What is the problem with #AllLivesMatter?
This past week, we have seen the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag and movement on the rise again.
A lot of people have been responding with tags like #WhiteLivesMatter or #AllLivesMatter as if this is an important and necessary counter to #BlackLivesMatter. i would love to try and explain to anyone who feels like this, why i think differently on the matter.
i think it is also important to say at the start, that sometimes in life we are called upon to hold two ideas which seem contrary to each other. On the one hand when it comes to matters of race there is the notion that it took way too long for some of us to get here, but on the other hand there is the idea that ‘You don’t know until you know!’ which is why i took some time to explain why the notion of saying, ‘I am colourblind, i don’t see race’ [which is good intentioned and feels like the right thing to say] is not helpful and somewhat misses the point.
But back to #AllLivesMatter…
It sounds like it is the right thing to say. Surely all lives do matter? Absolutely. But here is the thing. Firstly, #AllLivesMatter has never been a movement. It only ever comes up as a response to a hashtag and movement like #BlackLivesMatter.
i think that the people who are protesting that Black Lives Matter generally agree with the statement ‘All Lives Matter’ but at this particular moment it has become glaringly obvious [once again] that to many people black lives matter less. The murder of George Floyd [which happened on the same day as a white woman was threatening to call the police on a black man who had asked her to leash her dog in a park where dogs were meant to be on a leash] brought this fact into the public eye dramatically. A white policeman killing a black man [who was handcuffed] in the way that he did while other cops stood by and let him, announced to the world the truth that ‘Black lives do not matter as much as white lives.’
Why #BlackLivesMatter is significant.
There have been a number of helpful analogies and cartoons to help explain this to people who don’t understand it. One of those being the idea of sitting in a funeral and having someone shout out, “All Deaths Matter!’ Of course all deaths matter, but in this particular moment the focus is on the one that has happened now.
If the story from America had been a black cop with his knee on a white man’s throat we would have all been really surprised. But the shocking part of this incident it that as horrific as it was, it was not really surprising. That is the kind of violence against black people in America we have come to expect from the police. It started being brought into the public eye a lot more [it was always happening before, this is one mistake we can make – as Will Smith said, ‘Racism is not getting worse, it’s getting filmed’] with the Trayvon Martin incident in 2012 and then Eric Garner in 2014 [another black man who called out “I can’t breathe!” eleven times while a policeman was watching him] and countless others since.
All lives matter, but white people have never had to protest to try and gain mattering for their lives.
Join the Movement
i hope that’s enough, i don’t want this one to be too long. Can you see how with a significant protest like “Black Lives Matter” which is trying to raise awareness and bring change on such an important issue, any time that someone cries out “All Lives Matter” or holds up a “White Lives Matter” poster it causes distraction and removes focus from where it needs to be.
As someone who deeply believes that All Lives Matter, are you able to shift your focus just for the moment to some lives that clearly matter less and need more attention? When you go to the hospital because you broke your arm, even though every part of your body matters, you forget about that for a couple of hours while you ask the doctor to really focus on that fact that #ThisBrokenArmMatters.
For Jesus followers who have been trying to understand this concept i read an excellent article this morning with the focus on #HellenistWidowsMatter which is just one more story for you to read to try and understand this.
Once you understand this though, i encourage you to take the time to help someone else who may be stuck with the #AllLivesMatter thinking. i spoke about how this can distract from the important work at hand. One way we can help is by committing to help remove those obstacles where we encounter them.
It might be helpful for you to read this post on why being colourblind is not the answer to the race issues we have in our country and in the world. After that you might want to work through this list of ’40 Tips for white people asking “But what can I do?”‘ as a number of people have been picking up during lockdown to try and educate themselves and also learn how we can do and be better together. they may not all apply to you, but there may be one or two in there you will find helpful.
This is something all of us have to be working on. Black [and brown] lives have not mattered as much as white lives in South Africa since forever. We have to be part of changing that story and lived reality so that we can move to a time where it is obvious to everyone that All Lives Matter.