU.

        • Aly

          Good to know, thanks :) Philander Smith? (I used to live in L.R.)

          • Mortal Man

            Yeah. The president of the college was present and participated in the think tank.

    • HouseOfBonnets

      Have you checked campaign zero?

      • Aly

        I filled out the form on their website this week. Hope to hear back from them soon.

      • Mortal Man

        I have and am impressed with what I’ve read. I’d love for my local chapter to get around on this.

      • Guest

        This is the best aspect of the movement that I’ve seen so far. They need a central leader, a central manifesto. They are just too fragemented right now, but hopefully things will change in time.

        • HouseOfBonnets

          Unfortunately from what i’ve seen a lot of the fragmentation comes from fragmentation within our community already (See criticisms of leaders/spokespersons being LGBT or feminist) both of those topics are still highly debated/frowned upon . The other reason is due to former allies (see Shaun King ) being questioned on personal benefits taken while being one of the faces of the movement.(putting it loosely)

    • Negro Libre

      The role and the importance of the Supreme Court laws either they be Supreme or State, and the inevitable role they play in the practice of policing. If we raised more future politicians and less revolutionaries, we would perhaps have the ammunition to not only attain success in our pursuits as a people, but solidify in the law books, rather than getting short-term wins, in terms of temporary institutional policies. We need to not only criticize the products of the system, but how the leviathan works at each level of the hierarchy. Basically, we need to teach people not to just challenge power, but to cease it, and exercise it better than those who currently have it.

      …That would be a start, I guess.

      • Mortal Man

        I don’t see any federal mandates on policing coming. I feel local chapters need to organize and work to pursue policy change on the local and state levels.

        • Negro Libre

          Doesn’t have to be a federal mandate. It’s more important to understand the judgments and the dissents. Don’t need to be a bunch of lawyers, but we should have a people who understand the direct role it plays in the cause and effect in policing and politics. We have a tendency to use the term “systemic racism” to gloss over specifics in the system, in the long run, not understanding specifics leads to the pursuit of only short term solutions, that will likely be overturned in the long run.

    • Nik White

      The purposeful lack of centralized leadership reminds me of instances where you can’t take down the entire organization or deal when caught. You know and do enough to push the agenda foward.

      • Amber

        I don’t like the one leader thought. Black people are too diverse. I think it’s important to prop up varied voices with many talents and skills.

        • cyanic

          When there is one person they can collectively target they usually succeed at taking their life and having us stuck with conversation there will never be another one which does us no good.

          • Amber

            Right we shouldn’t want that for other black folks either. That’s a heavy burden to carry as a sole leader of black America. I was on twitter this weekend watching a person like Deray catch it from all sides. Now we should be coordinated in our work but not centralized. Too much to do for one group or person.

            • Epsilonicus

              “Now we should be coordinated in our work but not centralized. Too much to do for one group or person.”


        • Mortal Man

          Without one leader, an organization is slow and bound toward the whims of those lower in the organization. It’s a natural and productive tendency for organizations to choose leaders based of their ability to make decisions, build relationships, and maintain coalitions.

          The SCLC, NAACP, and other organizations would not have been as effective as they were if they did not have a single leader dictating the road they were going to walk.

          • Guest

            I agree with you, but I see their point too.

            • Mortal Man

              I don’t feel they have a legitimate point when it comes to the lack of leadership. I feel their fear of leadership is borne from this generation’s crisis of authority. That doesn’t mean you don’t need leaders to clarify strategy and delegate tasks.

              • Guest

                I think it’s more to do with the assassination of past leaders. At least from what I’m reading here.

      • Mortal Man

        But it takes centralized leadership to make lasting change.

        We have a lot of people calling themselves #blacklivesmatter in Little Rock. Some protest. Others organize. A few meet with public and elected officials. But there is no unity in their actions, which leads to confusion.

    • Amber

      I joined BLM and Campaign Zero. I think Campaign Zero more aligns with my views on how to be more policy driven. I dont think it’s important to have one leader. It’s important to prop up many in their varied aspects to combat white supremacy.

    • Cherron

      I agree completely on the need for central leadership. We have to have a precise, specific goal/strategy in mind and all be on the same page. Of course this means a lot of compromise but it’s the only way we win a fight this large. I also feel that federal level change is the only way to get significant reform across the country as quickly as possible. Otherwise we’re fighting a million small battles and spending much more on resources.

      • Mortal Man

        Like, last Friday, we had two “blacklivesmatter” events. One was a rally held at the Capitol. BLM did not sponsor the event. There was the vigil later at a local church that was fully sponsored by BLM. While whites mingled outside, the church itself was a black-only space to allow us to vent and mourn without the white gaze.

        These things is why leadership is needed. It prevents jokers or the uninitiated from doing crazy stuff that hurts the movement.

        • Cherron

          Exactly. I’ve seen multiple articles citing tweets and statements by black lives matter “members” that support violence against whites and police. Without some kind of central command, BLM can’t outright deny beliefs of certain factions of the movement.

          • Mortal Man

            What do you think it’ll take to get that central leadership?

            • Cherron

              I think we have to look at how leaders were found in similar situations in the past. For example, CRM leaders were voted on at meetings where activits were invited to discuss strategy. The same can be found with the American Revolution. Those most active/ interested would simply meet, discuss, strategize, then vote on who could best represent their cause.

              • Mortal Man

                I think that’s a good first step.

                Would you like to check out my blog? I’ve started it recently to both clarify my thoughts on BLM and to reports on BLM manners in my town:

                • Cherron

                  I’ll definitely check it out

  • 1ncredulously

    “call their grandmothers and tell them they’re using the house wifi and bandwidth to browse PornHub”

    People don’t get it because they don’t want to get it. It’s willful ignorance, not misunderstanding.

    • Julian Green

      You know people start getting nervous when too many of us get together.

  • Julian Green

    It’s funny how BLM is considered so dangerous and “divisive” even though it stands for nothing more than accountable government institutions & citizens being treated like citizens.

    • Janelle Doe

      I think that is what is most terrifying. People don’t like accountability

  • Muva Luva

    There are some pro-black extremists who prefer revenge rather than justice and I don’t know if they are wrong but instead ineffective. It’s unfair to have #blacklivesmatter as the only organization to have to answer for those few instances and for people to use them to illegitimize the entire movement while they can play the same logic to protect the image of police.

    • ChokeOnThisTea

      Right a few bad apples spoil our whole bunch, but a whole lotta rotten police still means policemen are all good. Ok. ?

  • Mortal Man

    The powerful are powerful because they have figured out how to avoid accountability.

    • Other_guy13

      There you are…been wondering what happened to ya…I thought….nevermind. Just glad to have ya back

      • Mortal Man

        It’s been a personally trying and professionally productive time for me. Wife was seriously ill, traveling for work, and starting grad school in two weeks.

        Don’t worry, I’m still alive for the Struggle.

        • Other_guy13

          First off…I hope the Wife is doing better. She will be in the prayers.
          “starting grad school in two weeks”…I know…good luck to you good sir…I will be there with you in VSB ghost town.
          Just keep fighting the good fight one day at a time

        • Cheech

          Hang in there, MM.
          Good luck with grad school.

          • Mortal Man

            I won’t need luck. Grad school won’t know what hit him.

  • cyanic

    Those who are unmoved by the violence against us are incapable of empathy.

    • Quirlygirly

      It is the “It ain’t happening to me so I don’t care” mentality. But I have always been taught that it does not take much for ish to be on your doorstep. People like to feel that they live in a vacuum. They don’t! Injustice for one can easily become injustice for all.

      • cyanic

        America’s controlling white supremacy has conditioned the population to feel good about themselves for not being us. They believe we’re overly emotional and hostile. Does not matter the historical and factual narrative of systematic oppression against us. They choose to see their place in the narrative and their group being pretty secure from the violence.

        • LEO is there to protect the White 1%. Witness Free Speech Zones during the RNC and DNC. By the time regular middle/working class white people realize this, there will be no one left to help them. It will be their own fault. I do not feel sorry for them.

      • grownandsexy2

        Yep, what’s on my doorstep today is coming to your neighborhood soon.

  • Skegeeaces

    I feel that we should no longer explain to some people that saying ?#?BlackLivesMatter? does not imply that other lives do not.
    I’m going to assume that anyone who doesn’t understand that simple fact lacks basic reading comprehension skills that involve using CONTEXT to deduct that the slogan is actually saying “Black Lives Matter, TOO”.Either that they’re too slow, or they’re being willfully ignorant by pretending to not understand that.
    In other words, if you are being combative and say “All Lives Matter” in response, I’m going to assume that you’re kind of stupid and can’t think things through very well. If you’re that dumb, we might as well give up altogether on enlightening you to the nuances of racial justice because you’re already too far gone.

    • HouseOfBonnets

      Pretty much.

    • AnswerMe

      I announced how I question anyone’s intelligence when they just can’t seem to grasp BLM in class last year. I could glance around and see individuals who spouted all lives matter just from the expressions on their faces. Yeah. You’re dumb.

    • Quirlygirly

      I feel that we should no longer explain to some people that saying ?#?BlackLivesMatter? does not imply that other lives do not

      Some people are willfully ignorant and I honest can not be bothered any more. Because they choose to be argumentative and obtuse will innocent black human being die in the streets.

    • Conrad Bess

      They’re not dumb, or being ignorant. They know. It is an attempt to throw us off track, distract. Mess with one’s FOCUS. And once focus is lost, the battle will be too. AllLivesMatter is Foreman, BLM is Ali. Raining blow after blow down, figuring this bullshit refrain will be the one to crack through the defense, cause BLM’s knees to buckle. More time is being spent on what BLM ISN’T as opposed to what it IS. That 8th round is coming though…


    The fact that the statement Black Lives Matter is considered controversial or revolutionary is exactly why there needs to be a BLM movement.

  • PDL – Cape Girl Shero

    White people will NEVER get this. We may find some that are empathetic to the cause, might march in the rallies, maybe even donate a few dollars and time, but you gotta be black to “get” what this is all about. The more it’s said, the less they’ll get it. Can’t explain nor put into words, the emotions, the clap back the shunning we’ve experienced because black.

    I can engage with all mothers what childbirth is like, or with all women what it’s like having a period. I can relate to the pain of a loved one passing, as it’s happened to all races, but nuh uh, nope, nawl, not with matters of race. It’s a black thing. I don’t try and explain. You ain’t gotta be black though to treat everyone the way you want to be treated. That’s why the good Lord said do unto others. He didn’t mention nor does he mention race. If you know what you like, then that’s all you need for treating others decent and showing respect.

  • HouseOfBonnets

    I’ve simply stopped explaining because at this point I’m starting to feel like despite the tons of data that has constantly dismantled their same tired points many simply want to revile in their wrong while basking in their ignorance. So now I simply direct them to and tumblr because they are free and i am not.

    My tolerance left a while ago.

    • Jennifer


      Had an Asian friend lecture that last week was a critical moment for me (not him!) to change hearts and minds as it relates to #blacklivesmatter. Had to tell him I was in mourning, and that I needed a week off from my lifetime unpaid position as a race educator.

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