On the Black Lives Matter Backlash

A thoughtful primer for the inevitable.

Photo by Life Matters from Pexels

As expected, the “Black lives matter” movement has seen a bit of a pushback since it achieved a record amount of support following the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Much of the pushback has not so much to do with the phrase or idea itself, but with protest and crisis fatigue and increased scrutiny of the organization that calls itself Black Lives Matter (henceforth followed by dot com to make clear the difference). This piece focuses on the latter.

While it is true that bad-faith actors who may not actually believe that Black lives matter exploit certain aspects of the organization Black Lives Matter (dot com) to diminish the overall movement for equal treatment under the law, we also have to acknowledge the (white and black) mainstream pushback as well. After all, this mainstream is where alliances need to be made and maintained. This is simple politics.

Do you agree with the statement “Black lives matter?”

As long as I see that Black lives do not matter as much as other lives, and as long as my family, friends and peers who are Black feel this way, I will never stop saying that Black lives matter. They should matter in the context of the Constitution, the justice system, all levels of government and general society. Black lives need to be seen as equally worthy of protection and freedom as everyone else’s. This is not putting Black lives above anyone else’s, it’s simply a desire to bring their lives up to the level of equality, and acknowledging and fixing a long history of failing to do so.

We should all continue to support systemic reform and to call out racism as long as is necessary.

What about the organization, Black Lives Matter (dot com)?

That’s a different story, and that’s fine. At their core, they also believe that Black lives matter and should be treated equally by our government systems and society. However in the context of societal norms, some of their past and present ideas may be considered radical and revolutionary. We can acknowledge this.

We can also acknowledge that Black Lives Matter (dot com) is a relatively young organization, and is one of many working to achieve the same outcome of equal treatment and justice under the law. When someone says they are donating to the “movement,” they aren’t defaulting to Black Lives Matter (dot com), as there are many more established organizations that have long been fighting for Black lives to matter and have been the recipient of the donor rush this Summer.

Black Lives Matter (dot com) just happened to officially organize under the name and register the URL.

Again, we can and should acknowledge this. One such idea said:

We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.

In the context of mainstream society across the globe, this is a radical notion. I would argue that nearly everyone, no matter their race, class or self-described place on the political spectrum, believes that family structure[1] needs to be made stronger, not further disrupted or dismantled. We may have different ideas on what it is and how to do it, but I do not believe people really want to disrupt or dismantle it. In the United States, it has already been disrupted enough by racism, drugs, economic crises and other factors, and this has indeed caused disillusionment amongst younger generations. But family structures of some sort are possibly as old as civilization itself, and indeed a foundation of civilization.

On or about September 24th, 2020, Black Lives Matter (dot com) removed this section from their website, with their mission and key issues now being communicated as a bit more mainstream. As they are a relatively young organization, thrust back into the spotlight very rapidly this Summer, they reserve the right to evolve and hone their views. This is the story of nearly every organization throughout our history.

As for people who believe that Black lives matter, and desire competent, organized support for that, they also have a right and duty to scrutinize and hold such an organization accountable if they claim to speak for them. That seems to have happened, but even so, scrutiny should continue. This is too important an issue to not scrutinize those claiming to represent it.

The phrase “Black lives matter” is not trademarked.

Nor can it be.

The USPTO determined that the phrase falls under “informational slogan” and “conveys an informational social, political, religious, or similar kind of message.” As such, it cannot “function as a trademark to indicate the source of applicant’s goods and to identify and distinguish them from others.”

This is a clear indicator that to say or wear “Black lives matter” is not an endorsement of Black Lives Matter (dot com). Apparel with the slogan “Black lives matter” can be created and purchased from just about anywhere, from small time vendors to corporations, to the Black Lives Matter (dot com) organization itself. A t-shirt or a mask with the slogan “Black lives matter” does not mean that the wearer endorses Black Lives Matter (dot com). More than likely, it means that they believe exactly what it says, that Black lives matter.

Perhaps as time goes on, we won’t need such a slogan or an organization. That’s the dream. But like any new movement, it won’t be perfect out of the gate. The growth of an organization to the point of making positive change requires acceptance by those outside of the bubble, and thus it evolves accordingly.

[1] For clarification, I personally have a broad definition of “stronger family structures” that includes all marriages, domestic partnerships and generational family support that exists to provide for family needs, such as love, emotional support, discipline, connection, education, home training, stability, safety, etc., with clear-cut exceptions to hold people accountable for abuse.

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