Theory in a Digital Age: A Project of English 483 Students, Coastal Carolina University

Cornel West and Black Lives Matter

Grouping of the Black Lives Matter Movement

       According to Wired "#BLACKLIVESMATTER became a hashtag in the summer of 2013, when an Oakland, California, labor organizer named Alicia Garza responded on her Facebook page to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the man who gunned down Trayvon Martin”. Since its conception the hashtag has grown to mean so much more.  It is now a movement in a “chapter-based national organization working for the validity of Black life… working to (re)build the Black liberation movement”.
       Cornel West, Philosopher, former Princeton professor, and a wide known supporter of the Black Lives Matter Movement states in his work “Race Matters” that conservative and liberal views of race both see “…black people as a ‘problem people’” (263) and instead of doing something about the views the people have they try to find ways to control the black people in America; ways that the Black Lives Matter movement brings to light. The movement echoes West’s idea that people in America “confine discussions about race in America to the ‘problems’ black people pose for whites rather than consider what this way of viewing black people reveals about us as a nation” (263) and that it is time to address this. Instead of incarcerating, putting into poverty, and committing genocide and state violence against black Americans. America needs to focus on changing these things and accepting black people as the same as white people.
         Cornel West brings about this idea in his work “Race Matters” when he states that Afrocentrism was a misguided yet good attempt to define “an African identity in a white society” (264). West states that the Afrocentrism effort failed not only due to the violence it added but to the fact that it focused on “black doings and sufferings” (264) and not the ideas of the American society’s and “white fears and anxieties” (264). West draws that the predominantly white American society is afraid of the “hybridization” of the black people and the white people. West also states that “every culture is a hybrid” (speech). With this idea it is foolish to discriminate against one culture – the black people – when all of the American culture evolved from the hybridity of different cultures including these black people.
          Unfortunately due to these ideas and American views, the Black Lives Matter movement has been grouped into degrading statuses such as that of a terrorist group.  The movement has been grouped with extremist groups such as the “New Black Panther Party” a group that accepts and stages violent demonstrations against police and others they believe are against their order. The grouping of the Black Lives Matter group with extremist groups such as the New Black Panther Party degrades the ideology behind the movement itself making it seem as though it is just like the extremist groups – motivated by hatred and racist values thus able to be considered a terrorist group.
          Cornel West, argues against the idea of grouping. West states that “we never want to generalize or view any group or music in a monolithic way”. People who see the Black Lives Matter movement as a terrorist organization are doing just that. These people are grouping the movement with other extremist movements and parties and seeing them as a whole instead of completely different groups with completely different ideals. The Black Lives Matter movement’s ideals are completely different from the ideas of these other movements. For example, the Black Lives Matter movement does call to action against the prejudice and discrimination against black Americans but it does not condone violence – it actually is against it.
          The media is one of the biggest portrayers of the combining of movements when it comes to black Americans against discrimination. According to an article on,“The social media-driven movement [the Black Lives Matter Movement] has become known for its mass street protests in which participants peacefully resist police commands to disband” – the movement “peacefully resist[s]”. It is a peaceful movement, unlike other movements or groups of random people who use violence to bring attention to the same societal problems. The Black Lives Matter movement is a movement to bring attention to black poverty and genocide, mass incarcerations of black people, assault on black children and families, and how black minorities (women, people with disabilities, etc.) face even greater discrimination than regular (white) minorities all  via state violence and to stop this – while extremist and terrorist groups such as the New Black Panther Party ask for tax and military exemption, a new nation all to themselves, and for their members to take up arms against the police – as they state; “we will protect ourselves from the force and violence of the racist police and the racist military, ‘by any means necessary’". These are two different extremes yet somehow the common American population blurs the lines between the two. Perhaps most of this has to do with the mainstream media grouping these two and others together.
          Aside from the obvious danger of blurring the ideals and theories behind different movements where people mix up the movements and categorize them together there are other dangers as well. If a person only sees people through the group they categorize them in the person will ignore the outliers in the group and the abilities and ideals these outliers have. An example being the Black Lives Matter movement; if a person categorizes them in the same group as the New Black Panther Party they may see the people involved in Black Lives Matter movement as extremists and as violent people when they actually are not. This is exactly what is happening due to the grouping done by the mainstream media.
         In Cornel West’s “Race Matters” he brings the idea of the “public square” (266) where the common good is what needs the attention of American society. West states that the public square and it’s “vitality” “ultimately depends on how much we care about our lives together.” The black people and the white people are going to live together in American society, how well they do depends on how much we care about it. Once people are able to see that all the black American people want is equality and start to give this to each culture – not just the black people- then the “public square” will become more inhabitable and livable.   In addition, West provides a solution to such grouping and division among the media and the white Americans; West suggests “some form of large-scale public intervention to ensure access to basic social goods” where “new leadership” that is “grounded in…democratic accountability” (267) takes over the “public square” making it more desirable and taking the American society out of the “private sphere”.
          In saying all this Cornel West brings about the ideas of the Black Lives Matter movement where they are trying to address the public identity that the black people and their movement is seen in – terrorist-like identities and that in order to change the “public square” a person must actually care about what they are trying to change. For example, instead of identifying black people as the problem and trying to find solutions to them as a whole the public should address the situation itself – the white supremacy and discrimination and try to change that; the public should care about changing the situation rather than the people.


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