Meet the amazing women behind the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter
This week’s Department of Justice report on the unsettling racial bias in the Ferguson police department was yet another reminder of the inequality Black citizens of this country face everyday. It was also a reminder of the statement so eloquently expressed on social media: #BlackLivesMatter. The hashtag’s call for justice is arguably the most important movement to ever begin on the Internet, and while it has been re-appropriated in multiple ways by many groups and many people, it is essential that we not forget its origins — and the fact that it was the creation and labor of love of three Black women: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi.
When George Zimmerman was acquitted for murder in the killing of Trayvon Martin in July 2013, Garza, special projects director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, turned to Facebook, where she wrote a letter of support and love to Black people, and stressed the importance of coming together to ensure “that black lives matter.” From there, Cullors, a Los Angeles-based organizer and the executive director of the Coalition to End Violence in L.A. County Jails, turned Garza’s beautiful words into the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag we know today; and Tometi, an immigrant rights activist who runs the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, created the #BlackLivesMatter website, as a platform for Black people to come together, share their stories, and, according to an interview with Garza in USA Today, collaborate on how “to bring about freedom for all of us once and for all.”
“Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise,” Garza wrote in an essay on The Feminist Wire; and these three words continue to speak volumes, surprisingly potent in their brevity and a sign of just how prevalent anti-Black institutionalized racism continues to be. When Garza had first checked Facebook after the Zimmerman verdict, she had been disappointed by the victim-blaming and the racism that she’d seen. So she chose to speak up, and, with the support of Cullors and Tometi, to “[create] space for the celebration and humanization of Black lives.” They chose to make a difference, and what they created was something so much bigger than a hashtag.
And while the most common complaint against the #BlackLivesMatter movement is that it should state that all lives matter, this misses the point of it on a fundamental level. Part of the purpose of #BlackLivesMatter is that it serves as a reminder that Black lives are socially and systematically valued least of all; and we need to fix this — most essentially for Black people, but, as Garza wrote on Facebook, “the impact of embracing and defending the value of black life in particular has the potential to lift us all.”
“We know that our struggles are intricately connected and we need each other to get free,” she said in an interview with Colorlines.
“One of the things that can happen when we lump all people together is that we really lose the complexity of the experiences that we have in this country,” she continued, “If we lose that complexity, we lose out on building sharp strategies that can include everybody.”
“[Being] Black queer women in this society (and apparently within these movements) tends to equal invisibility and non-relevancy,” Garza continued in her essay in The Feminist Wire, and it is essential that we do not erase these women from the conversation — that we acknowledge and celebrate their creation of and contributions to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Together, Garza, Cullors, and Tometi created something that gave a renewed voice and sense of community for an incredibly important cause, and how quickly it took off shows how very powerful and necessary it was. #BlackLivesMatter was and is social media activism at its best. It gave much-needed attention to something incredibly important — attention that went beyond the Internet, and translated to rallies and movements and real attempts to create change. And with racial injustice continuing to fester in Ferguson and around the country, it remains a constant and committed rallying cry for equality.
(Image via Sons & Brothers.)