The Problem with “All Lives Matter”
“Black lives matter!” Predictable response from some white people: “All lives matter.” What’s the problem?
The problem is that not everyone believes black lives are included in “all lives.” So responding to “Black lives matter” with “All lives matter” in this context where unarmed, innocent black people are being killed by police without cause is much worse than politically incorrect; it is an expression of white supremacy. Context matters.
Of course all lives matter. But, of course, not everyone believes all lives matter equally. Obviously that is the case. America has a long history of killing indigenous people (native Americans), African-Americans, and other non-whites. True, true, everyone knows white people also sometimes get killed for no good reason. But it’s not the same. Rarely in American history have large numbers of innocent, unarmed white people been killed simply because they are white.
*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*
It always helps to give specific examples. We all know about the recent killing of an unarmed, handcuffed black man by police in Minneapolis. But how many white Americans know about past events such as the infamous Tulsa, Oklahoma race massacre of 1921? How many white Americans know about the “Waco Horror”—1916 lynching of innocent black boy Jesse Washington? How many white Americans know about the lynching of three innocent black boys/young men in Duluth, Minnesota in 1920? How many white Americans know about the brutal murders of (at least) twenty-eight black boys and young men (and one girl) in Atlanta in the 1980s? Yes, an African-American man was convicted of two of those murders, but now his conviction is seriously being called into question and the indifference of police and prosecutors to the very real possibility of other, possibly white, killers is now being revealed. How many white Americans know about the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre in South Dakota in which about 300 Lakota Sioux Indians were killed by white soldiers for no good reason whatsoever?
The problem with “All lives matter” in this context of killings of innocent, unarmed non-whites in America is that it smacks of racism. In a different context it wouldn’t, but as a response to “Black lives matter” it does. Nobody saying “Black lives matter” intends to say that only black lives matter or even that especially black lives matter. The statement is an expression of the same sentiment as “All lives matter” only focusing on a particular subset of “all lives” that many Americans don’t care about or even actively despise or consider inferior.
Who can seriously doubt that if unarmed, innocent white boys and men (and some women) were killed by police in the same manner as, for example, Tamir Rice or George Floyd or Philando Castile there would be very seriously consequences for the killers? And yet, in so many of these killings of black boys and men and women, there are no serious consequences for the killers.
Just know that when you say “All lives matter” after someone says “Black lives matter” you are betraying your indifference to extreme oppression of innocent human beings and you may also be using the rhetoric of white supremacy.
A seemingly innocent statement such as “All lives matter” in this particular context is not innocent at all. And people who say it need to be confronted with the role they are playing in the American social context of racism.
I dare white evangelical pastors to preach a sermon on why “All lives matter” is not a good or even innocent thing to say in today’s America. It’s true, but it’s harmful. And that because so many Americans do not think the “all” in “All lives matter” includes everyone equally.
And yes, they can bring the gospel into such a sermon. Jesus Christ died for all people or (if you’re a Calvinist) for people of very tribe and race and nationality and both genders.
If you insist on saying “All lives matter” at least include “including black lives.” What’s so astonishing and revealing is that most people who say “All lives matter” don’t include “including black lives” which shows that they simply don’t get it. They don’t get how truly horrible the situation of racism is in America today.
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