Barbara Reynolds’ Aug. 31 column, “Why it’s hard to get behind Black Lives Matter,” reinforced popular and oversimplified narratives of the civil rights movement. Heavy handed in her approach, Reynolds reduces the movement to a homogeneous effort taken on solely by Christian leaders.
Viewed through such a narrow lens, the Black Lives Matter movement appears to be a radical departure from the activism of the 1950s and 1960s. But such a hasty conclusion ignores the complexity of black activism in the mid-20th century.
While she briefly acknowledges the sexist underpinnings of the male “heads of the black church,” Reynolds’ treatment of Martin Luther King Jr. tends toward hagiography, thereby robbing King of his humanity.
More important, she fails to mention the more radical aspects of the movement, such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee or the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
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And perhaps most detrimental of all, Reynolds reaffirms the politics of respectability that discount activists who use “boorish language and dress.” In other words, the BLM activists need to conform to a respectable, spiritual image. But, even in the 1960s, not all black activists agreed with that strategy. And not all advances were made “(dressed) in church clothes” and “kneeling in prayer.”