Friday, July 8, 2016

What's Wrong with "All Lives Matter"

You don't need me to tell you about the horrific events of this week. We all watched the videos of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile being killed at close range by police officers. We haven't heard the story from the officers' points of view yet, but the videos seem pretty damning. They seem to show two more shootings of black men who posed no immediate threat to the cops who shot them. Horrible. What's more horrible is that if these cases follow form the cops will probably be exonerated. I'm still shaking my head over Freddie Gray - did the man break his own back? So far, none of the cops involved have been held accountable, although there are still more trials coming. Many similar instances have given rise to a movement that birthed the slogan, "Black Lives Matter." It's not okay to shoot African Americans who pose no immediate threat and get away with it because black lives matter. Seems pretty straightforward to me.

So why is it that more often than not, at least in some circles, when I say "black lives matter" someone answers "all lives matter"?

To those who have answered this way, I pose the following questions:

What do you mean by "all lives matter"?
What do you think I mean by "black lives matter"?
And really, why does any of this matter?

When I say "black lives matter," and you say, "all lives matter," do you think I mean "black lives matter more than any other lives?" I think you must. So let me explain with an example I've heard somewhere along the way:

Say there are a row of houses and the house on the end is on fire. The other houses are in no immediate danger, but, being a fair minded person, I proceed to spray all the houses with water. While I do this the house on the end, the one that is actually on fire, burns to the ground. All houses matter, but not all houses needed that water. Sort of reminds me of my last blog post about funding education - equality is not the same as equity.

Of course, "blue lives matter" too. We're all sick about the police shootings in Dallas. No one is saying that all police are bad and our hearts go out to the friends and families of those five officers who were killed. Our prayers go forth for those wounded in this horrific crime. But that doesn't change the fact that African Americans are at greater risk for profiling and excessive police force in this country. Black lives STILL matter.

Now, there's something else going on here too, because I don't think for a minute that if you respond to "black lives matter" with "all lives matter" it's because you don't understand that black lives are at risk. Instead, you choose to respond defensively, as if you have somehow been personally attacked or accused of racism. The goal of saying "all lives matter" is to take the focus away from the black lives at risk and place it on yourself. It reminds me of a little kid standing next to a drowning friend, saying, "Wait, I matter too. I need attention!" even though it's the other kid who's just gone under for the third time.

Let me say it clearly. The response "all lives matter" is not okay. It mitigates the experience of people of color who are at much great risk of becoming victims of excessive police force than whites.

My friend Lori put it this way. The problem with "all lives matter," she says, is that "all lives DON'T matter in this culture...It cheapens the struggles African Americans face when people use that 'all lives matter' slogan. If all lives mattered, people of color would not be disproportionately killed, imprisoned, and discriminated against."

So please, think twice before you respond to "black lives matter" with "all lives matter." Ask yourself, what's your motivation for saying it? Why is it so hard to empathize with the people who are hurting? Do you think black people just like to complain, and that in their complaining they're taking attention away from you? How would you feel if you believed that you or your loved ones were unfairly targeted by the people sworn to protect them? And if nothing else, recognize that your experience is different from the experience of others around you. Listen and try to learn something.

Yes, all lives matter. That's why black lives matter. Tragically, so far they haven't seem to matter as much as other lives. Words are important. Please stop saying "all lives matter."