Do black lives really matter, or did they only matter in 2014? The way rapidly changing trends in social media work would unfortunately suggest the latter.
The hashtag “#BlackLivesMatter” found its way to popularity on social media just as quickly as it disappeared. People tweeted what they heard and retweeted what they saw. Then when the discussion faded away, the supportive hashtag also began to fade away before it stopped trending after a few weeks and was eventually gone for good.
It was just a trend. #BlackLivesMatter was just a trend. How hard is it to say that? How hard is it to admit that one of today’s biggest social injustices was simply a larger than usual 2014 trend when it should have been so much more?
People across the nation were quick to join the discussion when it came to the deaths of two black men, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, in the summer of 2014. The grand jury in both alleged murder cases chose not to indict the officers responsible for the victims’ deaths.
As The Phoenix Editorial Board wrote in December — and as evidenced by the grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York — racial prejudice is alive and well in the justice system.
In response to the presumed injustice in both cases, there were demonstrations, there were shirts, there were riots, there were prayers and, of course, there were hashtags all in support of the fight for justice.
This movement — as much as anything can be called a movement in the social media age — seemed like one that would last, as unrealistic as that may sound given that most people were protesting from behind their phones and computer screens, two places where focusing on one thing for a long amount of time is almost impossible.
Regardless of how they did it, for once people seemed to rally around a public issue that was powerful enough to keep them fighting.
However, just like with many trends, only those who are truly invested in the cause remain interested in fighting for justice. So the fact that some people checked out of the discussion after a short amount of time isn’t the problem. After all, finding a public or social concern that enters the Twitter spotlight and leaves with many more longtime supporters is rare.
Social media is a great way to create dialogue about a social problem, but real action is needed to make a statement.
In 1955, the kidnapping and murder of 14-year-old black teenager Emmett Till was used as a springboard for social change. The civil rights movement subsequently took off; however, that was the result of actual action that created real change.
Racial prejudice in the U.S. has been a problem since the country’s inception. But after mentions of Ferguson on social media and protests around the country all left the public eye in late December and early January, it’s hard not to say that the Black Lives Matter movement (which was started in 2012 after Trayvon Martin’s death and reached its peak in 2014) was unfortunately just something that caught people’s attention in 2014.
It was the right movement at the right time, because after a stall in progress over the past couple decades, something needed to be done to address racism in the U.S.
So what was the real problem?
Why wasn’t this different? Why did this not gain more long-term traction, and why wasn’t the Black Lives Matter movement more than just a trend? Because it sure should have been more.
Many Twitter users today care so much about retweets and favorites that they substitute researching and caring for a cause with simply aligning their beliefs with what the people on their Twitter feed believe. People went for the shock value that would get the biggest response when they talked about Brown and Garner, but where are those people now?
This issue should be different. Racism has been around for hundreds of years, and, as much as people may like to say that it’s a thing of the past, racism is still alive and prospering.
Take the American Dialect Society, which chose “#BlackLivesMatter,” a hashtag and what most would consider a phrase, as its 2014 word of the year.
If the rules that determine what constitutes a word can be changed to let Black Lives Matter make a mark in 2014’s history, why can’t everyone else make a change by providing continued support for a centuries-long battle with racism?
The Phoenix Editorial Board stood with the peaceful protestors in Ferguson and around the country back in December, and it will continue to stand behind and promote the message that black lives do, in fact, matter even when support and awareness on social media is silenced. Because after all, did black lives only matter in 2014?