Dear #AllLivesMatter User,
I see you. I see you using #AllLivesMatter almost exclusively as a retort to #BlackLivesMatter. I see you using it, almost as a correction. Black lives matter? No, no, no honey. Here is what you should say “ALL lives matter.” That’s the way I prefer to see you express your frustration/rage/need for change. Don’t express it at all. I see you on Twitter, on Facebook, responding to what you view as, I’m not sure, inequality? Every single time I see it, it makes my skin crawl.
In the very best case scenario, you are using it because you truly believe all lives matter and that singling out a specific group of people and stating that they specifically matter won’t help bring us together. I am willing to bet, no matter your intention of how you are using it, that you are white.
But there is a really, really big problem with this. As has been pointed out eloquently already in various articles, there is an implicit “too” at the end of #BlackLivesMatter. There is not an implicit “only” at the beginning. If our world was perfectly fair and just and truly equal, #BlackLivesMatter would never, ever have come into existence. Period. There would be no need. The analogy has been well-explained on social media – we wouldn’t attack a colon cancer article or event by shouting “ALL CANCER LIVES MATTER! NOT JUST YOU PEOPLE WITH COLON CANCER!” As I saw perfectly written in a discussion thread today: “All lives matter, but all lives are not at equal risk.”
I find it deeply difficult on many levels to write about race. I am a blonde haired, green eyed, fair skinned woman. What do I know about being a black person in America? It seems presumptuous to even attempt to write about race from my point of view. If you are using #AllLivesMatter, do you fit my description in any way? Do you think it is possible you may not know what it is like to be a black person in America? Is there even a remote possibility that you do not know what it feels like to be black? Are you getting at all defensive about my suggestion that you don’t know what it is like to be black?
I will never be mistaken for any race but white. I have never had to worry for one single second that my skin color was causing me to be treated poorly or less than someone with a different colored complexion. That is my privilege, something I have never had to think about or question. Is it possible, #AllLivesMatter user, that maybe you have had the same experience? That maybe you don’t understand why there is a need for #BlackLivesMatter because you have no concept of what it feels like to live life without the privilege of being white?
I write a lot on this blog about refraining from believing we know it all. My deepest hope is that we will step away from the viewpoint that our worldview is universal, that everyone else in the world experiences life exactly as we do ourselves. From believing that everyone was born with our same privileges, that we know how we would act in certain situations we have never been in. We think we know. We are confident we know. But I am coming to a point in my life where I am becoming very distrustful of people who aren’t willing to consider that we never actually really know.
I don’t know first-hand what its like to be a black life in America. But I do have the narratives of black women and men that I read without an automatic bitterness. Can you do that, #AllLivesMatter? Can you read with an open heart, an open mind? Or do you see something that makes you feel instantly defensive?
My college and graduate education provided me with a basis for my “beliefs” (or, as I like to call them, facts). Classes on the psychology and sociology of race, ethnicity, and multi-cultural counseling provided me with statistics, the peer-reviewed scholarly research, written in black and white in textbooks speaking to the staggering inequality that still exists between races in our country. Discrepancies in education, health, wealth, legal system inequality, among other things. There is a deep, systemic history of oppression in our country that can simply not be ignored. I don’t believe you can look at the facts and not see that. Have you taken the time listen to the history, experiences, and struggle of a group outside your own, #AllLivesMatter? Or are you turning a blind eye, refusing to acknowledge what we have done as a country and what we continue to do? Are you saying “not my problem” or “I didn’t do that personally”? If you are unwilling to look at the facts, how can we ever move forward? If you refuse to acknowledge the current state of affairs in our country, how will things ever get better? I think we can all agree we need things to get better.
#AllLivesMatter is part of the problem. It is a huge problem. We need #BlackLivesMatter because the way we treat black men and women in our country suggests clearly that they do not matter as much as white lives. #AllLivesMatter operates from the point of view that things are equal. Which is absolutely, positively not true. It is more comfortable to believe things are equal. It makes us feel better to believe that everyone is treated completely the same, that everyone has the exact same opportunities in life. Speaking from this point of view speaks to privilege, to the fact that you have not been personally exposed to this inequality. It speaks to a sheltered life, one that I have had as well. A life where when I walk down the street, I see people who look like me. A life where my own race is never mentioned, is never a factor in my decisions, is never something I am brought to think about every day. Might this be the same for you, #AllLivesMatter?
So, #AllLivesMatter user, I leave you with a plea to listen to the stories of those who are where you will never be, walking in shoes you will never walk in. I ask that you think about how it for just a beat longer before allowing defensiveness to seep in. And I hope that one day, there will be no need for hashtag wars about the value of a human life.