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.
The pair said they are especially concerned with the 2016 national elections, in which they hope issues affecting civil rights and black lives will be front and center.
Meanwhile, Garza said she is looking for more “white co-conspirators” to help with unification efforts. “I think we spend a lot of time figuring out how to move white people, and just because of the social power dynamics, I don’t think that we’re best positioned to do that,” Garza said. “I think other white folks who are invested in dismantling systems of oppression are best positioned to engage with other white people.”