#BlackLivesMatter Founders: Please Stop Co-opting Our Hashtag

At a SXSW panel discussion, the organization’s leaders said that while they want solidarity, they’re concerned that their message about the marginalization of black people is being diluted.

#BlackLivesMatters founders Opal Tometi and Alicia Garza during the SXSW panel discussion ‘What #BlackLivesMatter Teaches Us About Solidarity’ on March 16, 2015, in Austin, Texas
#BlackLivesMatters founders Opal Tometi and Alicia Garza during the SXSW panel discussion ‘What #BlackLivesMatter Teaches Us About Solidarity’ on March 16, 2015, in Austin, Texas Julie Walker/The Root

The founders of #BlackLivesMatter are grateful that their message has been picked up by so many people as a rallying cry, but they want other groups that use the essence of the name, such as #MuslimLivesMatter and #LatinoLivesMatter, to find their own slogans.

At a South by Southwest panel discussion, “What #BlackLivesMatter Teaches Us About Solidarity,” Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi said they were concerned about the dilution of their message.

“Not to say their lives don’t matter,” Tometi told the audience, “but we’ve been in a society that continues to marginalize black faces, and so we don’t want to see this kind of reappropriation and co-optation of #BlackLivesMatter as a hashtag.”

Instead, they urged other marginalized groups to create something new and unique that #BlackLivesMatter would, in turn, support.

Tometi, the executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, and Garza, the special-projects director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (along with Patrisse Cullors, who was not at SXSW), created the national organization #BlackLivesMatter in 2012 after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida by George Zimmerman.

Tometi said the hashtag became “a galvanizing way of articulating who we are and the value that we do actually have.”

The hashtag also became an opportunity to engage others in the fight. Now the pair are using it to encourage diverse communities to come together, but Garza said it’s a complicated effort.

“I don’t think we can have deep solidarity without addressing the question of race,” she said. “In this country, especially in the last 10 to 15 years, I think there has been a real push towards people of color coming together, and what happens is that black folks get erased from the conversation.”

One issue that was brought up about the difficulties surrounding cohesiveness was the battle over Latino identity when it comes to white vs. black. Garza said she sees a push to whiten the Latino identity, something Tometi calls a tactic to keep ethnic-minority communities oppressed.

“How are they going to use and pit different communities against each other in order to undermine our power?” Tometi said.

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