Blinken Authorizes U.S. Embassies Worldwide to Display BLM Flags

A new directive comes while the United States commemorates the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder.

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Protesters gather during a Black Lives Matter protest.
Protesters gather during a Black Lives Matter protest.
Protesters gather during a Black Lives Matter protest that started in front of the U.S Embassy in Vienna, Austria, on June 5, 2020. Thomas Kronsteiner/Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has authorized U.S. embassies around the world to fly Black Lives Matter (BLM) flags and banners, according to an internal cable reviewed by Foreign Policy, as part of the administration’s response to the one-year anniversary of the police murder of George Floyd that sparked international outrage and a nationwide reckoning on systemic racism.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has authorized U.S. embassies around the world to fly Black Lives Matter (BLM) flags and banners, according to an internal cable reviewed by Foreign Policy, as part of the administration’s response to the one-year anniversary of the police murder of George Floyd that sparked international outrage and a nationwide reckoning on systemic racism.

The U.S. State Department cable gives chiefs of missions, who head U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide, “blanket written authorization” to display BLM flags and banners as “appropriate in light of local conditions.” It stresses the directive is an “authorization, not a requirement.”

The latest cable on the matter reflects the State Department’s growing awareness of how racial injustice in the United States can cause blowback abroad; U.S. diplomats have voiced concern that their efforts to promote human rights abroad could be undercut by challenges of systemic racism at home.

One U.S. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the new directive allowing BLM flags at U.S. embassies is “a positive signal and a historic step in the right direction.”

“However, we will need to see much more than BLM flags to signal the department is substantively bridging the disconnect between our domestic record on racial injustice and global rhetoric on human rights,” the diplomat added.

The BLM movement surged to international prominence after Floyd’s murder at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis last May, sparking widespread protests across the United States and demonstrations against racism in other countries around the world. The new State Department cable comes ahead of other significant dates, including Juneteenth and the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre on May 31 and June 1.

The directive could draw backlash from Republican lawmakers and other conservative political figures who have lashed out at the Biden administration and various federal agencies, including the U.S. military and CIA, for their public campaigns on diversity and inclusion. Conservative lawmakers have argued these campaigns are prompting national security agencies to focus too much on “political correctness” and “wokeness.”

The new State Department directive also underscores the sharp shift in priorities from the Trump administration to the Biden administration on racial justice as well as diversity and inclusion efforts at the State Department.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo joined former U.S. President Donald Trump in wading into the so-called “culture wars” as the former president railed against the BLM movement and the New York Timess 1619 Project, framing them as part of “left-wing mobs” that undercut U.S. exceptionalism. Pompeo cast the 1619 Project, which reframes U.S. history by exploring the essential role slavery played in the formation of the country, as espousing a “Marxist ideology” in one speech, and on his way out of office, he took parting shots at “multiculturalism,” insisting it is not “who America is.”

Pompeo’s successor, Blinken, vowed to weave racial justice issues into U.S. foreign policy and reverse the State Department’s long-standing challenges on diversity and inclusion in its own ranks. Some long-time diplomats say they remain skeptical Blinken will be able to deliver on his promises given the department’s historically laggard track record on diversity and inclusion.

In April, Blinken tapped a seasoned former diplomat, Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley, to lead the department’s efforts on reversing the department’s historically checkered record on diversity in a newly created role: chief diversity and inclusion officer.

A State Department spokesperson confirmed the new policy authorizing U.S. diplomatic outposts to fly BLM banners and flags in an email statement to Foreign Policy. “The United States remains concerned about the racial and ethnic injustices against people of color and other marginalized communities both domestically and abroad. We encourage our missions around the world to focus on eliminating systemic racism and its global impact,” the spokesperson added.

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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