So, the other day, I saw a banner posted in front of a church or a school that said “Black Lives Matter”. It had been vandalized, spray painted to replace the word Black with All, which appeared on other spots on the banner.
Now, I’m white, so I lack the understanding born of experience for what a black person goes through in a typical American lifetime. One could even argue that I have no horse in this race whatsoever. But seeing that vandalism, hearing the “All Lives Matter” thing irks me a bit. And I want to try to explain why.
Fair warning, though… I lack knowledge and experience about these matters and am really just trying to piece together gut reactions to these events, so I may say something silly or fail to explain myself very well. But bear with me.
Seeing the vandalism of the banner made me realize that my biggest issue with “All Lives Matter” is that it denies that black lives matter at all.
Do all lives matter? Every person born into this world should have a shot at living it, and their lives have value until their actions rescind that value (such as murder or some other such egregious crime). Even then, no one should be gunned down in the street unless it is to immediately protect people from imminent threats. Even mass murderers deserve trials and the justice of the law. Whether that justice leads to death or not is a whole different argument. The point is, you won’t find many, and hopefully any, sane people disagreeing with the statement “all lives matter.”
But in America, all lives are not currently suffering systemic and violent injustices.
“Black Lives Matter” started because the black community is tired of seeing the government, via its law enforcement agencies that are intended to serve and protect Americans, kill its members, both young and old, when said members were of no threat or danger. Sure, go ahead, argue about Michael Brown. His death may have started the movement, but his is not the only grievance. Even if you think Officer Darren Wilson was justified in killing Brown, it would be EXTREMELY difficult to argue that the killings of Tamir Rice, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner or many others made any sense.
Feel free to argue that it’s not systemic, they’re just well publicized occurrences across many separate areas that are simply coincidental. Feel free to argue that cops shoot unarmed white people and people of other races, too. Feel free to disagree with their tactics or what happened with Bernie Sanders. Feel free to talk about how blacks have a higher statistic of homicide and how gang violence is a much bigger issue and blah blah blah blah blah. I don’t really care about those arguments. This isn’t about those things. This isn’t about whether or not “Black Lives Matter” is “right” or “logical” or “efficient” or “inappropriate” or whatever. You can have your opinion on those matters. My problem is the desire to force their movement to be quiet and/or change.
Seeing that vandalized banner made me realize why I really have an issue with “All Lives Matter” other than the immensely condescending and hateful way I’ve heard SO MANY PEOPLE say it in. The black community in America, by and large, feels this is an issue for them that deserves to be addressed. Good for them. It’s an issue that may help everyone by bringing to light over-militarization of police forces, poor training, aggression and psychological issues in the police force at large, etc. “Black Lives Matter” may indeed be a positive force for all lives. But the real issue I have is that crossing out black and replacing it with all is basically saying that they’re wrong.
Black lives don’t matter. Your suffering isn’t special. Your shared grief means nothing. Don’t pretend you’re better.
That’s what it feels like to me. Some will argue, “It’s about equality!” But “Black Lives Matter” is about justice. And those are two different things. There’s a picture I’ve seen on Facebook that shows three different sized people – one short, one average, one tall – all looking over a fence at a ball game. Equality gives everyone a single box to stand on… which means the short person cannot see over the fence to the game. Justice takes the box the tall person doesn’t need and gives it to the short person so everyone can view the game equally. Changing “Black Lives Matter” from an argument of justice to one of equality completely throws their grievances out the window.
We don’t ask people raising awareness for breast cancer to say “All cancers matter!” Or raising awareness for ALS to say “All diseases and debilitating conditions matter!” Again, you won’t find a sane person that says they don’t, by and large. It’s about a cause, pushing for a cause, finding justice for a cause and seeking solutions for that cause.
Black people aren’t saying they’re better than you when they say “Black Lives Matter.” They’re saying they want to live in a world where they don’t feel the need to remind people that they matter.
We should all be able to agree. Black lives do matter. Every human life matters. But right now, “Black Lives Matter” matters. Taking that away and trying to change it is telling them to shut up. And if you can’t see why that’s wrong, then you’re one of the reasons “Black Lives Matter” is sticking around.