Legacy of civil rights movement lives on in Black Lives Matter
The racist legacy of the past is something the black community still deals with. While they don’t face concrete discriminatory laws akin to those the civil rights movement of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s worked to fix, they face issues of police brutality, mass incarceration and disproportionate joblessness, which result in racial degradation — all things the Black Lives Matter movement is fighting against.
The acquittal of George Zimmerman after the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin opened a dialogue amongst black people in America, University of Michigan alumnus and Black Lives Matter activist Austin McCoy said. The controversy was a catalyst for the creation of the movement.
McCoy said the movement draws inspiration from both the civil rights movement and the black power movement and is fighting against a new type of covert racism that exists in America. McCoy said most Americans don’t truly understand this, because they haven’t experienced it.
“A lot of Americans tend to see racism as this manifestation of some sort of motive or intent to oppress a certain people based on their skin, whereas it’s hard to locate that sort of motivation and intent in violence by police or the ways students experience racism on campuses,” McCoy said.
Professor of social work and expert on racism and diversity Ron Hall explained the difference in types of racism black people face today compared to the time of the civil rights movement.
“The racism that took place during the ‘60s and ‘70s was more overt and what you have today is more covert, so it takes a different kind of strategy, which I think (Black Lives Matter) has tried to address nationally and around the country,” Hall said.
The movement also confronts the issue of police brutality and the disproportionate killing of young black men and women at the hands of police. While some people argue the issue of police violence has nothing to do with race, McCoy and other Black Lives Matter activists said this issue is at the heart of their mission and is an example of the institutional racism they are fighting.
“When you have the destruction of inner city economies, usually what springs forth is illicit economies and that demands greater policing,” McCoy said. “Whether it’s federal policies that give military weaponry to these police in the form of swat teams, these factors contribute to the disproportionate killing of African-Americans by the police departments.”
McCoy pointed to cities like Detroit and Ferguson, Missouri, where this destruction of the inner city created joblessness and a subsequent increase in policing.
While there are similarities between the civil rights movement and the Black Lives Matter movement, there are also significant differences in the composition of protesters and leadership.
In this 21st century movement, black women and queer black women are encouraged to take on leadership roles, which was not happening in the ‘50s and ‘60s, James Madison College professor and expert in black politics Curtis Stokes said.
The use of social media also creates a stark difference in the way protesters organize.
Mechanical engineering sophomore and Black Lives Matter activist Ashley Carr said she doesn’t think the movement would be as aggressive without social media because people can easily share their own experiences of racism and can organize more efficiently.
Carr, who found “n-----” written on the whiteboard attached to her residence hall door in October, said the Black Lives Matter movement isn’t going anywhere and is still fighting for the same things black people were fighting for during the civil rights movement.
“The same things that were being fought for in the 1960s, we’re still fighting for,” Carr said. "(We are) still fighting for respect, still fighting for equality, still fighting for justice.”