The phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ has become a constant in today’s society. It’s in the news, in politics, and on social media. Even celebrities, such as Beyoncé and Jesse Williams have shown their support for the movement. With recent news coverage of young black men and women being assaulted and slain by police officers, the phrase is hard to escape. Due to the recent attention the movement has gained, there has been an unsurprising amount of backlash. The movement and phrase has been criticized for being ‘inherently racist,’ something that divides the country rather than unites it, and the phrase ‘All Lives Matter’ was created to counter it.
As a black activist, I have had this conversation many times. I have had it with friends, neighbors, teachers, and relatives. I have had it with strangers and classmates and other activists. I have had to explain why ‘All Lives Matter’ is, at its core, harmful and untrue.
‘All Lives Matter’ arose in response to the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’, not in response to the challenges and discrimination people of color and other people from marginalized groups face on a daily basis. How can one say that all lives matter when the GOP Presidential candidate, who has garnered a terrifying amount of followers and attention, has generalized Latino immigrants as ‘rapists and criminals?’ When an LGBT Orlando nightclub was targeted for being an LGBT nightclub by a shooter, how can one say that all lives matter? How can one say that all lives matter when Flint, Michigan, a predominantly black city, is still struggling through a water crisis two years later?
BLM has an implicit ‘too’ tacked on at the end of it, Black Lives Matter too. It is a reminder that in this country, a country that has never successfully bridged the racial gap but has somehow forgotten it, a country that's history is deeply rooted in racism and segregation, black lives matter too. Black lives matter still. They mattered during slavery and they mattered during Jim Crow and they matter now as the black community faces death after death at the hands of police officers who walk away with little to no punishment.
There is irony in saying ‘All Lives Matter,’ since the BLM strives to make that statement more accurate. Saying All Lives Matter is ignoring and overlooking the real truth that there remains in this country a very real, if not prominent, divide in terms of race. It ignores the fact that black people specifically deal with challenges and issues that white people do not. Despite the fact that drug use among white citizens and black citizens is roughly the same rate, black people are still arrested at a much higher rate. Black offenders are more likely to receive longer sentences than white offenders for the same crime. Black people continue to battle dangerous stereotypes that dehumanize and discredit them: the angry black woman, the thug, the criminal, the ‘ratchet’ baby mama. In the eyes of a country deeply rooted in racism, segregation, and discrimination, there are some who have decided that there are lives that do not matter. Black people, Latinos, Muslims are all generalized as violent thugs, gangbangers and terrorists, and this dehumanization only contributes to the violence against them. To call BLM divisive is to assume that everyone is already on equal footing.
What is interesting is that BLM has been considered anti-police. The recent shootings of police officers in Baton Rouge and Dallas are, to some, affirmation of an anti-police sentiment. But the BLM movement does not call for the dismantling of police force, nor does it call for the murder of officers. Black Lives Matter demands justice for innocent black men and women killed at the hands of police officers. To call that ‘anti-police’ is simply untrue.To demand that the police be held accountable, to demand that the police do better, is not anti-police. It is a community trying to bridge a divide that has resulted in the violent deaths of innocent lives, black and blue alike.
The United States is, in many ways, a wonderful country. It was founded on the principle of individual rights and liberties, and that is not something to take for granted. I cannot say for certain whether or not I consider this country to be the greatest in the world, but I do know that if we refuse to make progress, we will only fall further behind. But progress is not made by digging in our heels, plugging our ears, and refusing to listen to the issues that people are facing. No, progress is made when we tackle our nation's problems head on, when we look at what is broken and ask ourselves how we fix it, and that is exactly what BLM is doing. BLM is not itself a solution, but through its protests and marches, it has opened up the space for people to examine problems that the black community face and search for solutions. If we, as a community, as a city, as a country, wish to make progress, then we cannot dismiss or ignore the challenges and barriers that minorities continue to face. Whether it is police brutality, socioeconomic disparities, or harmful stereotypes, we must address issues head on and ask ourselves ‘how do we fix this?’