As I am a middle-aged white guy, you may choose to take this with the proverbial grain of salt—but I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and wanted to add my perspective. So…
Another day, another ALL lives matter! meme on social media. Often, this comes from the ‘conservative’ part of the political spectrum; sometimes, it comes from well-meaning folk who truly believe that all lives do matter.
My take on the #alllivesmatter response to #blacklivesmatter is that people are misinterpreting—if not outright missing—the unspoken subtext at work here. #blacklivesmatter is not saying ‘black lives matter more than everyone else’s’, but ‘black lives matter just as much as yours, so you should treat us that way’ (or, if you want a more concise version, ‘black lives matter, too’). I don’t think that’s at all unreasonable; if white people did view the lives of people of color as being just as important as their own, a lot of the things we’re seeing in the news these days might not be happening.
Yes, in the grand scheme of things, all lives do matter, and that is a worthy goal to aspire to. But, in practice, it seems that (to paraphrase the well-known line from Orwell’s 1984) some lives matter more than others. That’s what #blacklivesmatter is a response to.
In that respect, it’s no different from the Occupy movement, in which ‘the 99%’ raised their voices in protest to point out that those who are not super-rich are as important as those who are super-rich and can use their wealth to essentially dictate the laws and policies that govern the rest of us.
It’s people who have been getting the shit end of the stick for too long standing up and demanding to be acknowledged for their humanity. By lumping them in with those who won’t treat them as equals in the first place, deflecting that with all lives matter suggests a refusal to make that acknowledgement.
(15 August 2015)