Posted on May 27, 2021

A Year After George Floyd’s Killing, White Support for Black Lives Matter Fades

Joseph P. Williams, US News, May 25, 2021

Based on the name alone, it’s hard to mistake the social and political leanings of Reparations Club, a low-profile Los Angeles independent bookstore. Jazzi McGilbert, the proprietor, says it’s a cheeky “calling card” to her clientele, a not-subtle hint that her stock consists almost entirely of books about Black issues by Black authors, from WEB Dubois to Colin Kaepernick.

Last spring, amid intense demands for racial justice after the police killing of George Floyd, a surge of white customers swept into her shop, clamoring for books on race, African American history and literature. They were heeding the call of Black Lives Matter movement leaders, who urged aspiring white allies to educate themselves before linking arms with protesters – and fill the coffers of Black-owned businesses in the process.

That kept McGilbert’s cash registers ringing: In June alone, “our sales topped the entire previous year,” she says, a big boost for a fledgling business struggling to survive during a recession and a global pandemic. “We’re still here because of that shift.”

{snip} A year later, McGilbert says, sales “have definitely tapered off,” with far fewer whites have come to her door.


That dynamic could easily apply to white allyship for the Black Lives Matter movement, according to experts who study the fault lines of race in America. A combination of factors, they say – from fatigue and frustration at the relatively slow pace of change to a growing backlash on the right against efforts to call out systemic racism and white privilege – has led to a decline in white support for the Black Lives Matter movement since last spring, when white support for social justice was at its peak.

A year ago, when the video of a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck went viral – and as a deadly pandemic that kept people on lockdown revealed stark health and economic disparities between Blacks and whites – many whites were as outraged as African Americans.


For months, from Washington to Portland, whites marched shoulder-to-shoulder with Black activists, Black Lives Matter signs sprouted like dandelions on suburban lawns and institutional racism was a hot topic for news outlets. Even corporate America got involved, holding urgent conversations and workshops on the racial divide.

At the time, “We saw an increasing number of people reading about anti-racism,” says Pearl Dowe, a professor of African American studies and political science at Emory University in Atlanta. “We saw the conversations and the marches and this call for allyship.”

But as the BLM protests waned during the fall and winter and President Joe Biden replaced Donald Trump in the Oval Office interest seemed to wane. {snip}


Without angry protests making front-page news, experts say, support for the Black Lives Matter movement has faded and some of the country has moved on. While African Americans still support the movement and some white allies remain steadfast, Dowe and others say, the less committed have retreated to the sidelines.

Data tells part of the story.

In June 2020, amid nationwide demonstrations, public support for the Black Lives Matter movement was at 67%, including 6 in 10 whites overall and nearly 40% of Republicans, according to the Pew Research Center. Among Democrats, support for the movement soared to 92%, while Black support for the movement reached 88% percent. In September, support had dipped to 55% of adults, but remained strong among Black Americans according to Pew.

Another poll found 60% of Americans trusted the Black Lives Matter movement in June 2020, but nearly a year later, the same USA Today-Ipsos poll found 50% of Americans trust the movement. Meanwhile, trust in law enforcement, which was at 59% overall last spring, has risen to nearly 70% this year.

By contrast, African American support of Black Lives Matter is north of 80%, but their confidence in police barely reaches 50%, according to the poll.

Joe Flynn, an African American studies professor at Northern Illinois University, says the decline in white support within a year of Floyd’s killing is nothing new. Enthusiasm from would-be allies, he says, usually runs headlong into the seemingly intractable battle for civil rights – a fight that has taken place across generations but still hasn’t been won.

Some whites “don’t really necessarily appreciate how deeply embedded race and racism are in all of our institutions,” says Flynn, author of “White Fatigue: Rethinking Resistance for Social Justice.” {snip}


Another factor Flynn says: Conservative backlash to the movement, including derision of “woke culture,” the conflating of Black Lives Matter with antifa, and condemnation of “critical race theory” – an academic theory that examines the intersection of race, culture and law.