clock menu more-arrow no yes

Americans are as skeptical of Black Lives Matter as they were of the civil rights movement

America has a long history of resisting black-led social justice movements.

Black Lives Matter march
Protesters march in Baltimore following the death of Freddy Gray in police custody (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Three years after the Black Lives Matter movement began, not everyone understands the movement’s mission. And as evidenced during the Republican National Convention, some people, like Donald Trump, are invested in exploiting those misunderstandings for political points.

But the fire Trump is igniting is fueled by a country that has historically resisted black social justice movements.

According to the American National Election Studies, 57 percent of Americans in 1964 said most of black people’s actions during the civil rights movement in the most recent year were violent. Sixty-three percent of Americans believed the civil rights movement was moving "too fast." And a majority of Americans (58 percent) believed that black people’s actions for the movement hurt their own cause.

Sound familiar?

And just a reminder: One of the key actions by civil rights activists in 1963 was the March on Washington, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

But Americans today share similar attitudes toward the Black Lives Matter movement.

According to the Pew Research Center, 43 percent of Americans support the Black Lives Matter movement.

Black Americans are most likely to strongly support the Black Lives Matter movement.
Black Americans are most likely to strongly support the Black Lives Matter movement.
Pew Research Center

Thirty-six percent of Americans of who have heard about Black Lives Matter don’t really understand its goals.

And Americans are split on the effectiveness of the movement in achieving racial equality in the long run: While 8 percent say Black Lives Matter will be very effective, 30 percent say it will be somewhat effective, compared with 33 percent who doubt the movement’s effectiveness. The remaining 29 percent either weren’t familiar with the movement or did not provide an opinion.

Pew Research Center

There are racial and political differences in attitudes. Forty-one percent of African Americans strongly support the movement, while white Americans’ attitudes seem to be split: 26 percent somewhat support the movement and 28 percent expressed opposition to it. Only 14 percent of white Americans strongly support it. But among white Americans, most white Democrats support the movement (64 percent), whereas most white Republicans (52 percent) oppose it.

Without a doubt, Trump is propelling himself to victory as 2016’s "law and order" candidate and pledging to "make America safe again" by mischaracterizing the Black Lives Matter movement, the most pressing racial justice movement of our time. But it would also be inaccurate to say that Americans haven’t done the same with similarly necessary black-led social justice movements of the past.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for The Weeds

Get our essential policy newsletter delivered Fridays.