Black Lives Matter protests have increased interest in anti-racist ideas


Black Lives Matter protests have not only drawn public attention to incidents of police brutality, such as the 2020 killing of George Floyd, but they have also changed public discourse and increased interest in anti-racist ideas, according to research conducted by researchers at Indiana University.

Their article, “Black Lives Matter protests are changing the public discourse,” shows that the protests have generated sustained interest beyond singular events – including broader issues such as systemic racism, redlining, reform of criminal justice and white supremacy – and had a lasting effect. impact on how people think and talk about racism.

“It’s important because it means that protests, those little bursts of energy and attention, have a lasting impact on what ordinary people talk about in our daily lives,” said Zackary Dunivin, lead author. and PhD student in sociology and complex sciences. systems at the College of Arts and Sciences at Indiana University in Bloomington. “It shows that the protests are changing the landscape of what is relevant in our minds.”

The article was published March 3 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The other authors are Fabio Rojas, Virginia L. Roberts Professor of Sociology at IU; Harry Yaojun Yan, PhD student in Media Arts and Sciences at the Media School, and Complex Networks and Systems at IU’s Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering; and Jelani Ince, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Washington who earned a doctorate in sociology at IU.

Rojas and Ince previously collaborated on an article, published in 2017, about how people are using the Black Lives Matter hashtag to raise awareness for the movement, which began in 2013 after George Zimmermann was acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin, 17. years. Rojas expanded this work with a grant from IU’s Racial Justice Research Fund. The grant enabled her to write a book on Black Lives Matter, including the impact of the BLM protests.

Rojas recruited Dunivin, Ince and Yan to examine social media searches on Google, Twitter and Wikipedia, as well as national news mentions, to gauge interest in Black Lives Matter protests and what people were talking. They looked at 41 related terms, including “systemic racism” and “mass incarceration,” from 2014 to 2020.

Rojas said the viral spikes in “Black Lives Matter” searches were expected, but researchers were surprised by the ripple effect on new ideas and sustained interest. For example, comparing tweets from August to December 2020 to the same period in 2019, mentions of “systemic racism” increased ninefold, “police brutality” increased fivefold, and “redlining” doubled.

In 2020, the discussions went far beyond police shootings or police brutality and casualties, Dunivin said. People were talking about the historical and structural conditions that created the current situations in which black communities are policed.

“In 2020, George Floyd is killed and people reflect on the policies and practices that led to the segregation of neighborhoods and the exclusion of black families from the growing middle class of the 1930s, 40s and 50s. This is really an amazing connection,” Duvin said. “A man is killed on video and people are linking him to this 70-year-old story.”

Yan said the Black Lives Matter protests also had an effect on the agenda; public discourse now routinely involves terminology associated with and used by the Black Lives Matter movement. Dunivin likened setting an agenda to getting a political opponent to agree to your terms of debate.

“They can say we disagree that these are issues, but you got them to talk about it anyway,” Dunivin said. “If you can’t get anyone to talk about it, you’ll never get anyone to acknowledge it’s a problem.”

Although the search terms don’t mean support, the researchers said they indicate that people are trying to find out more.

“The way we talk about race in the country is changing because of the protests,” Rojas said. “There’s a new way to talk about race. It was exciting to find.”


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