Why the Appeal to “All Lives Matter” is Bunk

Why the Appeal to “All Lives Matter” is Bunk August 17, 2015

This article will henceforth be my go-to reference on this topic. I’m tired of explaining this simple concept. Perhaps some of you reading this have also grown tired of retreading the same points. If so, by all means, use this content as a referral resource.

If you are one who wishes to be an ally to racial equality, there is one basic and unassailable requirement—listening. The motivation behind heeding the lived experiences of marginalized groups is to deepen empathy, enrich understanding, and engender a promotion of that learned insight. This requires decentering yourself and listening. That’s what allyship is all about.

Calling It What It Is

Whether one intends to or not, declaring “all lives matter” is an act of disregard for racialized discrepancies emphasized in the declaration Black Lives Matter. The platitude “all lives matter” undermines the intention of Black Lives Matter, and is usually uttered by those who have difficulty comprehending the “too” or “also” implicitly attached. Black Lives Matter is not a repudiation of any other individual or group. It’s an affirmation, one that identifies an apparent inconsistency in the way black identities are treated compared to their white counterparts.

Why It’s So Common

All humans possess a slew of biases. This is unavoidable, though it is possible to better manage or even reduce some prejudices.

Most misunderstanding or backlash related to the implications of Black Lives Matter have been from whites. Feelings of discomfort or offense when it comes to hearing or seeing Black Lives Matter usually emanates from what academic Robin DiAngelo terms “white fragility.” In her seminal work titled “White Fragility,” DiAngelo highlighted the following:

White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. This insulated environment of racial protection builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress, leading to what I refer to as White Fragility.

White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium.”

For further education by Robin DiAngelo about this topic, also see Why White People Freak Out When They’re Called Out About Race, Why It’s So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism, and 11 Ways White America Avoids Taking Responsibility for its Racism.

Laying It To Rest

The “all lives matter” crowd seek refuge in a truism that is actually a non-sequitur given the circumstances.

What’s being stressed is the reality of white supremacy and the ways racism leads to racial profiling and selective enforcement. If the malfeasance of law enforcement and subsequent judicial follow-up were evenly distributed across the board regardless of race, stating “all lives matter” would be practical. But because that isn’t the case, to assert “all lives matter” as a shout-down to the very relevant call-out of Black Lives Matter is illogical.

Black Lives Matter is a statement recognizing there is a surplus of meaning attached to white identities and a deficit applied to people of color. Inequality won’t be achieved by ignoring reality. Asserting “all lives matter” is about as helpful as the idealistic stance of “colorblindness” – a convenient position for non-Blacks that Blacks don’t have the benefit of observing. What we need is racial consciousness, not colorblindness.

How else can these points be conveyed so that those who have doubled-down on their “all lives matter” stance can better understand?

Maybe it takes an analogy? If so, here’s a brief but worthwhile response from Reddit that has been widely circulated.

Maybe it takes lighthearted banter? If so, watch Larry Wilmore (The Nightly Show) and comedian Felonious Munk roast “all lives matter” in under 5-minutes.

Maybe it takes the mention of statistics and historical context? If so, writer Charlotte Wilder explores this in a brief summation of the matter.

Maybe it takes hearing it from a white academic? If so, U.S. philosopher Judith Butler in The New York Times has what you’re looking for.

Maybe it takes a white male religious leader? If so, Reverend Dan Schatz relays why he says Black Lives Matter rather than “all lives matter.”

Oh, I know! Our culture is obsessed with celebrity worship. Perhaps the words of actor Matt McGorry may help drive the point home.

Pick one. Or all. Whatever you do, abandon the woefully flawed all lives matter “reminder.” Today. Now. It both detracts and distracts from the particular aim of affirming Black Lives Matter.

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