SHAUN KING: We Can’t Just Say “Black Lives Matter”

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Before the coronavirus pandemic and the shut down of a huge number of public places across the country, mass shootings were happening at an alarming rate. It seemed there was a new tragedy occurring every single day at colleges, churches, movie theaters, Walmarts, and anywhere else.

When asked to respond or to intervene, the most the American government offered was its “thought and prayers.” That phrase was not only repeated countless times, but voiced by every politician on the news and added as a hashtag to every social media post. In lieu of actual gun reform laws demanded by mass shooting survivors, the government offered thoughts, prayers and empty promises.

Now, the same thing is happening in the fight against police brutality and white supremacy. Instead of supporting social justice policies or advocating for systemic reform, politicians with the power to implement much needed changes are offering up the phrase, “Black Lives Matter.” It’s a cop out.

Instead of fixing the problems the Black Lives Matter movement fights for, politicians use this phrase as a way of checking off their “I’m not racist” box. While their words say one thing, their actions and their votes for or against social justice policies, say another.

This is not to say the repetition of “Black Lives Matter” is unimportant.

Just a few years ago making any sort of statement surrounding the movement sparked controversy. In 2014, when, in response to the murder of Eric Garner, Lebron James wore an “I can’t breathe” shirt during a NBA pregame warmup, many were outraged. They argued that sports was no place for “political” agendas.

Now, NBA players wear the names of victims of people brutality on the backs of their jerseys, and the words “BLACK LIVES MATTER” are written in bold letters across the court. Symbolic gestures such as these most definitely have their place in the world of activism. But it takes more than symbolic gestures, especially when it comes to the politicians who literally have the ability to make the changes we’re demanding.

We must hold these people accountable.

We must make it clear that it’s long past time for them to put their power where their mouth is.

On today’s episode of The Breakdown, Shaun unpacks and explain the parallels between “thoughts and prayers” and “Black lives matter,” and what we can do to turn these phrases into tangible change.