Saturday, July 09, 2016

"All Lives Matter" Is A Racist Dismissal Of Black Americans

Ever since the unwarranted killing of a Black man in Ferguson (Missouri), there has been rising public understanding of how racism still exists in our justice system -- and specifically among too many of this countries police departments. That killing was far from the first killing by police of an unarmed Black man, but it was sort of a tipping point, and started a movement called "Black Lives Matter".

Sadly, that movement has not stopped those unwarranted killings of Blacks by police. We have been reminded of that this week with the deaths of Philander Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Louisiana. And it seems that nothing is being done as the deaths continue through this institutional racism.

But one of the most disappointing responses to the Black Lives Matter movement has been the emergence of "All Lives Matter". On the surface it seems like a reasonable thing, but it isn't. It is dismissive of the problem of Black lives not meaning as much as other lives in this country. It is a defense of the status quo. And it is racist. Of course, "all lives" should matter, but the sad fact is that all lives don't seem to matter in this country -- Black lives seem to matter less, and that must be fixed.

One of the better responses to the ridiculous "All Lives Matter" thing was written by a commenter on Reddit. It's only 5 paragraphs long, but succinctly explains how "All Lives Matters" just glosses over the problem without attempting to solve it. Here is what that commenter wrote:

Imagine that you’re sitting down to dinner with your family, and while everyone else gets a serving of the meal, you don’t get any. So you say “I should get my fair share.” And as a direct response to this, your dad corrects you, saying, “everyone should get their fair share.” Now, that’s a wonderful sentiment — indeed, everyone should, and that was kinda your point in the first place: that you should be a part of everyone, and you should get your fair share also. However, dad’s smart-ass comment just dismissed you and didn’t solve the problem that you still haven’t gotten any!

The problem is that the statement “I should get my fair share” had an implicit “too” at the end: “I should get my fair share, too, just like everyone else.” But your dad’s response treated your statement as though you meant “only I should get my fair share”, which clearly was not your intention. As a result, his statement that “everyone should get their fair share,” while true, only served to ignore the problem you were trying to point out.

That’s the situation of the “black lives matter” movement. Culture, laws, the arts, religion, and everyone else repeatedly suggest that all lives should matter. Clearly, that message already abounds in our society.

The problem is that, in practice, the world doesn’t work that way. You see the film Nightcrawler? You know the part where Renee Russo tells Jake Gyllenhal that she doesn’t want footage of a black or latino person dying, she wants news stories about affluent white people being killed? That’s not made up out of whole cloth — there is a news bias toward stories that the majority of the audience (who are white) can identify with. So when a young black man gets killed (prior to the recent police shootings), it’s generally not considered “news”, while a middle-aged white woman being killed is treated as news. And to a large degree, that is accurate — young black men are killed in significantly disproportionate numbers, which is why we don’t treat it as anything new. But the result is that, societally, we don’t pay as much attention to certain people’s deaths as we do to others. So, currently, we don’t treat all lives as though they matter equally.

Just like asking dad for your fair share, the phrase “black lives matter” also has an implicit “too” at the end: it’s saying that black lives should also matter. But responding to this by saying “all lives matter” is willfully going back to ignoring the problem. It’s a way of dismissing the statement by falsely suggesting that it means “only black lives matter,” when that is obviously not the case. And so saying “all lives matter” as a direct response to “black lives matter” is essentially saying that we should just go back to ignoring the problem.


Having said that, I must also say that violence is not a solution (for either side). The murder of five police officers in Dallas (and wounding of seven others) by a sniper does not help. It is wrong and criminal behavior, and must be condemned by all Americans (regardless of race or color).

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