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ENGL314: BLM - The Evolution of a Hashtag: Movement Rhetoric

Student-created guide on the Black Lives Matter Movement for ENGL314: The Rhetoric of Social Movements (Spring 2021).


The #BlackLivesMatter hashtag provides a rhetorical space to rescript Black people. The hashtag assumes connotative meaning different than denotative meaning. The hashtag has evolved from the identification of racist acts into a call for justice. 

Counter movements actively seek to invalidate the space Black people have created for themselves. Listed below are only a few of the hurtful hashtags that reject Black identity:





Chants and Slogans

Protest Signs: Messages From Police Brutality Demonstrations in NYC -  Rolling StoneThis photo depicts a small portion of common BLM protest slogans that are often found on signs or in chants.

Rhetorical Analysis:

Subject: BLM Protest

Audience: police, the US government, civilians

Constraints: peaceful protest, people can choose to ignore the chants

Exigence: Stop police brutality against Black people

Purpose: to raise awareness of the injustices suffered by Black Americans; get others to join chat/protest/movement

Genre: chant/slogan


Quote from Co-founder of BLM, Alicia Garza, regarding social movement tactics


woman holding up sign reading 'we are not a trend, black lives still matter'

BLM sign at a London protest in 2020

sign that reads 'i can't breathe again'

A sign help up in Paris, France after George Floyd's death

woman holding up sign that reads 'respect black lives like you respect black culture'

BLM protest in Amsterdam, Netherlands in 2020

Rhetorical Analysis:

Subject: BLM protest

Audience: the US, the world (BLM protests have gone global around the time of George Floyd's death)

Constraints: Those in the US will not see this image unless they go looking for it. It can be hard to reach your intended audience from across seas.

Exigence: End police brutality

Purpose: to raise awareness of the injustices suffered by Black people globally; get others to join chat/protest/movement

Genre: protest sign

sign that reads 'stop killing my brothers,  sisters, family, friends'

A sign protesting police brutality in New York City

Video Compilations

Rhetorical Analysis:

Subject: BLM protests

Audience: supporters of the movement

Constraints: Those in the institution probably won't go looking for a compilation video of BLM protests.

Exigence: End police brutality

Purpose: to show the extent that Black people have had to go to in order to get an ounce of justice they deserve; to raise awareness of the injustices suffered by Black people; get others to join chat/protest/movement

Genre: video

Pop Culture

Since its start in 2013, the Black Lives Matter movement has been depicted in a variety of pop culture forms. Movies, television, literature, and art now have vast quantities of BLM content in them. The movement has also instilled change in the entertainment industry.


Whose Streets.png

Watch Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement Season 2016 | Prime Video



The completed "Black Lives Matter" mural on Hamilton Avenue across Palo Alto City Hall in California.