It’s impossible to have missed the discussions and varied viewpoints that the internet has about Black Lives Matter. Emerging as a human rights movement rather than a civil rights campaign, the protests are growing louder globally, and they are, indeed, being heard.
The violent arrest that led to the subsequent death of George Floyd has caused upheaval across the world. Since the tragic incident took place on May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, there has been a revival of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, started in 2013 by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. No doubt, the massive mobilization of people has since forced the government machinery into action. But, the discourse has also spilled over to other areas of everyday life and has started a dialogue about systemic racism.
Protests and demonstrations started in Minneapolis and soon spread to all the 50 States in the US. This included not just major cities but also some smaller towns. The voices grew so loud that Minneapolis declared a state of emergency, the National Guard was brought in to control the situation, and President Donald Trump had to be rushed to a White House bunker for safety as many gathered outside his residence. As a result of the massive uprising, the four police officers involved in the incident have been charged. Derek Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder, while the three others face counts of aiding murder.
The movement has since gone global with nearly 50 countries across the world joining in including France and Japan, some events attaining even a regional flavour. In Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, the issue of indigenous oppression and rights has, once again, come into the debate. The incident of the violent arrest of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam has created quite an uproar in Canada, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responding that an independent investigation needs to be conducted. Meanwhile, in the UK, extreme right-wing elements, who oppose the anti-racism protests have clashed with the police.
Here are a few of the social and cultural waves that have been triggered in response to the violent police encounter in Minneapolis.
Removal of symbols of racism
Masses have taken upon themselves the job to remove symbols of racism around the USA and also in different parts of the world. Confederate flags and monuments, along with statues of slavers were the main targets.
- Demonstrators took down a bronze statue of Charles Linn, erected in Birmingham, Alabama in honor of a sea captain who volunteered to help the Confederacy in the Civil War.
- Philadelphia officials removed the statue of former Mayor Frank Rizzo. His policies resulted in racist police brutality against Black residents. He also fought for desegregation efforts, blocked public housing, and urged people to “vote white.”
- The US Marine Corps announced that it would ban the display of Confederate flags from “public spaces and work areas” on their bases. Following suit, NASCAR issued a statement that the display of the confederate flag (a common sight at its racing circuits) would be prohibited from all events and properties.
- Protesters in Brussels, Belgium occupied a statue of King Leopold II, waving the flag of the Democratic Republic of Congo and chanting “murderer”, before toppling it over. Leopold is infamous for the atrocities committed in Congo under his rule in the 19th century.
- In Bristol, a city in the southwest of England, people took down a statue of a slave trader Edward Colston, knelt on its throat for eight minutes (to recreate the tragic end of George Floyd) and pushed it into the harbour nearby.
- Multiple statues of Christopher Columbus, the European Conquistador, were set on fire and pulled down across multiple states, including Virginia, Boston, Miami, and Minnesota.
- In New Zealand, the city government of Hamilton decided to take down the statue of Captain John Hamilton, a British navy officer who waged war against the indigenous Māori community. The move comes after a local Māori elder threatened to take down the Hamilton statue by force, calling him a “murderous a**ehole.”
- While many international businesses have come out in support of the movement, social media has brought up things like the #PullUpOrShutUp campaign. Started by Sharon Chuter, the founder of Uoma Beauty, the hashtag prompts brands to reveal the racial makeup of their employees. Many brands have been accused of hiding behind their well-written PR stunts while not taking up any responsibility for an internal change.
- The Associated Press also reviewed the diversity reports of some of the biggest companies pledging solidarity with their black employees, as well as the black community. They found that efforts by these firms to recruit, maintain, and promote minorities within their own ranks had fallen short.
- Many big brands like Amazon, Microsoft, and Adidas have come into the discussion for their not-so-inclusive policies. Social Media has also reported that popular coffee chain Starbucks prohibited employees from wearing anything in support of the movement. However, the notice was soon rescinded and T-shirts with phrases including “Black Lives Matter,” “Speak Up” and “Time for Change” are now available for employees to wear, if they choose.
Entertainment industry speaks up
- Celebrities all over the world are also joining in on the conversation. Musician Kanye West set up a college fund for George’s daughter, Gianna, and donated to the families of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. Others like Morgan Freeman are creating platforms on their social media pages for people to open up about racism.
- Dave Chappelle dropped a surprise special called 8.46 on Netflix’s YouTube page. The comedian directly addressed the tragedy in his episode and dealt with issues of race and police brutality. The title refers to the length of time Floyd was pinned to the ground by the police officer.
- Actors like Kerry Washington have also been encouraging fans to support black-owned businesses, in addition to signing petitions, registering to vote, and educating themselves on systemic racism. Riverdale star Vanessa Morgan also vowed to support black designers and “no longer take roles that don’t properly represent us.”
- The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced a new initiative to expand diversity and inclusion within the filmmaking industry. While the latest effort comes close on the heels of the protests against institutionalized racism, the changes are the result of years of continued criticism over the lack of diverse representation on screen and behind the scenes.
Media questions itself
- The movement is also creating ripples within the media industry across North America. Many news organizations like The New York Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer have seen changes in ranks, and Canadian bigwigs like CBC have announced that they will pay attention to diversity in recruitment and policies.
- Another reckoning came from the global publishing house Condé Nast – the parent company of Vogue, The New Yorker, GQ, Vanity Fair, and Architectural Digest. Employees of the company have complained about racism in the workplace out in public for the first time. Mounting turmoil at the publisher in recent days has included the resignation of Adam Rapoport, the editor-in-chief of Bon Appétit magazine (a subsidiary of CN), over Instagram photos of Rapoport and his wife in a Latino version of brownface at a Halloween party in 2013 and the exit of Condé Nast’s head of lifestyle video programming, Matt Duckor after staffers claimed that Condé Nast failed to feature people of color in videos and did not pay them for appearances.
Support from communities
- The GoFundMe page created by George’s brother has exceeded its target of $1,500,000 and has become one of the most donated causes on the website.
- Social Media joined the fervour with events like Blackout Tuesday. The idea behind this was to stop the usual activity on the sites and to take time to learn about the Black Lives Matter movement.
- Several places in the US have become hubs of protest activity which has turned artistic and creative. The name of a street in Washington DC was changed to Black Lives Matter Plaza by the city’s Mayor.
- The LGBTI+ community has announced an international event named Global Pride and has informed that Black Lives Matter will be at the heart of the event.
- Merriam-Webster dictionary announced that they will edit the entry on racism after a student from Missouri named Kennedy Mitchum approached them to include systemic racism in the definition.
Support is flowing in for the anti-racism movement and let us hope that these protests open up discussions on the nuances of racism. Find out more about how you can offer your support here.