On the evening of May 25th, 2020, George Perry Floyd Jr., an African American man, was brought under police custody for allegedly using a $20 counterfeit bill in Minneapolis. Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, pinned Floyd down and used his knee to apply pressure on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds, ultimately killing him. Floyd’s final minutes are caught on camera by security footage and witnesses’ phone cameras, where the videos were posted on social media. The rallies in the city of Minneapolis began a tidal wave of protests across the globe, with other incidents of police brutality and racial killings being brought to light, such as the cases of Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice (Bennet, Lee and Cahlan, 2020).
According to the official Black Lives Matter website, the organisation was founded in 2013 after the exoneration of Trayvon Martin’s murder. It seeks out to eradicate and educate the public about black oppression, racial profiling, systematic inequality and police brutality for a world where the system no longer targets black lives for failure and demise (“About”, n.d.). The killing of George Floyd was the spark that lit the bonfire of protests across the globe, specifically in the European continent where nations such as Belgium, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom began to tackle their own issues with systematic inequality and racial oppression when it comes to dealing with black lives (King, 2020). As the protests and the Black Lives Matter organisation began to draw more attention unto themselves, opinions have been formed as to whether or not these protests and these certain types of organisations help or harm societies.
The terms intersectionality and the politics of recognition can be described as theoretical methods which are used to understand current societal relations. Intersectionality denotes to how the effects of numerous forms of discrimination –such as racism and sexism– overlap or intersect in the experiences of marginalised individuals (“Intersectionality”, n.d.). According to Charles Taylor, the politics of recognition stresses the urgency to recognise and identify crucial characteristics that societies tend to overlook based on a minority’s gender, race, religious beliefs, etc. (Taylor, 1992). Essentially, how do minorities stand up for themselves and what differences are absent and need to be brought to light? Case in point, allies of the Black Lives Matter organisation stand by the belief that black lives are on the bottom of the political and social hierarchy. On the contrary, there are issues inside of the Black Lives Matter organisation where certain groups inside of the association do not place black transgender lives and black women as a priority.
Black Lives versus Black Transgender Lives
Organisations like Black Lives Matter have become increasingly popular over the past years. Nonetheless, they have been called out for either helping or harming societal progress. There are issues with intersectionality and political recognition within Black Lives Matter. The organisation states that they cater to all black lives. Marches were happening in support for Black Lives Matter, though when it came to protest in favour of black transgender lives, public interest decreased rapidly. According to the British Broadcasting Corporation, while most black people face racism, those who are part of the LGBTQ+ community are even more exposed to violence, even within black communities (“Black Trans Lives Matter”, 2020). When it comes to intersectionality and political recognition, black transgendered lives are marginalised.
Such is the case of Tony McDade, a black transgender man who was murdered by police in Florida on May 27, 2020. A protest was planned to honour the lives of McDade and other black transgender people who were killed by police. In spite of this, the protest was postponed due to the George Floyd memorial overlapping with it (Bui, 2020). Individuals were convinced that the postponing seemed to minimise the issue of black transgender lives being pushed to the backseat of the Black Lives Matter agenda, which minimised the issue. Thus, this brings forth the question of what comes first: the ethnicity of a person or their queer identity? Alternatively, former United States president Barack Obama addressed the death of McDade, alongside the killings of two black trans women, Riah Milton and Dominique Fells, which garnered public responsiveness and the need to recognise why black transgender lives matter (“Black Trans Lives Matter”, 2020). The Black Trans Lives Matter protest in the United States commenced on the 14th of June 2020, which brought forth reasons as to why the protest was necessary, giving political recognition (Holt, 2020). Although the Black Lives Matter organisation solidifies that all black lives matter, those who are transgender seem to not feel included in their mantra.
Black Lives versus Black Women
Feminism is the is the fight for female equality and it is still a massive issue around the globe. Consequently, feminism is splintered when it is boiled down to race; white women have more privilege than black women. The true ideology of feminism seeks out for women to reach the same level of equality of men, but the current major ideology of feminism promotes white females rather than females as a whole (Williams, 2020). According to the Pew Research Centre, the average hourly earnings of white women in 2015 was seventeen dollars in contrast to black women who only earned thirteen dollars (Patten, 2016). When sifting through the massive rubble that is the Black Lives Matter organisation, #SayHerName founder, Kimberlé Crenshaw, believes that black women are being left out of the spotlight.
#SayHerName is a campaign that attempts to raise awareness of race and policing when it comes to black women. While the cases of George Floyd, Eric Garner, and Philando Castile all received worldwide recognition, there are scarce cases of black females that catch the public’s eye, the most acknowledged case being of Breonna Taylor (Kelly and Glenn, 2020).
The #SayHerName sees itself a part of the Black Lives Matter movement although the latter overshadows the campaign. While black men make up the vast majority of people murdered by police—1 in 1,000 black men are statistically proven to be killed in their lifetime due to police brutality compared to 5.4 black women in 100,000 (Edwards, Lee and Esposito, 2019)– black women are usually left out of the entire scenario which can seem to make only black men the victims of racism and police brutality. In an interview with NPR, Crenshaw deems that black women experience a distinctive type of discrimination than black men and that their cases are not “registered in the same way” (Kelly and Glenn, 2020) and they do not garner the same level of attention like their male counterparts do. Although the Black Lives Matter organisation considers the #SayHerName campaign to be part of the main struggle for black recognition, they have yet to fully integrate the campaign so it can be equally recognised.
Victimhood: Facts versus Feelings
Racial disadvantage is a reality and nevertheless quite complicated. One cannot deny that black lives are oppressed in most societies. Despite this, opinions are formed whether or not victimhood plays a crucial part in Black Lives Matter. According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, victimhood is the condition in which an individual or group has been hurt or made to suffer, and after the events have passed, they use it as an excuse for their suffering (“Victimhood”, n.d.). When one teaches individuals that they are victims, they uphold that belief and it becomes difficult for them to look past those lenses. The belief that all policemen are wicked has been ingrained into the current mindset of society. This belief has brought forth the rise of a counter-organisation called Blue Lives Matter, wherein they raise awareness as to why police officers are crucial for the public and not all policemen are public enemy number one (“Our Mission”, n.d.). The Black Lives Matter organisation is influenced by the rise of victimhood culture, which both helps and harms the overall image of the Black Lives Matter organisation and brings forth counter-organisations that threaten their very own message.