Role Models vs. Leaders and the BLM

“The central contradiction of the civil-rights movement was that it was a quest for democracy led by organizations that frequently failed to function democratically.”

It is almost impossible to determine whether or not the Black Lives Matter movement, or any movement for that matter, would function better with or without leadership. On the one hand, we see how misguided and unproductive, social activism can be without a rock steady plan or a leadership to take it in a forward direction. Instead what comes to be is an amalgam of angry individuals with points of view and emotions each unique to every individual. In this kind of climate there is often nothing but rage but with no clear objective, all the potentially powerful energy sort of just dissipates and nothing is really accomplished. Then if you assign leaders to the movement, it becomes far too easy to overlook the outliers of the cause. A leader can never fully represent the entirety of everyone they speak for. And if a leader speaks only to the majority, then again the minority is neglected and the vicious cycle repeats itself. This is why the Black Lives Matter movement needs not leaders, but role models. BLM isn’t desperate for leadership to direct it where to go or what to feel. The individuals that identify with the BLM know what they feel. They can see the injustice. They know they want better for themselves and the people they love. Instead, BLM requires role models like Martin Luther King Jr and Rosa Parks and Muhammed Ali who, as central to civil rights movements as they were, they led by example not by instruction. BLM needs to become a movements that showcases the potential and the beauty, the power, the unity, the support of black individuals. And to do that it must be achieved by looking to minority role models and understanding that that is how we want to live our lives. Because for Black Lives Matter to succeed and make real change in the world, it can’t be an organization demanding respect. It has to be a way of life commanding it.

2 thoughts on “Role Models vs. Leaders and the BLM

  1. I really like the comparison you did there with role models and leaders. We’ve been talking about movements (not just BLM, Egypt too) needing leaders to succeed but maybe role models are needed instead. What worries me is that things work differently now – the media has a much bigger impact and it is a lot easier for anyone to manipulate it for their own purposes. BLM needs to work the media as effectively as Trump does to succeed.


  2. Excellent post Steven. I’ve wondered myself what BLM can do with or without leaders; neither seemed ideal. But by touching on role models – people that the body of the movement can look up to, and not just blindly obey – you have hit the sweet spot between organization and movement. I think the real power of role models though – ‘influencers’ as we might call them today – is that they have more power over the media than BLM can ever have as an organization. For example, if Kanye stood up for BLM his voice would carry through the media much more effectively than if the faceless BLM just put out a statement by themselves. The right endorsement, then, is just as powerful as the right role models.


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