Home > News > What helps non-black people support Black Lives Matter? A signal from someone in their own ethnic group.
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What helps non-black people support Black Lives Matter? A signal from someone in their own ethnic group.

Our surveys uncover how this messaging works

The public outcry following the shooting deaths of George Floyd in Minnesota, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Sean Reed in Indiana, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky — and on Friday night, Rayshard Brooks in Georgia — has given the Black Lives Matter movement new urgency. Recent weeks have brought heightened attention to the safety of black Americans in public and private life.

But it’s not just African Americans who are turning out to protest. Asian American, Latinx and white individuals are also voicing their support for the movement.

Our research suggests public displays of support for Black Lives Matter from nonblacks is important. Here’s why: It leads co-racial individuals (people who share the same race) to view the movement and its goals more positively. Thus, the more diversity in people who speak out about Black Lives Matter, the more support the movement will have.

BLM support is coming from many quarters

White NFL quarterbacks like Carson Wentz and Joe Burrow are among the many sports stars offering public statements of support. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell — who in 2017 said NFL players must stand for the national anthem, and could not take a knee in protest — apologized for not listening to black players’ concerns earlier. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah became the first Republican senator to join in the BLM protests in Washington.

Many whites are protesting with Black Lives Matter. How far will their support go?

White and Latinx celebrities such as Anna Kendrick and Selena Gomez have demonstrated their support for the Black Lives Matter movement on social media and through their attendance at local protests. In a similar vein, two Asian Americans started a petition to demonstrate solidarity between the Asian American and black communities in response to the recent spate of high-profile shootings of African Americans. A recent Pew survey showed majorities across white, Asian and Hispanic ethnic groups in America have expressed support for the Black Lives Matter protests.

Does it matter that a more diverse group of people are a part of Black Lives Matter? When nonblack individuals “Run with Maud” or contribute to Letters for Black Lives, are they helping the Black Lives Matter movement in meaningful ways?

Cross-racial support for BLM has a strong impact

In two separate experiments, we evaluated whether and how pro-BLM messages from nonblacks alter support for the movement among whites and Asian Americans. In our first experiment, conducted in November 2016, we surveyed 118 Asian Americans and 163 whites through an online survey administered on Amazon Mechanical Turk (Mturk). In the second experiment conducted more than a year later in December 2017, we contacted about 250 whites and 250 Asian Americans, again through Mturk. Our survey samples were not nationally representative but were reflective of the national population across several important demographic characteristics.

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In these experiments, we asked our control group to indicate their levels of support for BLM, without presenting them any other information. We asked our two other survey groups to read a letter supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement written by either a white author or an Asian American author.

The Asian American and white respondents in our survey who read letters sympathetic to the movement from people who shared their racial identity were substantially more supportive of BLM than those who did not read a letter in support of the movement. Moreover, we found the effect of the letters on BLM support was largely dependent on Asian American and white respondents viewing the co-racial author as being likable and trustworthy. This finding is in line with a long line of research showing people are generally more receptive to messages from individuals who share their race.

Why silence may lead to more violence

Our survey results suggest when a racially diverse group of individuals speak out for Black Lives Matter, they increase support for the movement among nonblacks. Appeals from nonblacks are an important signal that BLM has broad-based support.

George Floyd’s killing was just the spark. Here’s what really made the protests explode.

Moreover, these cross-racial displays of support may also have contributed to recent opinion shifts among nonblack groups. A recent Monmouth University poll found among “Americans of Latino, Asian and other minority backgrounds,” 63 percent believe black individuals are more likely to be subjected to excessive force by police, up from 39 percent in 2016. Similarly, 49 percent of white Americans shared this sentiment, up from 25 percent in 2016.

Political scientist E.E. Schattschneider famously wrote, “If a fight starts, watch the crowd.” In the public arena, conflicts in many cases are decided by how many bystanders can be convinced to support one side over another. Seeing people who look like you speak in support of movements like BLM may move people off the fence and into the action.

The more support the Black Lives Matter movement has, the more likely elected officials are to enact policies to prevent needless tragedies from occurring. Having a racially diverse coalition speak out publicly for Black Lives Matter can play a crucial role in putting these protections in place.

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Maneesh Arora (@maneesh_arora) is an assistant professor of political science at Wellesley College.

Christopher Stout (@christophestout) is an associate professor in the department of political science at Oregon State University and author of “The Case for Identity Politics” (forthcoming, University of Virginia Press).

Kelsy Kretschmer (@kelsykretschmer) is an associate professor of sociology at Oregon State University and author of the book “Fighting for NOW: Diversity and Discord in the National Organization for Women” (University of Minnesota Press, 2019).