The Motivating Forces Behind Black Lives Matter

The Motivating Forces Behind Black Lives Matter

Tasbeeh Herwees

In this article, Tasbeeh Herwees explores the source of Black Lives Matter, and the continuing goals of the movement’s founders.

The Black Lives Matter movement began in 2013 with three women, Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi, and a hashtagged phrase in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case: #BlackLivesMatter.

“It began, first, as a hashtag. It could have lived and died as a hashtag, as many modern campaigns do. But Garza and Cullors…wanted more from the project. And when Tometi, an immigration activist from Arizona, stepped in, their advocacy began taking the shape of a movement.”

Under the guiding hands of Garza, Cullors, and Tometi, Black Lives Matter indeed became a movement. But it is not, as many people believe, a movement focused solely on police violence against black people.

Black Lives Matter is focused on the need to address all of the intersectional oppressive forces that plague the black community. Specifically, BLM’s platform focuses on the multiple oppressions faced by black, queer women.

“In many ways, Garza serves as Black Lives Matter’s narrator…there is a constant effort in her writing to re-center the conversation on black women, particularly those who identify as queer or trans.”

The Black Lives Matter movement, then, is not merely fighting the marginalization of black people in the United States. It is also fighting the idea that all black people are equally oppressed.

At the conclusion of the article, Cullors illustrates this concept with the following statement:

“This generation is really pushing and challenging the old civil rights establishment that has in large part looked like heterosexual, cis, Christian, black men. And women who were doing amazing hard work but were not getting any credit for it.”

Additional Research (you may need to log in to the VCU Databases):

Locke, M. (2016). Whose Lives Really Matter: The Invisibility of African American Women in the Political Discourse of the Black Lives Matter Campaign. Virginia Social Science Journal, 51, 17-25.

  • Despite the fact that BLM’s founders are all women, and the movement’s platform focuses heavily on the oppression of black women, this is often lost in the perception and discussion of the movement as a whole.

Larson, E. D. (2016). Black Lives Matter and Bridge Building: Labor Education for a “New Jim Crow” Era. Labor Studies Journal, 41(1), 36-66. doi:10.1177/0160449X16638800

  • A discussion of the ways labor education can be a tool for unions to fully understand and respond as allies to the BLM movement.
    • Centered around black feminist theory.
    • Focuses on teaching the ways in which race interacts with gender, class, age, and sexuality.

Current Events:

Saturday Night Live’s Pepsi Ad Spoof

Another one of SNL’s recent skits about activism, this time skewering the Pepsi ad that depicted a protest similar to the BLM movement. The skit focused on numerous troublesome aspects of the ad, but many critics took issue with the similarity of the below images: the first is Jenner handing a cop a Pepsi, which turns the protest into a celebration. The second is Ieshia Evans being calmly arrested at a BLM protest in Baton Rouge.

  • The fury over the similarity of these two photos is particularly relevant to Herwees’ article, and its focus on black women at the center of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Personal Reflection:

  • Prior to reading this article, were you aware of how the Black Lives Matter movement was founded and who founded it?
  • Did learning about BLM’s founders, and their goal to recenter the Black Liberation movement around black women change your opinion or conceptualization of the movement in any way? How so?


Herwees, T. (2015). The Motivating Forces Behind Black Lives Matter. P. Rothenberg & S. Munshi (Eds.), Race, Class, and Gender in the United States: An Integrated Study (pp. 639-641). New York, NY: Worth Publishers.