Black Lives Matter and The Civil Rights Movement: An In-Depth Comparison

Why are people quick to condemn Black Lives Matter using the Civil Rights Movement as a frame of comparison? How do we effectively analyze and compare the two movements without underscoring each of their respective goals and significance within the sphere of racial politics? Is the criticism that Black Lives Matter has received justified?

I hope to argue that there was a fundamental shift in activist ideology that occurred between the Civil Rights Movement and Black Lives Matter. As it was realized post Civil Rights Movement that racism was an issue buried deep within American Civil Society, racial activism started to become much more nihilistic and pessimistic. Black Lives Matter is built around the idea that these insidious forms of racism must be exposed, and thus it seeks to disrupt the normative societal structures that have been compromised. This was unlike the Civil Rights Movement which believed that Civil Society could be reformed to create equality. The unpopularity of Black Lives Matter should not be used to characterize its effectiveness. The movement has marked an important transition in racial politics- towards a focus on liberation.

I plan to start the paper by mentioning how Black Lives Matter came to be and some of the history leading up to the movement after the Civil Rights Movement. In discussing some of the differences between the two movements, I want to collapse all of them to this underlying ideological shift. In the process, I can debase many of the other ways the movements are compared today. The second part of the paper will build on this analysis to explain why much of the criticism of Black Lives Matter is not justified. The movement builds on many of King’s commitments and makes evident a colossal history of anti-black racism.

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