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Black Lives Matter: Understanding the Terms Behind the Movement

Blog/NewsJune 18th 2020
Emma McCarty

After the recent death of George Floyd and the resulting protests, the Black Lives Matter movement has rocked the world. Important conversations are being had in the hopes that this movement can be the catalyst the world needs to finally see real change. Unfortunately, many resist these conversations because they simply do not understand some of the vocabulary and terminology needed to participate in the dialogue. I believe it is important that everyone participate in the conversation so I have developed a list of words and definitions that surround the Black Lives Matter movement in order to help further the conversation.  

George floyd vigil

Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter

The difference between the terms Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter is being debated heavily within the media. Cambridge News argues that “All Lives Matter” completely misses the point. Many who insist “All Lives Matter” do not realize the negative meaning that the phrase holds. 

To differentiate the meaning between the terms, consider this simple scenario. Sally is babysitting two siblings, Emily and John. John is allergic to peanuts. While at the park some local kids share their candy with Emily and John, this candy happens to be peanut butter M&Ms.  Eating the candy causes John to have an allergic reaction, this means Sally must attend to John. While Sally is responsible for both Emily and John, her priority must now become John because his life is in immediate danger. This does not mean that Emily’s life is of lesser value. The same can be said for black lives.

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The New York Times states that black lives are the ones in immediate danger and that using “All Lives Matter” in response to the situation suggests that everyone’s lives are in equal danger. Saying “All Lives Matter”, however well-intended or egalitarian-minded, brushes off the importance and urgency of the situation at hand.

Defund the Police 

When people initially heard the term ‘defund the police’ many assumed it meant removing police departments from their community, which created a divide. In reality, ‘defund the police’ refers to a divest-and-invest process. According to Global News Hamilton’s police department had a $166 million budget for the 2019 year. If you think that number seems high, you’re right - but that is a similar number to the budget police departments receive around the country.

Hamilton's police department had a $166 million budget in 2019

‘Defund the police’ seeks to take some of the money from police budgets and invest it into communities, mental health services, and social services programs. Police departments are currently responsible for fighting terrorism, solving crime, performing social work and welfare checks, mediating domestic disputes etc. ‘Defund the police’ requires money to be invested into the community so that some of these duties may be handled by specialists trained in social work and education. Defunding police means allocating funds to those better suited to handle certain situations.

Performative Allyship vs. Authentic Allyship

The term ‘ally’ has been mentioned several times in the Black Lives Matter movement. Many people do not understand what it means to be an ally and are left wondering what they should and should not do. The terms “performative” and “authentic” allyship were developed in order to help distinguish what is helpful and what is not.

Blm new york protests

Performative Allyship refers to someone from a majority or privileged group who professes their support/solidarity with a marginalized group, but in doing so, isn’t helpful to that group, draws attention away from the group, and maybe even harms the group further. Often this looks like posting about the cause on social media but failing to learn about the cause further than that. It makes the poster appear sympathetic and probably makes them feel good and could even be a form of virtue signaling, but it does nothing for the cause.

Black lives matter new york

The Silhouette defines Authentic Allyship as a life-long commitment. It means holding yourself and those around you accountable for their actions, even if this causes discomfort. It means constantly educating yourself and discovering new resources. Authentic allyship does not go away when the hype disappears. Allyship and what type of ally a person is, is important to know when participating in conversations surrounding Black Lives Matter.  

This is not an exhaustive list but rather important definitions that when not fully understood hinder conversations around Black Lives Matter. I encourage you to research these definitions yourself as this article only touches the surface. I further encourage you to research the Black Lives Matter movement to educate yourself and get involved where you can.  

Emma McCarty is a 2019 McMaster political science graduate, the current Community Outreach Coordinator at CFMU, and the host of MorningFile. Contact her through email at cfmucom@msu.mcmaster.ca.