First of all, there's the context it is being used in. A Saint Louis-area minister, for example, wrote of a "Black Lives Matter" sign being defaced with "All Lives Matter" written on the front and a racial slur written on the back. The fact that "All Lives Matter" is being used to argue against the idea that Black lives matter is proof that (1) People spreading that slogan don't really believe Black lives matter, at least not equally, and (2) It's therefore not true that all lives do matter equally in their eyes. The statement's use belies itself. If all lives matter, then black lives matter, so why the argument? Why the comeback? The comeback proves that statement false, and proves it for what it is -- a response born of fear and racism.
Secondly, rushing to proclaim equality in the face of a stated injustice is a gross minimization of the very real struggles and injustices faced by African Americans in our country. To respond to "Black Lives Matter" with "All Lives Matter" is a response that minimizes, with its proclamation of equality, the current inequalities experienced.
We've created a culture that says that if you're scared, it's okay to kill somebody, and it's completely reasonable to be scared of a black man, because all black men are scary, therefore they're at fault when they're killed, and the fact that they were killed while unarmed doesn't really matter. In our culture, black men are routinely killed for being scary -- scary because they "look like a thug," scary because they're wearing a hoodie, scary because they're holding a toy gun or a BB gun, scary because they might have stolen some cigarettes. The response to this culture has to be to begin by proclaiming that these lives matter -- Black lives matter.
Lastly, the "All Lives Matter" response has been used specifically in rallies organized to support Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Michael Brown. On the surface, that seems to be a statement just supporting that police lives matter, too. And the lives of our police officers do matter. But use of the slogan in support of someone who has killed another person again supports the idea that some lives matter and some lives don't, like the one that was lost. Use of the slogan in this context says, "There's no way that this officer could have done wrong. We support him without question." And to say that there's no way in which this could have been anything else other than an officer doing his job takes us back again to the idea that black men are scary, bad, and if they get killed, it had to have been their fault.
In short, the "All Lives Matter" slogan, with every usage, contradicts its message. If one truly believes that all lives matter, then what's important right now is to proclaim loudly that Black lives matter. Michael Brown's life matters.
|Photo from mid-day 11/24/14 of the location |
where Michael Brown was shot -- by Tom Schade.