Three years after the Black Lives Matter movement began, not everyone understands the movement’s mission. And as evidenced during the Republican National Convention, some people like Donald Trump are invested in exploiting those misunderstandings for political points.
But the fire Trump’s igniting is fueled by a country that has historically resisted black social justice movements.
According to American National Election Studies, 57 percent of Americans in 1964 said most of black people’s actions during the Civil Rights Movement in the most recent year were violent. Sixty-three percent of Americans believed that the Civil Rights Movement was moving “too fast.” And a majority of Americans (58 percent) believed that black people’s actions for the movement hurt their own cause.
And just a reminder: Two of the key actions by civil rights activists in 1963 were the March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech; and “Bloody Sunday,” where Alabama state troopers brutally beat peaceful protestors attempting to march from Selma to Montgomery for their right to vote.
But Americans today share similar attitudes toward the Black Lives Matter movement.
According to the Pew Research Center, 43 percent of Americans support the Black Lives Matter movement.
Pew Research CenterBlack Americans are most likely to strongly support the Black Lives Matter movement.
Thirty-six percent of Americans of who have heard about Black Lives Matter don’t really understand its goals.
And Americans are split on the effectiveness of the movement in achieving racial equality in the long run: while 8 percent say Black Lives Matter will be very effective, 30 percent say Black Lives Matter will be somewhat effective, compared to 33 percent who doubt the movement’s effectiveness. The remaining 29 percent either weren’t familiar with the movement or did not provide an opinion.
There are racial and political differences in attitudes. Forty-one percent of African Americans strongly support the movement, while white American’s attitudes seem to be split: 26 percent somewhat support the movement and 28 percent expressed opposition to it. Only 14 percent of white Americans strongly support it. But among white Americans, most white Democrats support the movement (64 percent) compared to white Republicans, most of whom oppose the movement (52 percent).
Without a doubt, Trump is propelling himself to victory as 2016’s “law and order” candidate and pledging to “Make America Safe Again” by mischaracterizing the Black Lives Matter movement, the most pressing racial justice movement of our time. But it would also be inaccurate to say that Americans haven’t done the same with similarly necessary black-led social justice movements of the past. (Emphasis are mine – ks)