The Problem with Saying ÔAll Lives MatterÕ

There's a difference between "true" and "helpful."

BY TYLER HUCKABEE POLITICS / CURRENT July 06, 2016

Imagine that you wake up late one night to the sound of your home being burglarized. Through the crack in your bedroom door, you see several figures hauling out your television, computers and nice china to their getaway car parked outside.

Thinking quickly, you dial 911 on your iPhone.

“911, what’s your emergency?”

“Help!” you whisper. “My home is being robbed!”

“Stay where you are, Miss,” the other voice assures you. “We’ll look into it.”

“Thank you,” you whisper. “My address is—”

“Woah, Ma’am,” the voice on the other end says. “Why are you bringing addresses into this?”

“What?” you say. “My home is being robbed! Aren’t you going to come and stop them?”

“Well, I don’t know why you need to make this about your home, ma’am,” the operator says. “All houses matter.”

There is a difference between something being true and something being relevant. In the above conversation with an imaginary 911 operator, what he was saying was very true. All houses do matter. But at the moment, it wasn’t relevant. It wasn’t even helpful. All things considered, it was downright dangerous. You had an actual crisis going on at your house—that’s why your house mattered. While the operator was lecturing you on how important all houses are, bandits were trying to figure out whether they could get all your stuff in one load or if they’d have to make two trips.

It’s the same error people who respond to “Black Lives Matter” with “All Lives Matter” are making. It’s not that what they’re saying isn’t true. It’s just that it’s unhelpful. It’s an attempt to erase an actual crisis under the guise of being fair. And by continuing to use “All Lives Matter” to drown out the cry of “Black Lives Matter,” the real problems the movement is trying to address are being ignored. “All Lives Matter” is useless. It is destructive. It is hurtful. We need to stop saying it.

Black Lives Matter

Following the death of Trayvon Martin, three women named Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi began tweeting #blacklivesmatter. What started as a hashtag became an ethos, and has transcended Twitter to become a true movement, one of the most forceful and ubiquitous of this young century.

It has no official leaders or spokespeople. There’s no agreed upon charter. The only thing being insisted upon is the value of black lives. As the website has it, it’s “a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-black racism that permeates our society.”

The idea that racism remains a very real reality in America is contentious, but it shouldn’t be. The studies proving anti-black racism remains a common, if not foundational reality of everyday American life are too numerous to cite in one article, so we’ll go with just a few.

We might as well begin with pre-school. Black children make up 18 percent of America’s preschool population, but represent nearly half of all out-of-school suspensions. This treatment continues into the court system, where black children are 18 times more likely to be tried as adults than their white peers. It also extends to the job market, in which white college graduates are twice as likely to land a job as black college graduates. We haven’t even gotten to the justice system yet, in which black people are given 20 percent longer sentences than white people are for the same crimes.

(For more on institutional racism, go read every word of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration.”)

Context Matters

These numbers could go on and on, but even if they didn’t, it should be clear that the people who say racism remains a real, frequent reality in America have their heads on straight. They are not making this up. Those who suggest that black people are imagining racism aren’t just devaluing someone else’s experience—they’re ignoring the plain facts.

It was in the face of these facts that #blacklivesmatter sprung, but now anywhere that cry is heard, you can be sure that someone else will come along with the rebuttal: “All Lives Matter.”

It certainly sounds reasonable enough and in most contexts, it would be. But the thing is, when people say “Black Lives Matter,” they are acknowledging an important context that involves several centuries of slavery, civil rights, mass incarceration and brutality. It’s specifically highlighting the value of black lives because, historically, this country has often ignored that value.

The problem is “All Lives Matter” is that it ignores context. Like the 911 operator who doesn’t understand why you’re worried about your own house. Or, as The Daily Beast’s Arthur Chu says, like someone who “runs through a cancer fundraiser screaming ‘THERE ARE OTHER DISEASES TOO.’” The context of “Black Lives Matter” is not that other lives don’t. The context of “Black Lives Matter” is that the value of black lives remains under assault in the United States.

Love Matters

When a parent says, “I love my son,” you don’t say, “What about your daughter? Don’t you love all your children?”

When the president says “God bless America,” we don’t say, “Shouldn’t God bless all countries?”

And when a person says “Black Lives Matter,” we should not say “All Lives Matter.” It is an attempt to to diminish the ongoing reality of white supremacy in America. It’s effectively a way of demeaning other people’s stories, like Job’s friends who kept trying to point to the bigger picture of God’s ultimate plan instead of truly listening to Job and mourning his grief. It is rude. It is hurtful. It is dismissive. And it has to stop.

And yes, some people who associate themselves with #blacklivesmatter have called for police deaths. Some Christians have called for abortion clinics to be bombed. The cries of a few fringe groups do not invalidate an entire movement, thank God.

So when you hear the words “Black Lives Matter,” don’t be so quick to assume it’s a judgement about white lives. Instead, see “Black Lives Matter” for what it is: a rallying cry to make a difference and take down the unjust status quo that holds racial equality at bay in America. You can join the movement and commit yourself to the social and economic liberation of black people, or you can choose to stand on the sidelines. But don’t silence the cry with the words “All Lives Matter.” This is an emergency.

A version of this article originally appeared in October 2015.

TYLER HUCKABEE

Tyler Huckabee is a writer living in Nashville TN.

8 thoughts on “The Problem with Saying ‘All Lives Matter’

  1. Although, not denying there are serious issues within this country, This article doesn’t mention the fact that Black on Black crime is an epidemic. A black person is exponentially more likely to be a victim of ANY crime perpetrated by another black person. But yet for some reason when an officer is doing his job, or when a person defends himself if it happens to be against a black person its all of a sudden racist… BUT yet when a black officer shoots and kills unarmed white man, its a misunderstanding, or when a Black student body slams his 60 year old teacher, its a misguided youth… When we fail to see both sides of the story, sure it looks racist, but when you look at the incidents, you see a Black youth with no respect for authority, you see a black youth assaulting someone, you see a black youth committing a crime with no regard for anyone around them… And for some reason anyone trying to stop them or prevent their actions is racist… Sure there are racist people, but every-time a black person is killed by someone other another black person I don’t want to see the black lives matter hashtag, or the story on nation news because most likely the consequences were a direct result of the black youths actions

  2. #FukAllLivesMatter. How much money has #All Lives Matter Gotten for the families of Caucasians illicitly targeted, shot, and killed by members of the Fraternal order of the police after it started? Zero dollars and zero cents. How many cases have been pressed and prosecuted in court under their banner? Zero. How many marches held? Zero besides racist Glenn Beck. The Caucasians talking this #All Lives Matter are the same notorious wanna-bes the “Black” community has made them out to be. They don’t ride for their causes. They are a bunch of posers. A buncha fronters. A group of biters. The world knows it, and I, for one, encourage the WORLD not fooled by their heartless, dynamic-less, sophomoric efforts. #FukAllLivesMatter. #BlackLivesMatter.

  3. Black Lives Matter is a hate group. Christians should support Peacemakers, not those who chant ” What do we want? DEAD COPS!When do we want it? NOW!”
    They are the antithesis of everything Dr. King promoted and believed. The are a branch of the New Black Panther Party, and their supporters celebrated the death of the Dallas cops on twitter. All the proof you need is here:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJHvppVEBTY

  4. I have to wonder what Jesus would say and do in the middle of this conversation. After he contributed to the conversation, I’d also guess that many of us (myself included) would find ourselves dropping a stone and walking away in some capacity or another (John 8:1-11) or choosing to serve the oppressed rather than argue with them (Matt. 25:31-46).

    The places where people didn’t want to get involved are the places where Jesus stepped in and breathed love, hope, life, unity, etc… To be honest, I’ve probably [ignorantly] leaned a little more toward “All Lives Matter” and I’m feeling more and more compelled to just sit and listen to (1) the words of Jesus and (2) the words of people who are experiencing injustice. My gut tells me that Jesus would probably defend the oppressed…my Bible tells me the same.

    I’m quite certain that our good Father is deeply grieved by the division he sees. In John 17, Jesus prayed for unity among his followers so that an onlooking world would see something different. The church is deeply divided on this, and it’s not how it should be. We should be at the forefront of the conversation and the forefront of reconciliation.

    I long for the day to come when things are made right and we get to experience the “great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb…(Revelation 7)” In a place where “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” And where “He who was seated on the throne said, “I am am making everything new (Revelation 21).”

    We as Christians have been given the authority to bring heaven to earth. I reckon it’s about time we walked in that power.

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