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The History of Black Lives Matter (And What It Means for You)

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We’ve heard the phrases hundreds of times over the last few years: Black Lives Matter. It’s a simple message that’s become the symbol of racial equality in the U.S. and abroad. But where did this movement originate?

It all started in the aftermath of the killing of a black teenager, Trayvon Martin, in Florida. In collaboration with the National Black Nurses Association, let’s explore the history of BLM and what it means today.

The Founding of BLM

Three women made “herstory” back in 2013 when they created what would become known as Black Lives Matter. The group was founded by “three radical black organizers”: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi.

That year, the world watched in horror when a man named George Zimmerman shot and killed an unarmed black teenager walking through his neighborhood wearing a hoodie. Mr. Zimmerman pleaded not guilty, insisting that he was serving his local neighborhood watch program. He was eventually acquitted on all charges, prompting swift backlash throughout the black community.

With no justice for black lives, these women decided to take their message directly to the people.

BLM is defined as “an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ humanity, our contributions to this society, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.”

It began as a simple organizing tool in the local community. Others used the hashtag BlackLivesMater to promote anti-racist ideals on social media. Over the next few months, the list of unarmed black people murdered on the streets continued to grow, including:

  • Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old African American boy killed by police in Cleveland, Ohio
  • Tanisha Anderson, a black woman killed by police in Cleveland
  • Mya Hall, a transgender black woman killed in Baltimore, Maryland
  • Walter Scott, a black man killed by a police officer in South Carolina after being pulled over for a non-functioning brake light
  • Sandra Bland, a black woman that hung herself in her jail cell after being arrested during a pretextual traffic stop. 

In many instances, the police were responsible for the death of these individuals. BLM organizers refer to this as “state-sanctioned violence.”

The movement took on a new life in 2015 when organizers and activist mobilized in St. Louis and Ferguson, MN in the wake of the murder of Michael Brown. Within 15 days, over 600 people had gathered for a peaceful demonstration in the city.

Participants of the demonstrations went back home to start BLM chapters in their respective cities and towns. Today, there are over 40 chapters spread out across the globe.

The founders behind BLM point out that the U.S. has a long history of spotlighting cisgender, heterosexual male voices when it comes to civil rights. These women are changing that narrative by amplifying their voices.

The women say they have experienced more than their fair share of death threats, harassment, and even surveillance for their role in the group.

During an interview, founder Alicia Garza said, “My greatest strength is my ability to ignore it when I get no for an answer. When people tell me it cannot be done, it must not be done, it has never been done, there’s something that goes off inside of me that says: Okay, watch me.”

White Coats for Black Lives

In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd in 2020, who was pinned to the street by a white officer until he died, BLM took on a whole new meaning. It became a rallying cry for many.

Some of the world’s biggest businesses and healthcare facilities started talking openly about BLM, what this movement means to them, and how we can all do our part to better protect black lives going forward.  

Many healthcare professionals now recognize the fact that they have an important role to play when it comes to overcoming racism. Thus, the “White Coats for Black Lives” movement was born. Providers joined this movement to show their support for the black community. It was also seen as a point of reflection, during which providers asked themselves how they can better address issues of racism through their practice.

Healthcare plays a crucial role in all our lives. It’s a reflection of our ability to hold down a job, earn a living, reach our full potential, and be there for our loved ones. Providers are supposed to keep their communities healthy, which means providers everywhere have a responsibility to address these issues head on.

The American Medical Association has laid out four ways providers can advocate for the health and wellbeing of black Americans:

First, providers should “aggressively recruit, support, and promote black, Latino, and Native American people in medicine to ensure that the physician workforce reflects the diversity of the United States.”

Second, hospitals and practices must take action to eliminate implicit racial biases in clinical settings. This includes administering implicit bias association tests and setting up channels of accountability for incidents that involve implicit bias or racism.

Third, “physicians should join community members in advocating for a single-payer health care system as a means of eliminating cost-associated barriers to care.” Brown and black Americans are more likely to be uninsured than their white counterparts. This puts them at a disadvantage in the healthcare system. Providers get less money for treating people without insurance or those unable to pay for care, so they have less incentive to schedule these patients. A single-payer healthcare system would ensure that everyone can access the care they need regardless of their ability to pay.

Lastly, the AMA says healthcare workers “must recognize that our responsibility to our patients goes beyond physical exams, prescriptions, and surgical interventions; we must work to alter socioeconomic and environmental factors, including structural racism, that directly affect our patients’ health.”

Racism is a danger to your patients just like diabetes and heart disease. Incorporate these ideas into your practice to advocate for racial equality. 

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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