Yesterday, Hillary Clinton stood in a church near Ferguson, MO and uttered the words #AllLivesMatter, which engendered enough groans and pushback to indicate that she made a huge misstep. However, the statement has also rekindled the question of “what’s so wrong with #AllLivesMatter in the first place?” Which is an question that needs to be addressed for good.
If you’ve shared a #BlackLivesMatter status on your social networks over the course of the last year or so, then you’ve undoubtedly encountered someone responding with #AllLivesMatter or “all deaths are sad,” or “it’s about more than race.” I get it. It’s sad when people die and we should try to preserve all lives. But, man, you have to be a special kind of a$$hole to respond to #BlackLivesMatter with #AllLivesMatter.
There are generally two sets of people who say #AllLivesMatter: 1) Racists who are purposefully trying to diminish the lives of Black men and women murdered in America. 2) People who want to be well-intentioned who don’t understand why #AllLivesMatter is insulting to just about everyone else.
Let’s focus on people in the second group here (because there’s nothing I can explain to the first group to get them to be not racist).
#BlackLivesMatter was a specific phrase and slogan created with the distinct goal of bringing attention to the Black lives taken away by violent racism in America. It’s a reminder that these deaths should be treated as tragic losses instead of dismissed as justified acts. It’s a phrase used to raise aware of the desire to be treated as equal to the rest of America – or at the very least the desire to not be murdered in cold blood by racists.
And in a vacuum, the idea of every life being important regardless of race or gender is obviously one everyone should get behind. But #AllLivesMatter isn’t said in a vacuum. It’s said in response to #BlackLivesMatter. So saying #AllLivesMatter literally erases the “Black” from the discussion. It rhetorically and symbolically erases Blackness from a discussion that began as a cry for acknowledgement of Black lives. This is co-opting and further erasure of Blackness. Especially in light of the fact that “All” is a euphemism for “White people.” Without saying explicitly, “this is about Black people,” then Blackness will continue to get ignored. #AllLivesMatter is an act of silence. And silence is compliance. Compliance is dangerous.
By using a phrase with the same rhetorical composition as #BlackLivesMatter, you’re creating a hashtag that directly responds and acts to antagonize. You’re not saying “I respect all lives.” You’re saying “this movement cry is better and more effective than the original.” Which only acts to criticize the ideal of #BlackLivesMatter.
Imagine being at a loved one’s funeral, stepping to the podium to pay respects and deliver the eulogy. Then as soon as you start speaking, someone yells from the back, “I’VE HAD FAMILY MEMBERS DIE, TOO!”
Imagine getting diagnosed with cancer, sharing the news with your friend and your friend responding with “Well, AIDS is horrible, too.”
I’d like to think that any respectable person wouldn’t act like that – which is exactly how you sound yelling #AllLivesMatter.
By bringing up #AllLivesMatter in response to #BlackLivesMatter, you’re imposing your own pseudo-crusade onto someone else’s mourning space. You’re saying, “mourn about something I care about, now, too.” This reaction isn’t fair. It’s also incredibly selfish. You wouldn’t yell about your dead uncle at someone else’s funeral, so keep that #AllLivesMatter hashtag to yourself.
One of the beautiful aspects of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag is that it causes people to face race and racism in this country. All deaths are unfortunate, but this specific movement is about the very real and very urgent fact that Black men and women are getting murdered by racists in a country that promotes racism and racist ideals. This is an uncomfortable fact for America to face. But it’s necessary. For there to be any racial progress, racism has to be recognized. And yelling #AllLivesMatter is just an attempt to continue ignoring racism and White perpetuation of violence against Black people in America.
It’s like #AllLivesMatter is the new “My family didn’t own slaves” (which never made sense to me because my family never owned mansions but it didn’t mean we never wanted to really, really badly); just a way to exonerate oneself from a discussion of race and any obligation to address any personal role in its continuance. If your initial reaction to #BlackLivesMatter is to say that All Lives Matter, then it’s time to take a introspective look at what’s causing that impulse. The answer might be uncomfortable and scary. But gravely necessary. Otherwise, you’ll just keep using #AllLivesMatter…and continue sounding like an a-hole.