How to Respond to Someone When They Say ‘All Lives Matter’
As the movement against police brutality and systemic racism towards the Black community grows, you’ve no doubt heard the rally cry that ‘Black Lives Matter’ in the fight to end of violence and demand equality for all Black people. And, with the rise of ‘Black Lives Matter,’ a counter slogan was formed that not only confuses the story being told but tries to silence it: ‘All Lives Matter.’
So, if you’re unsure about what ‘Black Lives Matter’ means, how to respond to someone when they say ‘All Lives Matter’ or just curious to know why saying ALM doesn’t benefit anyone, let us explain.
What does ‘Black Lives Matter’ mean?
The phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ is simple. Black people shouldn’t be an afterthought, especially when they are dying, assaulted or prosecuted at an alarming rate due to the color of their skin. The statement is not political or controversial. It’s an expression that calls out for justice, respect and empathy for every life that has been affected by discrimination, prejudice and misrepresentation for centuries. Point blank: It’s raising awareness for basic human rights.
The phrase became a trending social hashtag after unarmed Black teen Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman in 2012. The global organization Black Lives Matter was founded a year later after Zimmerman was acquitted for his crimes.
Since then, the organization has expanded on the meaning of BLM and stated their mission is "to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes. By combating and countering acts of violence, creating space for Black imagination and innovation, and centering Black joy, we are winning immediate improvements in our lives."
While the tragedy of Trayvon Martin sparked national change, the fight against police brutality and systemic racism continued. Two years after the organization was created, unarmed Black teen Michael Brown was shot six times by police officer Darren Wilson, who was not indicted on any charges in Ferguson, Missouri. Eric Garner died from a chokehold in New York City by police the same year. Since 2014, many Black people have died in the hands of the police. Recently George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and many more countless individuals have sparked growing movements with many shouting enough is enough, Black Lives Matter.
But if the growing movement and the phrase still feels off-putting to some, U.S. policies, law, tradition and history have shown to disproportionally favor white people, leaving Black people to suffer greatly. Just look at some recent stats below:
- Healthcare. Black and Brown Americans are more likely to live in a heavily effected COVID-19 neighborhood, test positive for COVID-19 or die due to the pandemic. These numbers have to do with the lack of resources, tests and how the majority essential workers are BIPOC.
- Pop culture. Remember #OscarsSoWhite? In 2015, 86 percent of top films featured white actors in a lead role while all 20 nominations were given to white actors. This instance doesn't even account for lack of representation in television, music and more.
- Discrimination in the workplace. Work pay gap, lack of BIPOC in leadership positions, and microaggressions are just a few of the many discriminations Black individuals have to go through. Just a year ago, the Crown Act was passed in California to prevent discrimination based on hair texture (and only three other states have adopted this law.)
‘Black Lives Matter’ is not just a hashtag or slogan. Black lives should always matter even outside of a social media post and we can’t stress enough that when we say ‘Black Lives Matter’ we are including ALL Black lives (young, old, Afro-Latinx, biracial, trans, non-binary, gender non-conforming, to highlight a few). It’s important to understand that this is not the first movement to spread awareness for Black lives and people are and will continue to fight for equality and the end of violence against Black people.
So, what’s wrong with ‘All Lives Matter’?
It’s a Weaponized Phrase Meant to Silence the Oppressed
Don’t get us wrong, all lives do matter. Or, at least they should. The reason BLM exists is because systemic racism, police brutality and murder against the Black community show over and over again that Black lives don’t seem to matter. So, a person who says ‘All Lives Matter’ is actually proving the point that Black people continue to be a second thought in bigger issues.
It’s Racially Gaslighting
Not only that, but the phrase ‘All Lives Matter’ is specifically weaponized to silence the call for justice and equality that created the Black Lives Matter movement in the first place. The phrase might feel like it’s uniting us, but it’s actually dividing the country even more. It’s even an example of racial gaslighting, a tactic used to make marginalized communities question their reality, stance on an issue or overall their ideals because it's denying something that’s true—the racism is real and it is hurting—even killing—Black people.
It’s Basic Logic
Also, in its most simple form, it’s a logic issue. All lives can’t matter if Black lives don’t. If it were actually true that we live in a world where ‘All Lives Matter,’ then that would mean saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ shouldn’t feel like a uncomfortable expression. But, because we know that Black lives do not experience equality or justice in this country, we know that all lives cannot logically matter if Black lives don’t. So, in order to make ‘All Lives Matter’ true, you would have to say ‘Black Lives Matter’ first.
One more time for the people in the back
OK, so you’re basically saying all lives don’t matter? Again all lives should matter. But when we say ‘Black Lives Matter’, we are stating that their lives need to matter just as much as yours. As much as we wished the American Dream to be true, not everyone gets the same opportunities, resources, respect and overall privilege, especially when it comes to color of their skin.
How can I respond to someone if they say ‘All Lives Matter’?
1. Provide them with the facts.
Some people want straight up facts, so hit 'em with the numbers. Take time to educate others and point them to where they can get more information on these issues. Here are a few to get you started:
- According to Pew Research, Black households have only 10 cents in wealth for every dollar held by white households.
- According to The Washington Post, Black Americans are twice as likely to get killed by police than white Americans.
- According to a Guardian study, while African American males between the ages of 15-34 make up 2 percent of the total population, they are five times more likely to die from a police-involved incident.
2. ‘All houses matter’ metaphor.
Sometimes people need some visuals or simple metaphors to understand the issue with the phrase. Inspired by Kris Straub and Talib Kweli Greene, Given Sharp created a humorous yet informative way to explain the difference between BLM and ALM...in terms of houses. If someone’s house is burning and needs help putting it out, it seems pretty silly to say ‘Well, what about my house?’ While your house does matter, right now one house is currently on fire and needs help now. This type of metaphor can work on just about anything.
3. Let them explain.
So, they’re not budging on their stance on All Lives Matter then let them prove to you that it actually does matter. While people are fighting for Black lives, what are they doing to make sure ALL lives matter? What causes are they currently advocating for? Healthcare for all? LGBTQ+ rights? Immigration reform?
If they believe All Lives Matter then that means they are including Black lives. So, what have they been doing to make sure Black lives are included in the conversation. Are they fighting against mass incarceration when it comes to getting African American men out of jail for minor crimes like marijuana possession? How about looking into police brutality and understanding why people are suggesting to defund the police? What are they doing to bring awareness to the fact that Black transgender womxn are being killed at an alarming rate? What about mental health resources for Black and Brown individuals?
Overall, this gives people the chance to really think about the phrase ‘All Lives Matter’ and keep in mind that their words should open up a bigger discussion on the actions being made to give everyone a chance at a better life.
It’s not going to be easy to convince someone to change their mind. It might be a lost cause or it might just open someone’s mind to reconsider using the phrase. But overall, learning and educating yourself and others can be the first step in understanding why the movement is so important.