The rallying cry has been plastered across protest signs and echoed online by people drawing attention to racial injustice.
But many people showing their support for the movement have been met with the same response: “All Lives Matter”. It’s there in social media comments, and in speeches by politicians and media commentators.
People who use the phrase seem to have good intentions, most of the time; they seem to be advocating for equality. But even if we assume good intent, that particular argument shows that there’s room for better understanding about what the Black Lives Matter movement actually represents.
And that’s a discussion white people desperately need to be having.
How Trump is fanning the flames of discontent in the US. Post continues after podcast.
If we’re actually interested in equality and in being allies to people of colour, we have to do our own heavy lifting. It’s on us to seek out as many black perspectives and voices and stories as we can. We must read wider, think deeper, learn what ‘Black Lives Matter’ truly means, and interrogate what message it sends when privileged communities respond, ‘what about us?’
Chances are you will come across someone arguing the ‘All Lives Matter’ point in the coming weeks, so let’s take a look at how to have a productive conversation with them.
“Black Lives Matter began as a call to action in response to state-sanctioned violence and anti-Black racism. Our intention from the very beginning was to connect Black people from all over the world who have a shared desire for justice to act together in their communities. The impetus for that commitment was, and still is, the rampant and deliberate violence inflicted on us by the state…
“In the years since, we’ve committed to struggling together and to imagining and creating a world free of anti-Blackness, where every Black person has the social, economic, and political power to thrive.”
For more information about the movement, visit the website here.
‘Ok. But what’s wrong with saying “all lives matter”? It’s true isn’t it?’
Of course it is. In fact, the Black Lives Matter movement is all about reaching a place where all lives are valued equally.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case for black people in many parts of the world, including the USA and Australia.
Black American men, for example, are 2.5 times more likely to be shot by police than white American men. And in Minneapolis, where George Floyd died last month after a police officer restrained him by placing a knee on his neck, police use force against black people at least seven times the rate of white people.
So, when the phrase ‘all lives matter’ is used in response to a ‘Black Lives Matter’ message, it can seem like those kinds of inequalities are being dismissed or minimised.
‘Saying “Black Lives Matter” is exclusionary.’
By saying ‘Black Lives Matter’, no one is suggesting that other lives don’t. The word “only” isn’t anywhere in the phrase.
Take a look at what the founders of the movement say: “In affirming that Black Lives Matter, we need not qualify our position. To love and desire freedom and justice for ourselves is a prerequisite for wanting the same for others.”
The black community achieving that ‘freedom and justice’ doesn’t mean the rest will miss out; freedom and justice are not finite resources.