Some reflection on “All Lives Matter”

Some thoughts from steering committee member Tom Blanford, “This is an interesting and pretty straight forward argument on the “black lives matter”  “all lives matter” controversy.  It is unfortunately anonymous, and was part of a very long blog discussion.  I included the link to the reddit forum in which it is found.”

Imagine that you’re sitting down to dinner with your family, and while everyone else gets a serving of the meal, you don’t get any. So you say “I should get my fair share.” And as a direct response to this, your dad corrects you, saying, “everyone should get their fair share.” Now, that’s a wonderful sentiment — indeed, everyone should, and that was kinda your point in the first place: that you should be a part of everyone, and you should get your fair share also. However, dad’s smart-ass comment just dismissed you and didn’t solve the problem that you still haven’t gotten any!

The problem is that the statement “I should get my fair share” had an implicit “too” at the end: “I should get my fair share, too, just like everyone else.” But your dad’s response treated your statement as though you meant “only I should get my fair share”, which clearly was not your intention. As a result, his statement that “everyone should get their fair share,” while true, only served to ignore the problem you were trying to point out.

That’s the situation of the “black lives matter” movement. Culture, laws, the arts, religion, and everyone else repeatedly suggest that all lives should matter. Clearly, that message already abounds in our society.

The problem is that, in practice, the world doesn’t work the way. You see the film Nightcrawler? You know the part where Renee Russo tells Jake Gyllenhal that she doesn’t want footage of a black or latino person dying, she wants news stories about affluent white people being killed? That’s not made up out of whole cloth — there is a news bias toward stories that the majority of the audience (who are white) can identify with. So when a young black man gets killed (prior to the recent police shootings), it’s generally not considered “news”, while a middle-aged white woman being killed is treated as news. And to a large degree, that is accurate — young black men are killed in significantly disproportionate numbers, which is why we don’t treat it as anything new. But the result is that, societally, we don’t pay as much attention to certain people’s deaths as we do to others. So, currently, we don’t treat all lives as though they matter equally.

Just like asking dad for your fair share, the phrase “black lives matter” also has an implicit “too” at the end: it’s saying that black lives should also matter. But responding to this by saying “all lives matter” is willfully going back to ignoring the problem. It’s a way of dismissing the statement by falsely suggesting that it means “only black lives matter,” when that is obviously not the case. And so saying “all lives matter” as a direct response to “black lives matter” is essentially saying that we should just go back to ignoring the problem.

TL;DR: The phrase “Black lives matter” carries an implicit “too” at the end; it’s saying that black lives should also matter. Saying “all lives matter” is dismissing the very problems that the phrase is trying to draw attention to

editor’s notes: There is some strong language in the comments. Also, TL;DR means “too long, didn’t read” and is a shorthand used to precede a summary of the text.

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2 Responses to Some reflection on “All Lives Matter”

  1. Doug Keenh says:

    I certainly understand the “black lives matter” impetus and the numbers don’t lie about who has been killed and who has not. I saw an interesting report the other day on CNN that showed that 23 police officers had been murdered in the last year, 4 of whom were black and one of whom was a woman. Having a nephew on local police force, I fear for his life each day he is on duty. In a cynical interpretation of the “black lives matter movement”, it seems to have given frustrated people the right to try to even the score. I feel certain that that is not the intent of this movement but may be an unintended consequence.

  2. womynrev says:

    It is most certainly not the intent, and I think that in the mainstream conversation, it is easily used as a way to derail the conversation. I, too, know local police, and fear for their lives. I think that the most important thing we can do as supporters of Black Lives Matter is understand that this is a complex situation and help people understand that we’re talking about a systemic problem which requires fixing, and not vilifying individuals.

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