Analysis of the #BlackLivesMatter Social Movement
The term “Black Lives Matter” has been seen in many forms of social media and news media for many years now. Even though the actual movement began to form after the untimely death of Trayvon Martin, black people have been fighting for equal rights ever since the official “end” of slavery and wanted to make a change. The #BLM movement started off strong, with established values and a common goal in mind, but without any kind of organized structure or visible leadership, it ultimately fell apart, and only sparks up again after the death of an African American who is shot and killed by the cops on accident, or for being an “innocent bystander”.
Using a combination of rhetorical devices, fallacies, a chart containing Perelman’s Argument of Rhetoric, and an outside source article, I analyzed the rhetorical structure of three different pieces of material that pertained, in one way or another, to the Black Lives Matter social movement. The rhetorical devices chart focused more on the figurative language of different outlets talking about the movement itself; the fallacy chart was used more to find and point out the flaws in the different arguments and the chart of Perelman’s Argument of Rhetoric was used to analyze the structure of the arguments.
Results of Analysis
The article that I chose for my analysis is from The Guardian, titled “#BlackLivesMatter: The Birth of a New Civil Rights Movement” by Elizabeth Day. This article presents the origins of the movement. It starts off with the story of Alicia Garza, a woman in a bar who was unhappy with the result of the trial of George Zimmerman for the shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2013. Taking to Facebook, Garza wrote a post that was “essentially a love note to black people”. When Patrisse Cullors, a good friend of Garza’s, read this post, she shared it along with the hashtag #blacklivesmatter. After that, the two women reached out to another activist who shared their views, Opal Tometi. With this trio now formed came the birth of a new social movement.
I chose five quotes from this article to analyze. The first quote describes how the movement “is fueled by grief and fury, by righteous rage against injustice and institutionalized racism and by frustration at the endemic brutality of the state against those it deems unworthy,” which I claimed was hyperbole or prosopeia. I do not think that the entire quote was an exaggeration. I was referring more to the use of the word “endemic” because it caught my eye. While the author is not directly giving the concept of police brutality “human-like qualities”, Day is certainly trying to give the impression that these injustices spread like a disease or a plague, some kind of living organism that wipes out nearly everything in its path.
The next quote explains that “in almost every area of society, black Americans remain disadvantaged. Education?...Employment?...Housing?...Voters’ rights?...”. The paragraph I used as my example is much too long to put in here, as with each question the author uses an array of statistics backing up how black people are at a disadvantage in each of those categories. This is aporia, simply because Day chose to turn this part of the article into a mock debate with the audience, except she is doing all of the talking.
An interesting divide that occurred with the BLM movement was resentment given toward the “reverence accorded men such as Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and Harry Belafonte, who, in their eyes, represent a bygone era and who turn up cities to hold press conferences only after the hard protest work has been done on the ground”, which is Comparison: Enthusiastic Present according to Perelman’s Argument of Rhetoric. This basically means that the present is better than the past or the future. Here, we see that younger activists believe that African-Americans who grew up during the original civil rights movement are taking advantage of the hard work of their younger “counterparts” in order to make themselves look better in the eyes of the media and the public.
The last quote states that “since Brown was killed in the streets of Ferguson, several other unarmed African Americans have been the victims of fatal violence at the hands of the police”. This is Coexistence: Intention, from Perelman. This quote in and of itself is not necessarily Intention, however, it is an event that could possibly lead to the conclusion that, when it comes to black people, the police can’t be trusted and that “black people are not safe in America,” a quote from Garza.
The video that I chose for my analysis is a TED talk, called “Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi: An Interview with the Founders of Black Lives Matter”. The entire interview was only about 16 minutes long, and I will be analyzing the first half of it. During the video, it was emphasized that the BLM movement is expanding beyond its perceived parameters. It is mentioned that the BLM movement isn’t just for African-Americans, but for everyone and that when black people are free, everyone will be free. The second point that I want to discuss is that it is mentioned that “America is obsessed with black deaths” in the video. This is Exaggeration: Hyperbole. However, “obsessed” does not seem like the right word to use. They are certainly exaggerated and taken advantage of in order to further or justify protests, marches, and the creation of social movements, such as #BlackLivesMatter.
The last material of media that I analyzed using the culmination of rhetorical devices was a Twitter page for the death of Rekia Boyd. Out of the 50 Tweets that I looked at, at least half of them specifically referred to her death. I will analyze three of those Tweets.
The first Tweet reads: “@HoumanTX100: ‘Chicago PD and its tentacles are far-reaching. CPD is essentially a minority death squad. Never forget #LaquanMcDonald and #RekiaBoyd”. This is Emotional Appeal, as the author uses words containing negative connotations, such as “tentacles” and “death squad”. Therefore, it appears that this person has a deep-seated hatred for the police, and he wants to elicit this same emotion from his audience/viewers.
The second Tweet also elicits an emotional reaction as well, as it reads: “@AAPolicyForum: ‘5 yrs today since 22 y/o was killed by an off-duty police officer for nothing other than laughing w/ friends #SayHerName’”. This one seemed to be the fallacy Wishful Thinking, simply because there are always two sides to every story. While it is possible that there are racist cops that kill people simply because of their race, more often than not, they felt that their lives were in danger and that they need to defend themselves.
Finally, the last Tweet reads: “@NYXTnyc: ‘Remembering #RekiaBoyd and other victims of state violence with @CANY_1844: nyxt.nyc/canyc/black-li…#BLM #criminaljustice POSTER READS: “REKIA BOYD (1990-2012) A police officer thought a man was armed and recklessly shot into the crowd. He ended Rekia’s life instead,” which is Succession: Pragmatic, which is the evaluation of an act through consequences, according to Perelman. The common theme here seems to paint a picture of the cops that convinces the intended audience that they (the cops) are the enemy. Using the term “reckless” is an example of this.
Next, I analyzed the same three pieces of media material using the textbook from our class, titled “Persuasion and Social Movements”. Specifically, I used three chapters to analyze them. The chapters are: Chapter 4: The Stages of Social Movements, Chapter 5: Leadership of Social Movements, and Chapter 6: Languaging Strategies and Tactics of Social Movement.
Looking at the article, I will start by using Chapter 4. Unlike the stages listed in the book, this particular social movement, rather than starting at the Genesis stage, the movement itself spurred from the second stage: Social Unrest. However, even though the book discusses the idea of creating a manifesto, and setting principles, the BLM movement basically has no leadership structure or organized values. The movement grew as a response to the rage and hatred coming from the so-called “innocent bystander” deaths that occurred by white police officers toward “unarmed” young, black people. The transition between the second stage, and the third stage: Enthusiastic Mobilization was nearly non-existent. In fact, it could even be said that the Enthusiastic Mobilization stage came before the Social Unrest stage. This is because the movement was formed as the hashtag was spread, which led to civil unrest as more and more people saw the hashtag, and what it represented.
Next, the article also gives the story of Alicia Garza, one of the leaders of the movement. According to Chapter 5, the leaders of common social/ movements normally come from the higher echelons of society, which leads to them being more educated. This allows them to set an example because they are more willing to be active and set an example. However, the creators of the BLM movement, not necessarily the leaders, were average people who wanted to stand up for what they believed was right and wanted to make a difference.
Finally, there were many strategies employed by the people of the BLM movement in order to further themselves. Many of these strategies are clearly defined in Chapter 6. The implied we is a very well-known and effective tactic used by the movement. It strengthens the bonds of its members and allows the movement to connect with the rest of society. Adapting language is another important tactic. Even though it may not be used as often, because the creators of the movement were ordinary people, in this case, the fewer words, the better, and throwing a picture or two in a post on social media wouldn’t hurt either. This particular tactic also works well with content adaptation. All of these tactics could be seen in the Facebook post made by Alicia Garza, when she created the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.
In the video, it discusses more of the core values of the movement itself, rather than its creation. The creators of the movement really emphasized the idea that all people were involved or connected to the liberation of black people from the chains of society’s systemic and institutional racism. A specific example of this that is mentioned is that “when black people are free, all people will be free”.
Another interesting aspect of the video was how each of the creators gave their opinions on what they have learned about what they have learned about leadership through the growth and development of the movement: Patrisse Cullors: The value of visibility, both as individuals and as a group. Leadership is about showing up and supporting things that matter to you. Opal Tometi: Interdependence and acknowledging that different people have different skills and talents, and allowing those things to flourish in the most efficient way possible in order to achieve maximum results. Alicia Garza: Leadership can be lonely. Leaders are just ordinary people, not superheroes. Leaders are not always the good guys, that their supporters will not always like them, specifically when they have to make difficult decisions.
There was very little on the Twitter page to work with from of the textbook, except in Chapter 4. From the few posts that I used, it would seem that many of the people that used the hashtag were still on the Social Unrest stage, even though the movement has already gone past the next stage.
The last piece of material I used to analyze the three materials was an article about the Mothers of the Plaza De Mayo, a social organization of Argentinian women who came together after the “disappearances” of their children by the military dictatorship at the time during the late 1970’s through the early 1980’s.
Looking at the article, there were a quite a few quotes that worked well with the press article about the origins of the BLM movement. The first quote reads: “Although the Mothers then believed that they were only looking for their children and that they would find some support, this was but the first step in what would become a long act of defiance against the terrorist state established by the junta” (71). It can be said that both organizations would be engaging in a “long act of defiance”, one against a “terrorist state”, and the other against a racist and corrupt law enforcement system. Similar to the Mothers, the BLM movement slowly gained the “inner strength and support that comes from mutual support and companionship” (73) as the death of each of their friends or family occurred. Unlike the struggle for the Mothers in the third quote, which mentioned how “the Mothers began to think about themselves as a group when they were out on the streets” (74), the BLM movement had little trouble establishing how they would identify themselves as a group. From the very first post that contained the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, those three women knew exactly what they were fighting for and taking a stand against as they shared, Tweeted, and Re-Tweeted that hashtag. This led to many other African Americans who had realized that they were experiencing the same kind of injustices and crimes against their human rights that Garza, Cullors and Tometi were tired of watching and hearing about on television. The BLM movement also took advantage of stark symbolism, imagery, and figurative language in order to emphasize the inhuman and criminal ways that black people were being treated by law enforcement. While there was no specific symbol, such as the white shawls for the Mothers, the values of which the BLM activists fought for were symbols in and of themselves. As seen in the quote on page 79, which reads: “Those Mothers who banded together were redefining their sense of self, analyzing their own situation as part of a broader pattern of depression, and discovering their own inviolable dignity and worth,” the BLM movement was fighting for something was not just an issue in the United States, but all over the world. This encouraged the “victims” to become “self-confident activists”. In the end, the Mothers and the BLM movements both had similar start-ups. They both involved regular, ordinary people wanting to make a difference and gathering together like-minded people to right the wrongs they experienced in their everyday lives.
Both the video and the article had a lot to say about leadership. As seen in the case of the Mothers, “One Mother, Azucena de Villaflor de De Vincente, stood out because of her energy, her initiative, and her unforgettably radiant energy…Ultimately, she became the one who urged the mothers to have courage and to forge ahead in their struggle” (68). In the case of the Mothers, a singular person did emerge as the leader and continued to act as the leader until her eventual kidnapping. It can be seen in the Mothers article that their organization was much more organized and structured than the BLM movement. However, because the activists of the BLM movement were not necessarily under the thumb of a terrorist regime, they did not need to create “telephone chains and a vocabulary of code words” in order to remain hidden in plain sight. Also, the three women who started the BLM movement were not kidnapped or taken away to an undisclosed location, never to be seen or heard from again. As seen in the video, the three creators of the movement wanted to emphasize that they were not special or different from any of the other activists. They didn’t even consider themselves leaders, unlike De Vincente, who was willing to take charge and lead the Mothers. At this point “the Mothers were experiencing a growing solidarity and a new path in their maternal roles. They were still the protectors of their children, but in this distorted universe that meant entering the labyrinth of the political system instead of cooking or ironing their clothes” (80).
Lastly, comparing the Mothers to the Twitter page, some of the quotes I used look at the effects of the disappearances on the Mothers, such as how “the disappearance of a son or daughter was a shocking personal tragedy that ultimately undermined the foundations of their social, political, and psychological worlds” (66). As women were the ones who took care of the family and the children, the disappearances were most likely one of the most negatively impactful events that a mother could experience. This was made even worse by the fact that when the disappearances occurred, the junta broke into the Mothers houses, leaving a mess behind as their children were stolen away from them This was clearly the way that the junta wishes “to keep individuals isolated, lonely, and constantly vulnerable” (67). It can also be seen through some of these quotes how the law enforcement responded to the non-violent stand-ins of the Mothers, through dogs, tear gas, water hoses, and sometimes even guns. This only escalated when certain Mothers received pictures of their tortured children, “intending to terrorize them and render them inactive” (73). They were constantly terrorized and harassed by the junta through use of excessive physical, verbal and psychological violence, such as when “the government deliberately ridiculed the women as an example to any group who might wish to oppose the regime. The carefully designed campaign labeled the Mothers as Las Locas (crazy women), effectively discouraging people from associating with them” (79). One of the worst aspects of their campaign was the fact that very few people acknowledged the fact that anything amiss was going on in the first place. They also weren’t taken seriously because of the fact that they were women, and the actions that they were taking went against all of the norms and expectations of Argentinian women. All of this relates to the Twitter page because most of the Tweets are very emotional in their reactions to the violence and injustice that the authors claim they are lashing out against.
Using all of the aforementioned material to analyze three different outlets that in one way or another discuss some aspect of the #BlackLivesMatter social movement, it can be seen that the movement itself spread like wildfire after the initial sharing of the hashtag by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi. They all knew exactly what kind of reaction they were wanting to get out of this, and they got it. For a long time, the movement attempted to make a name for itself in the eyes of the media and the public. However, it ultimately fell short due to a lack of organization and leadership, which reduced the entire movement to a large group of people who are all connected in that they have all, at one time or another, wrote a post with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.