Darren Wilson, a white police officer, shot Michael Brown, a black teenager, to death for absolutely no valid reason and suffered absolutely no legal action. Eric Garner was killed without justice. Trayvon Martin. Aiyana Stanley-Jones. Tamir Rice. Rekia Boyd. These are all Black lives that were taken for no reason other than that they were Black, and their killers walk free today. However, from their deaths rose a beautiful hashtag among black communities and allies worldwide: #BlackLivesMatter.
It’s easy to then look at the recent Chapel Hill murders of Deah Barakat, Razan Abu-Salha and Yusor Abu-Salha and come to the same conclusion. They were killed for no reason, other than the fact that they were Muslim.
But when we start using the hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter to express our support, outrage, and hurt, we’re intentionally taking a tool created and used by the Black community, and appropriating it for what is really our own unique cause. #BlackLivesMatter represents an entire movement and its history. It’s not “just” a hashtag, it’s a powerful outcry born from a racial injustice felt by a people. It cannot, and should not, be molded to fit another people’s struggle. And solidarity, while important (and in fact, essential), never involves co-opting another movement.
Maybe it seems beside the point to discuss hashtags when three beautiful members of our community were just murdered in cold blood, but this is so important. With the mainstream media clearly continuing to fail us, we rely so heavily on the power and connectivity of social media to stay informed — how many of you got most of your news about this shooting from Twitter? The way we use social media needs to be taken into account, hashtags and all.
The pattern of violence against Black people — specifically Black people — is a unique one, with both history and implications that will never be comparable to the struggles of other communities of color in the United States. Institutional racism and discrimination against Black people is evident in our courts, our prisons, our entire justice system.
This is not at all to undermine or belittle the injustices that other minority groups in this country deal with every day; in fact, it is quite the opposite. Every community deserves to be able to think critically about their own positions in America, about their own challenges, about their own experiences, and in their own terms. Of course Muslim lives are under fire in our American systems. There is no question about that. However, building off the #BlackLivesMatter trend equates struggles that are, though seemingly similar, drastically different.
This also isn’t in any way meant to come off as a preachy putdown to those of us who jumped on the bandwagon. We know how popular the hashtag has been since outrage erupted over the lack of media coverage, and we know that it’s obviously well intentioned — the basic sentiment that #MuslimLivesMatter expresses is in itself is certainly appropriate. But let’s use our own language to spread awareness about a rising trend of Islamophobia that is being completely brushed under the rug by the mainstream media. The media is covering the shooting (finally), but the issue is not about coverage — it’s about selectivity. It’s about how the narrative is being framed.
There is obviously nothing inherently wrong with saying that “Muslim lives matter,” but contextually, it’s being used parallel to #BlackLivesMatter — it’s meant to evoke the same concepts, using the same kind of language. This appropriation of a movement is counterproductive and frankly unfair to both the Black and Muslim communities. We should not be blending together two complex, multifaceted issues for the sake of convenience. It’s a reductive move that simplifies both struggles, and it only contributes to erasing the very real, very dangerous implications that Islamophobia specifically holds for Muslims.