Dear White People Who Proclaim “#AllLivesMatter” or “#PoliceLivesMatter”

Dear White People Who Proclaim “#AllLivesMatter” or “#PoliceLivesMatter” September 2, 2015

BLM-posterDear White People,

I understand (as a fellow white person) where you’re coming from. We white folks prefer universal and abstract moral claims that relieve us of any responsibility for social change and keep us on the moral high ground. We also prefer to ignore historical particularity in our theologies/philosophies (we just cannot help ourselves, we love the “pure” rationality of the Enlightenment) and so “All Lives Matter” appeals to our sense of universality. As a white theologian, I even agree with you that at a level of a universalized and abstract theology it is true, all lives do matter (including those of the police). God loves everybody. Everyone is made in the image of God.

All that being said, “Black Lives Matter” is a particular statement born in a particular time in which Black lives have NOT been mattering (in part shown in the way Black people have been shot down by the police in numbers far beyond that of white people, and in part through additional systemic racism in our political, economic, and cultural lives). In this particular time and place all lives, therefore, are not mattering. So, if you want “All Lives Matter” to be universally credible, then join with the “Black Lives Matter” movement to help make it credible in this particular time and place in history

You can look at the universal/particular binary this way.  Moses went to Pharaoh and said, “Slave lives matter. God says, ‘Let my people go!’” Pharaoh said, “All lives matter. Get back to work.” The prophets went to the rulers of Israel and said, “Poor lives, widowed lives, orphan lives matter.” The rulers of Israel said, “All lives matter. Shut up.” Jesus walked about the Roman occupied territory of Palestine and said, “Lepers’ lives matter. Blind peoples’ lives matter. The lives of the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned matter.” The Roman occupiers and their collaborators said, “All lives matter. Enjoy your crucifixion.”

Moreover, if you do not want to join in “Black Lives Matter” please come up with your own slogan. Certainly white people should be able to show a little more creativity than just ripping off a slogan that emerged from Black people. Ripping off “Black Lives Matter” by saying “All Lives Matter” or “Police Lives Matter” is like Vanilla Ice ripping off rap music or Pat Boone ripping off the blues. By the way, joining with “Black Lives Matter” is much cooler, like the Beastie Boys or Eminem doing rap or like the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton playing the blues.

Dr. Peter Gathje is a professor of Ethics at Memphis Theological Seminary and Founder of Manna House; a place of hospitality for homeless and poor persons in the city of Memphis. He is also a R3 contributor.

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