The Elephant in the Room: Why has March for Our Lives garnered attention that Black Lives Matter never got?

After the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, the movement known as March for Our Lives has taken our nation by storm. Across the country, citizens are calling for gun reform, and the agenda of March for Our Lives has impacted corporations, governors, and even Congress, regardless of their actual stances on the issue. But while the impact of March for Our Lives continues to spread, it begs the question: why does the Black Lives Matter movement not receive the same support?

March for Our Lives appeals to a greater audience than Black Lives Matter. While minorities are usually the people targeted by police officers, any person can relate to the students of Stoneman High. They are children attending high school. Everyone was once a child, and most people can relate to the vulnerability that comes with being a high schooler. We care more, because we can envision ourselves being the victims at Stoneman High. Police brutality, on the other hand, overwhelmingly affects people of color. The fear that an officer could deem you a threat and take it upon themselves to end your life is a fear that would be harder to envision as a white person, because white people are less likely to be mistreated by police. When there’s a gender or racial barrier that prevents us from being able to relate, be it domestic abuse or police violence, we care less. If it won’t directly affect us in a negative way, people are less likely to care.[1]

America also responds to black communities in a different way than white ones. Black people continue to face vilification for their victimization in a way that white people rarely experience. Black teen victims of police brutality are often painted as thugs and menaces by the media in a manner that would almost never happen to non-threatening white teens. America sees white children as victims and black children as threats.[1]

Stemming from that idea, March for Our Lives criticizes forces we can easily separate from ourselves, but Black Lives Matter wants white people recognize their own privilege, which many people find uncomfortable. People don’t like to feel like they’re part of the problem, even if doing so would help resolve it. March for Our Lives encourages local communities to challenge governmental forces, which most are comfortable doing, but Black Lives Matter wants people to challenge their inherent biases and privileges, something that is harder to approach. Therefore, the March for Our Lives is easier to back because it’s, in many ways, safer. March for Our Lives advocates for legislation reform within government. Black Lives Matter criticizes the government itself and advocates for the rewiring of governmental institutions so they are free of racial biases. It is easier and safer to suggest legislation reform than to suggest altering the governmental system itself, especially because BLM is advocating for ideological reform, which is inherently more complicated and nuanced than legislation reform.

Additionally, the institutions who routinely work against people of color, such as police departments and judicial courts, have local establishments, meaning they are fairly present in daily life. Therefore, the consequences of speaking out against them seem nearer and more severe. Furthermore, because police departments and judicial courts have local establishments, people are more likely to have direct affiliations with these institutions. Police are our parents, our siblings, our friends; we see them on the streets, in malls, at rallies. However, people with these connections are probably less likely to be the ones to dismantle these institutions because they are either 1) are not mistreated by the police and are thus less likely to care or take action, or 2) do not want to alter the system, as it would make them look bad in the eyes of someone they care about (or negatively affect this person’s career). If one was to mention police brutality to someone whom governmental institutions do not work against, they’d be less likely to see it as an issue. If police have been a benevolent force in your life, one might be less likely to accept the fact that those same people could mistreat people of color.

On the other hand, March for Our Lives’ campaign mainly affects state and federal governments, not local institutions. These governments are less visible in daily life, and therefore easier to criticize. It is also more accepted in our culture to critique the government, as it is never considered a perfect system. People who critique police departments or judicial courts are often accused of being ungrateful, because the goals of these governmental institutions is to bring justice to our society. This belief, of course, does not take into consideration the prejudices against minorities both of these local institutions have.

This article is not to diminish the success of March for our Lives, which is a movement we very much believe worth backing, but just to take a more nuanced approach to what the popularity of that movement means about the unpopularity of similar movements. That being said, we know there is no simple solution to reversing racial biases among a population. In any case, we hope that both movements continue to gain support and fulfill both of their agendas.