In this chapter, we present the results of our study in three parts. In the first part of our results, we discuss the meaning-making process that occurs in the Black Lives Matter chapters’ discourse. Using Satchel’s (2016) definition of discursive structure, we provide a thick description of how the Black Lives Matter discourse creates meaning and knowledge. By doing so, we demonstrate through our findings that the Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, Chicago, and Los Angeles Twitter pages constitute a discursive structure in terms of validity, subjects, and sources. Then, we cross-reference the literature on social movements. Using this literature, we show how the activists’ inclusion of subjects and sources reframe the Black Lives Matter movement in a way that generates a new way of thinking about the movement and its supporters amid its controverted government classification as a terrorist organization.
Analysis of Data
A discursive structure is a space in which institutions form a shared way of talking about things, which gives these things meaning and creates a way of knowing, and this knowledge is socially shared through the contextual map of mass media (Satchel, 2016). The Black Lives Matter chapters we included in our analysis create a discursive structure that generates shared meaning and knowledge among its participants. The chapters’ Twitter pages are conceptual maps and socially shared cognitive mechanisms through which Black Lives Matter activists and supporters display and share knowledge about the movement. In the analysis that follows, we decode the tweets using CDA and a priori reasoning to understand how talk and text work together to create meaning and establish a discursive structure that upholds the criterion of validity outlined in the methodology. The discourse on the Black Lives Matter Twitter pages generates shared meaning and a way of knowing among those most likely to engage in the discourse, primarily by using shared figurative codes via language. The use of hashtags further generates shared meaning and a way of knowing. Finally, Black Lives Matter activists share images and videos as conceptual maps to generate further knowledge and a way of understanding, which they share socially on Twitter via these visual media.
First, the three Black Lives Matter chapters produce meaning and a way of knowing through the use of a simple, concise language that contemporary Black Americans easily understand. This tweet, from BLMChicago (2015d), is a concise call to action: “Show up tonight at 6:30 at 53rd and King Drive, the site of Ronald Johnson’s killing. #NoJusticeNoPeace #Justice4Ronnieman
#Alvarezgottago.” Concisely, this tweet contains only enough detail for readers to understand where and when to meet to protest Ronald Johnson’s murder. To convey urgency, the tweet invokes Johnsons name and killing sufficiently to galvanize Black Lives Matter supporters. The author did not explain who Ronald Johnson is; instead, she assumed that readers knew this and were familiar with the Chicago area. The use of hashtags also creates urgency, meaning, and connection by quoting a recognizable protest chant: no justice, no peace. This familiar call for justice allows readers to associate Johnson’s death with other unjust killings of Black Americans. The tweet also contains “#Justice4Ronnieman,” which is the hashtag the Chicago Black Lives Matter chapter uses on all its tweets about Ronald Johnson. This hashtag uses a nickname for Johnson, which further suggests familiarity, connection, and relationship with Johnson, as well as the cause his death embodies. Last. “#Alvarezgottago” is another common hashtag in the Chicago Black Lives Matters chapter’s discourse to convey that the problem is systemic rather than episodic. The author uses this expecting readers know of State Attorney Anita Alvarez and prior calls for Alvarez’ resignation/firing because they would be familiar with Johnsons killing and city politics. The tweet, as such, functions as a concise representation of Black Lives Matter Chicago’s demand for justice. These hashtags create a shared language and meaning, and the author framed the tweet using these hashtags to cue a call to action for supporters who were already familiar with the Chicago Black Lives Matter movement. The hashtags allow the Black Lives Matter activists to connect their tweets and demands in a simple, easily understood format.
The use of figurative language is another way this discourse generates shared meaning that the discourse’s contemporary Black American audience can easily understand. Black authors write tweets on the Black Lives Matter accounts for Black audiences using language and references they are likely to comprehend. As hashtags in the previous example, the Black Lives Matter tweets contain metaphors and connotative words that help readers identify with familiar cultural references alluded. For example, #BlackLivesMatter-LA ( 2015c) shared the following tweet: “ ‘We are no longer dying in, we are rising up.’ @DocMellyMel Stand with us and call on Sheriff Jim McDonell to release #BlackXMas activists.” This tweet contains connotative phrases such as rising up and stand with us. These words, in this context, transcend their literal meaning, and the author was evoking their figurative meaning as a call to action. The author did not literally mean for people to stand or rise up; the phrases represent the need for unified action to get BlackXMas protestors released. The tweet also contains “#BlackXmas,” as a way to connect it to other tweets about the BlackXMas protests throughout the entire Black Lives Matter network. The use of Xmas instead of Christmas draws on the specific language of the national movement. In turn, the language of the tweet generates a shared way of talking and meaningmaking not only for Los Angeles activists and supporters, but also for activists throughout the entire Black Lives Matter movement’s network. This allows the meaning and knowledge of the discursive structure to propagate a shared understanding among Black Lives Matter audiences on a national level.
The tweets in the Black Lives Matter discursive structure propagate meaning and knowledge by framing the immediate present in a manner easily understood by Black audiences. All three Black Lives Matter chapters provided firsthand accounts, in real time, of the movement’s demonstrations and other events it was involved in, such as the state attorney’s press conference on Ronald Johnson’s death. The Black Lives Matter Chicago Twitter page provided a play-by-play account of the press conference, and this allowed the chapter to prime audiences, frame its posts, and shape the media representation of the immediate moment. The following tweet from BLM-Chicago (2015e) provided details of the press conference: “States Attny assistant said the 911 calls help explain why Hernandez believed #Ronnieman had a gun. Again, this is irrelevant. He had no gun!” The author provided a paraphrased quote from State Attorney Anita Alvarez’s assistant. By not containing a direct quotation, the tweet could frame the remark to emphasize some details while omitting others. Moreover, the phrase at the end, “This is irrelevant. He had no gun!” further allowed the author to frame the discourse by including information not presented by the state attorney’s assistant. They referred to Ronald Johnson using “#Ronnieman” again, which creates a shared way of talking about him and his death as one who others loved enough to give a nickname. This humanizes victims. Furthermore, this hashtag reflects familiarity and helps readers connect this specific discourse with the overall discourse about Johnson and other victims of state-sanctioned violence.
In another tweet from the press conference. BLMChicago (20151) stated, “States Attny says a mythical struggle occurred but of course is not captured on video. So we are supposed to just take them at their word.” Again, the tweet provides an indirect quotation from the state attorney and then adds the additional information that the mythical struggle was not on the video of Johnsons death. The author framed the information provided by Alvarez by including other information she omitted and undermining the idea that a mythical struggle occurred. This refraining allowed the author to include new information and knowledge in the Black Lives Matter discursive structure. The tweet also says, we are supposed to take them at their word, which cues the historic abuses of police in Black communities and their distrust of police officers. The phrase, among its target audience, highlights and mocks the oxymoronic reasoning that Black folks are supposed to believe the police who generally do not serve or protect them. Black audiences understand this irony most commonly. This shared meaning among the Black audience participating in the Black Lives Matter discursive structure activates participation.
BLM's discourse frames the immediate present circumstances and generates meaning through conceptual maps that include visual media and tweets. The authors produce socially shared language and a way of knowing through the use of conceptual maps, which are illustrative tools that represent knowledge. The visual media the author includes in the discursive structure allows the discourse to represent and share knowledge socially and selectively. Visual media and tweets feature selected aspects of images and events while omitting others. This allows the discourse to represent the immediate present in ways that cue histories or prime audiences.
In Figure 10.1, BLMChicago provided visual evidence of the protests. Through its use of a woman holding a simple sign, the chapter was able to frame the demonstration as peaceful.
Furthermore, the subject being a White woman suggests unity and illustrates the support of White allies in an allegedly racist movement. The single subject is one among many supporters, which suggests large groups were participating in the movement and shares the supporters’ demand for change in the Chicago city government.
In another example, BLM MPLS frames the immediate present via a socially shared conceptual map of visual media tweeted from a budget hearing in which the city council attempted to pass a budget that included $605,000 to fortify the police department in the fourth precinct. One tweet from the meeting provided information about the budget hearing, saying, “over 100 packed the #blongnbetsysfortress budget hearing on 2 hours notice. Our democracy will not be subverted” (Black Lives MPLS, 2015d). This tweet is another call to action, and it includes a description of the number in attendance and uses the strong verb subverted, which suggests the activists in attendance would not let the government undermine the power of the movement.
To illustrate further the strength of the activists, the tweet includes visual representation of the size of the group, shown in Figure 10.2, which reinforces the force of the activists by representing them as a large group with a significant physical presence. Further demonstrating how the movement used visual images to frame the immediate present, the Los Angeles chapter live-streamed its Black Xmas protests at the Grove. These streams allowed audiences to watch the protests live and unedited, which helped them avoid potential distortion of the videos by
FIGURE 10.1 Black Lives Matter Chicago protesters on Clark Street (BLMChicago, 2015i).
Source: BLMChicago (2015І) Twitter.
mainstream news. By including visual media in their tweets, the Black Lives Matter chapters share meaning/knowledge discourses and generate a shared way of knowing about the movement that is distinct from mainstream news discourses.