Academic journal article Law and Contemporary Problems

Black Contemporary Social Movements, Resource Mobilization, and Black Musical Activism

Academic journal article Law and Contemporary Problems

Black Contemporary Social Movements, Resource Mobilization, and Black Musical Activism

Article excerpt



In the last few years a grassroots social movement has emerged from the Black community. This movement aims to eliminate police and vigilante violence against Blacks nationwide. Blacks in America have long been subjected to this violence, and the issue has recently captured the country's attention. Multiple groups are pressing for change, including Ferguson Action, Black Lives Matter, Say Her Name, and the leaderless social media effort organized by DeRay McKesson and Johnetta Elzie, to name a few. (1) These fledgling activist groups have already experienced some success, garnering public attention and government response. (2) As it currently stands, this nascent civil-rights movement has the potential to advance racial justice in twenty- first-century America, but its path is not without obstacles.

According to social-movement theory, the ability of activists to further marshal support is vital to the continued development of this civil-rights movement. Whether engaging in street-level activism or pursuing formal change through judicial, legislative, or electoral processes, movement organizers will have to think rationally and strategically about resource mobilization and oppositional forces. At a minimum, they must amass money and manpower for their activities, establish group credibility in the eyes of their participants and the public, and remain sensitive to the costs of movement participation imposed by government officials and countermovements.

To address these concerns, social-movement theory and history reveal that Black music and musicians can and should play a key role in Black America's next-generation battle for criminal justice and civil rights. Social-movement activists should draw Black musicians, especially hip-hop artists, into the movement fold, encouraging Black musicians to initiate a massive wave of cultural activism.

This article proceeds in four parts. Part II offers several definitions of "social movement," summarizes the resource mobilization approach to social- movement theory, and digests the theory underlying oppositional efforts to counter social movements. Part III makes the case that Black music and musicians should play a key role in Black contemporary social movements battling police and vigilante violence against Blacks. It opens by identifying Black social movements in American history and then examines several genres of Black music that have helped mobilize Black social movements. Part III closes by accounting for the various ways in which legal and extralegal measures historically have been deployed to counter Black musical activists and musical expression in social movements, thereby demonstrating the resilience of Black musical protest in the face of significant challenge. Part IV reflects on today's Black musical activism, particularly hip-hop activism, and considers how music and musicians can engage in the next-generation fight against violence inflicted upon Blacks. Part V briefly concludes.



Social scientists and legal scholars employ various definitions of social movements, though all embrace the idea of marginalized groups publicly challenging and demanding change in the existing social structure from power holders using sustained, collective efforts aimed at swaying the public and government officials. Social-movement theory indicates that successful movements mobilize tangible and intangible resources, including, most importantly, money, manpower, and legitimacy. Once social movements arise, opposition from government officials and private groups will likely appear and may coalesce into a countermovement that asserts competing claims and also seeks public attention and legitimacy. To achieve their aims, countermovements deploy legal and extra-legal tactics, including public protest, criminal-justice charges, surveillance, and violence. To maintain their progress, movements must strategically respond to the costs imposed by countermovements. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.