Appropriately Antiracist: Constrained Contention of White Activists Supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement
Fenelon, Kelley Frances
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement seeks to disrupt dominant cultural patterns and norms both through the use of traditional movement tactics, such as protest, and through the strategic and intentional integration of the movement’s values and goals into the lives and organizational dynamics of its activists and organizations. As a movement seeking to dismantle white supremacy, BLM requires its white supporters to engage with their own identity and complicity in upholding the systems and structures that normalize whiteness and contribute to white supremacy. This paper demonstrates that white activists working to support the BLM movement must engage in prefigurative politics to embody the norms, values, and goals of the movement by constructing an oppositional collective identity as white antiracists and by working in keeping with the movement context of antiracist prefiguration. It argues that the introduction of these two key factors placed a limit on white activists’ repertoire of contention in support of the BLM movement. Importantly, it argues that this constrained repertoire of contention is appropriate rather than a hindrance to activism. The draws upon participant observation and interview data from six months of meetings and activism by white antiracist activists seeking to support the nascent Black Lives Matter movement within their mid-sized city in the southeastern United States. Ultimately, it finds that the white antiracist activists’ tension, struggle, and oscillation towards an appropriately constrained repertoire of contention demonstrates productive movement activism.