A Comparison of #BLM and the Civil Rights Movement

Black Lives Matter and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s are not one and the same but they are quite similar.  Black Lives Matter (BLM) is an activist movement fighting violence and oppression of black people, not only in America but internationally as well.  I’ll be focusing on the part of the BLM movement that is specific to America for the purpose of comparing it to the Civil Rights Movement in America that occurred throughout the 1950-60s.

BLM started as a hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter, in 2013 as a result of George Zimmerman getting off for the shooting of Trayvon Martin.  When George Zimmerman was acquitted of  second degree murder, people were angered, saddened, and felt slighted.  Many people opposed the decision and felt that he should have been found guilty.

One could say that the Civil Rights Movement began in 1954 when the Supreme Court made a decision in the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.  In this case the Supreme Court ruled in favor of ending legal segregation in schools, overturning Plessy v. Fergusson which allowed the legal segregation of public schools.

The Civil Rights Movement was a direct result of African-Americans still feeling oppressed after slavery ended.  They were still treated terribly and were segregated by law from white people.  Black Lives Matter is a result of black Americans still feeling discriminated against and a target of prejudice and racism.  The two movements are rooted in the atrocities of slavery and the institutional racism that was created after slavery ended.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was extremely  important because it outlawed “segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, [and] is considered one of the crowning legislative achievements of the civil rights movement.” (History.com) Then, in 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed which granted voting rights to African-Americans.

However, before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, African-Americans were segregated with Jim Crow laws, faced violence from the Ku Klux Klan, and were still treated like they weren’t citizens, especially in the South.

Today, black (and Latino, Muslim, Native, Asian, etc.) Americans face multiple types of racism, including institutional racism, systemic racism, structural racism, interactional racism, representational racism, ideological racism, and discursive racism.

Institutional racism is one of the main types of racism that is what Black Lives Matter is trying to fight.  Examples of institutional racism include political policies such as “The War on Drugs,” stop and frisk, racial profiling, etc.  These policies have built racism into our justice system and are major contributors to the extremely high volume of minority prisoners in America.

Interactional racism and systemic racism are also other types of racism that BLM is focused on.  Police brutality stems from interactional racism as well as systemic racism because police profiling can be influenced by assuming that all black males may be dangerous or criminals.  “When a neighbor calls the police to report a break-in because they do not recognize their Black neighbor, or when someone automatically assumes that a person of color is a low-level employee or an assistant, though they might be a manager, executive, or owner of a business, this is interactional racism.” (Cole).

BLM is focused on fighting for racial equality, ending police brutality and unfair/unjust treatment, as did the Civil Rights Movement.  However, the co-founder of BLM, Opal Tometi, says that it is different from the Civil Rights Movement in a major way.

Opal said “Black Lives Matter is often called a “civil rights” movement. But to think that our fight is solely about civil rights is to misunderstand the fundamental aspirations of this movement. ” (Tometi).

I encourage you to check out all of the articles on websites listed in my references section to read more about types of racism and what the co-founder of BLM has to say about the movement.

Featured image via http://www.nationofchange.org/2015/wp-content/uploads/black-lives-matter.jpg


Cole, Nicki L. “What Is Racism? A Sociologist Explains.” About.com Education. N.p., 2016. Web. 29 Oct. 2016.

History.com Staff. “Civil Rights Act.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2010. Web. 29 Oct. 2016.

Tometi, Opal, and Gerald Lenoir. “Black Lives Matter Is Not a Civil Rights Movement.” Time. Time, 10 Dec. 2015. Web. 29 Oct. 2016.



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