“A Relatively New Discovery in the Modern West”: #BlackLivesMatter and the Evolution of Black Humanism


  • Juan Floyd-Thomas Temple University Press




Prompted by the current debate and cognitive dissonance surrounding the #BlackLivesMatter protest campaign’s desired goals of securing freedom, justice, equality, and human dignity for people of African descent in the United States, this article addresses this social movement as an extension of Black humanism. This claim is a direct result of the #BlackLivesMatter movement’s sui generis origin and evolution beyond any identifiable Black religious institution. Robin D. G. Kelley reminds us that “insisting that we are human and productive members of [American] society has been a first principle of Black abolitionist politics since at least the eighteenth century.” Thus it is important to recognize the contemporary significance of #BlackLivesMatter by placing it within a broader historical context that resonates with many tenets of the traditional Black freedom struggle yet also charts future directions, including nontheistic thought and praxis such as atheism, agnosticism, humanism, and other expressions of unbelief as part of the broader African American experience. In 2009, Pew Research Center data on religious pluralism in the United States revealed that more than 12 percent of African Americans nationwide readily self-identified as being unaffiliated with any particular religion. This group of Black nonbelievers constitutes the third largest cohort within African American religious life—a major development in the history of African American faith and culture that ought to be more fully explored and explained. Scholars have discussed the origins and varied nature of Black humanism at considerable length; this article builds upon that existing research by examining the origins and nature of Black humanism within the history of the Black freedom struggle.