While meeting with youth British leaders Saturday in London, President Barack Obama provided unexpected commentary on the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Black Lives Matter … has been really effective in bringing attention to problems,” Obama said. That effectiveness, however, stops there.
The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter took social media sites by storm, dominating newsfeeds and spreading the movement’s influence to impact people both online and offline. Unfortunately, several instances of police brutality against African Americans have taken place in the United States since the movement started, giving it the grounds it needed to grow.
Opposition grew as well. People attacked the movement for its ostensible insensitivity and ignorance with their own hashtag, #AllLivesMatter. While some came from a motive of anger at the exclusivity of the movement, others attempted to make positive strides for solidarity — to show that the black community wasn’t alone, and the nation was united.
The issue stands, however, that black Americans have in the past faced unique hardships due to their race. So yes, while all lives do matter and the movement does not aim to suggest that the value of other lives are any less significant, it aims to draw attention to the singular defense that African Americans have had to make, and now clearly must continue to make, to protect their own lives.
This is not a right that should be stripped from them more readily than from others. While this concept is highly controversial, a long history of the facts still remains. Yes, all lives matter. This time, however, we’re taking a moment to focus specifically on a community that seems to be in more immediate trouble. That’s not something that deserves negative responses or skepticism concerning its credibility.
So as Obama spoke to new, youthfully minded leaders about their futures and current influential initiatives, he finally came out to criticize a movement that had done so much.
“Once you’ve highlighted an issue … and elected officials or people who are in a position to start bringing about change are ready to sit down with you, then you can’t just keep on yelling at them,” Obama said.
Perhaps Obama has a point. With a long history of political leadership behind him, beginning with a position as a community leader, Obama understands how difficult it can be to raise awareness for a movement. However, that doesn’t mean he has sympathy. Once activist groups reach this step, they need to mobilize and make strides toward a better future. While rallies and protests and published pieces about injustice in the world are effective in spreading a message, we reach a point where that becomes all they’re doing. At that point, movement leaders and their supporters throughout the country need to pause and ask themselves, what’s next?
Black Lives Matter isn’t alone in this struggle. Countless movements — the movement for gender equality or, at one point in time, the movement for same-sex marriage — have joined in this communal buffer. They gain momentum and raise themselves up on that high, and suddenly have nothing left to do. The next step should be to push for new legislation, if that will solve the problem. If it won’t, the people rallying behind these movements need to find an alternative.
“And you can’t refuse to meet because that might compromise the purity of your position,” Obama said. He has a point, once again. If you know for a fact your position is right, making further strides can never compromise the justice of your message. At the candid and honest prompting of the president, it looks like it’s time to continue the fight.