Why is the #AllLivesMatter slogan -- a largely white response to the #BlackLivesMatter movement -- problematic? And how can we respond when we hear it?
"All lives matter" allows people to avoid thinking and talking about racism.
Recently a Latina woman recounted an interaction she observed when visiting a white friend's home. This friend's young son came home and mentioned he'd learned about #BlackLivesMatter at school. His white mother immediately responded, "Yes, sweetie, all lives matter!" The Latina's heart sank when she heard this. She was disappointed that her friend didn't, or couldn't, keep the exchange focused on black lives.
Knowing how uncomfortable white people are discussing race, it isn't surprising that this white mom took cover behind a universal truth. All lives do matter, of course. It is something we can all agree on, so this statement quickly ended any chance of an authentic discussion about black lives. And, as we wrote recently, white people can have an unconscious tendency to feel guilty, or even personally attacked, when they are confronted with the uncomfortable reality of racism. When a truism like "all lives matter" jumps to mind, it has a soothing effect. By reinserting white people into "what matters," it is possible to dodge those uncomfortable feelings.
"All lives matter" is self-centered, and pulls focus away from the pain experienced by people of color.
"All lives matter" frees white people from feeling accountable for solving a largely white problem: the suffering caused by police violence against African Americans. Amid her insightful and extensive account of the dominant culture response to an injustice against an African American, Awesomely Luvvie points out:
We know that all lives matter. WE KNOW. But we have to say
#BlackLivesMatter to remind people of our humanity, which is far too often forgotten. So for white people (or anyone who isn’t Black) to feel like this proclamation somehow diminishes THEIR humanity is to confirm that very self-centeredness that we’re fighting against.
"All lives matter" is used in overtly racist threats to peaceful protestors.
In Deconstructing the AllLivesMatter Response, the Rev. Cynthia Landrum, Minister of the Universalist Unitarian Church of East Liberty in Michigan shares an example of a cruel use of the term that is "born of fear and racism":
A Saint Louis-area minister, for example, wrote of a "Black Lives Matter" sign being defaced with "All Lives Matter" written on the front and a racial slur written on the back. The fact that "All Lives Matter" is being used to argue against the idea that Black lives matter is proof that (1) People spreading that slogan don't really believe Black lives matter, at least not equally, and (2) It's therefore not true that all lives do matter equally in their eyes. The statement's use belies itself. If all lives matter, then black lives matter, so why the argument? Why the comeback? The comeback proves that statement false, and proves it for what it is -- a response born of fear and racism.
Using questions to respond to "All Lives Matter"
How can diversity and inclusion professionals, trainers, activists and friends respond when we hear or see the use of "All Lives Matter"? Strategic questioning can help people contemplate their use of the phrase. Racial justice educator Shakti Butler created this series of example questions to support productive dialogue and transformative learning.
Why do you think you prefer using the slogan "All Lives Matter" instead of "Black Lives Matter"?
What do you mean when you say that?
What do you think people are trying to say when they say "Black Lives Matter"?
What is your process when you have experienced trauma in your life? Why do you talk about it?
Have you ever given to a particular charity?
Why do you give to that charity?
So, you recognize the value of giving dollars and attention to an issue that is important to you?
People who are not African American may not be focused on the Black Lives Matter movement, but it can drive a wedge between people when we can't empathize and acknowledge someone else's pain: You can't take a moment to see what is impacting my life? Taking the time to have a productive conversation about the use of "All Lives Matter" can lead to insight and connection between people.
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