The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is covered by a heavy layer of isolationist appeal, which has become increasingly apparent since the 2020 George Floyd protests. Not only does the movement discourage solidarity across races, but it has also drawn a clear line to set itself apart from other African American elites and establishments. The echo chamber formed by a narrow scope of African American ‘proletariats’ further compresses the already limited space for the movement to popularize and evolve.
There’s a Chinese saying called ‘much thunder and little rain’ (雷聲大雨點小), which means the plan is grand, the chanting is loud, while little is done. That perfectly describes the status quo of the movement – and it’s their own medicine they’re tasting.
You lose people with “snappy” slogans like “defund the police”.– Barack Obama, former U.S. President
When compared with other contemporary ideologically-driven protests across Asia, or race-inspired protests involving Palestinians or Rohingyans, the BLM movement falls into neither ballparks. It has got this seemingly lackluster enthusiasm for outside participation or support. In fact, it has diverged rather significantly from its predecessor, the 1960’s Black Power Movement, which back then everyone was welcome.
Instead, the organizers decided to draw a line in the sand and segregate people. It turns out they only welcome a specific target group – the underprivileged African Americans, to become party to its ideal. There is plenty of support from academia: Harris (2015) defines the BLM movement as a class conflict and that its core activists distrust the traditional African American elites as they believe the latter would sacrifice their interests to trade with the state or society. Study by Tillery (2019) also finds that both ‘black consciousness’ and ‘income’ are both statistically significant predictors.
A strong ‘African American’ theme is no surprise. It should be noted however, that income is negatively correlated to the participation in BLM protests. In other words, the lower the income, the more likely an African American would participate in BLM protests, and vice versa. It also hints at a split between elites (e.g. Obama) and ‘proletariats’ within the Black community. We saw for multiple times the Black establishment, whether Democrats or not, criticized by Blacks from the radical left. The internal isolation limits the movement to a limited amount of participation as it creates a taboo against the establishments. Some leftist Congresswoman even made public rebuttals on Obama’s reminder for rationality. The movement is doomed to become decentralized as they distance themselves from the elites.
History has taught us that proletariats, while sometimes might have brought about some degree of systematic changes, most are short-lived without cooperating with those higher up in the food chain. Or more often, within the proletariats themselves would invent a class system of their own, making internal class struggle nearly inevitable. And the cherry on top is that, as all those protests and riots unfold, it seems BLM leader Khan-Cullors had just gone for a rather not-so-proletariat mega shopping spree.
Apart from internal segregation, protesters of the movement show a strong tendency to monopoly the ideal behind the movement also isolates people of other races from associating with it. A study finds that liberalism, black consciousness and linked-fate (respondents’ personal fates versus that of other African Americans) are three of the most statistically significant towards one’s participation in BLM movements. The strong sense of uniqueness and belonging to the African American community have led them to a sense of distrust that people of other races would not be able to understand their plights or sufferings.
Diving into the graphs of trendy slogans also gives us a glimpse over their unwillingness to become aligned with activists from other races – or in simpler words, a sheer sense of ‘uniqueness’ and selfishness. Here are the observations: 1) The popularity of slogan #AsianLivesMatter did increase at the same period as #StopAsianHate surged after the 16 March shootings took place, albeit the former soon plateaued; 2) the popularity of slogan #BlackLivesMatter did not see a significant increase alongside the other two.
|Figure 1: Trends of slogans (by percentage searched), 1 March – 31 March, 2021, data from Google Trends.|
It could be most easily observed on social media platforms, especially after the March 2021 Atlanta shootings. The shootings led to a series protests calling to stop anti-Asian violence. The eerie thing is that, not only the BLM protesters did not seek solidarity with Asian protesters, but they also endeavored to distance themselves from the latter. On social media platforms, hashtags #AsianLivesMatter surged soon after the shooting. However, they were soon faced with criticisms from BLM protesters and supporters, with a common claim that the #AsianLivesMatter slogan is ‘taken from the Black people’, with some even accusing the use of the slogan as ‘theft’. Below are some examples of sheer laughing stock.
The rebuttal from below is just so powerful in comparison.
Back to the graph, it shows that the use of slogan #AsianLivesMatter was suppressed by the BLM community with the encouragement of alternative slogans such as #StopAsianHate, which is explained by the contrast between the spike received by the latter over the plateau of the former. It should be noted that the criticisms and accusations were not only from the African American protesters, as a significant number of Asian profiles were observed distributing the message in the process, as shown above.
It could also be observed that the BLM movement’s development was not in parallel with Asian protests. It should be noted that it is a common practice on social media platforms that users use multiple hashtags of different causes to show solidarity (e.g., #StopAsianHate #BlackLivesMatter #CurbRacism). When search results say otherwise, it shows that solidarity between anti-Asian hate protests and BLM movement protests does not exist, as the latter’s web attention did not see significant growth as anti-Asian hate hashtags spiked.
One should note that Asian and White presence in BLM protests is not non-existent. There are scattered protesters of these kind appearing in BLM protests, albeit at a very individual level.
Now, it’s not that we are trying to smear the BLM campaign. The Black population in the U.S. did face a large amount of unfairness – so do Asians. However the motive of the BLM movement itself, rather than seeking equality as its 1960s counterpart did, has been clouded by a heavy layer of isolationist appeal, as well as a sense of uniqueness and even superiority, given the coercion it enforced on Asians for concessions on slogans. The movement is also covered by a populist theme from inside out. Stay tuned for our upcoming article on the rise of populism in the BLM movement.