The problems with #AllLivesMatter

It’s a hashtag that I could never support

Last week, two black males died at the hands of police officers. Alton Sterling was killed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana while selling CDs outside of a convenience store. Philando Castile was killed inside his own car in Falcon Heights, Minnesota while his daughter and girlfriend watched. In the wake of these events, there have been numerous protests and demonstrations held by different sects of the Black Lives Matter organization. At one peaceful protest in Dallas, Texas, a sniper shot and killed five members of the Dallas Police Department.

There’s no doubt that these events have left the country divided in more ways than one. There are hashtags, arguments, debates and opinions trending all over social media. There is one hashtag in particular that has garnered much support and attention: #AllLivesMatter. Though the mentality behind this trend may seem genuine, the hashtag is actually superficial and problematic. It does not really stand for anything on its own. It’s a tactfully devised response used to dismiss the significance of the Black Lives Matter movement.

blm wm

A Black Lives Matter demonstration at William and Mary

“All Lives Matter” establishes the idea that racism can be completely negated by “colorblindness.” Essentially, we should disregard race entirelu and only look at a person’s character or individual action. If we look past our differences and recognize that we are all a part of the human race, then racism will cease to exist, right?

Unfortunately, this idea only works on paper, not in practice. It is a counterproductive ideology that causes those who “don’t see race” to be blind to racism when it arises. But you can’t fix something that’s broken if you refuse to see it in the first place. According to clinical psychologist Monnica Williams, asserting the idea that race ultimately does not matter can deal significant damage to communities. “When race-related problems arise, colorblindness tends to individualize conflicts and shortcomings, rather than examining the larger picture with cultural differences, stereotypes and values placed into context.” By discounting the salient racial aspects of these issues, colorblindness prevents discussions from ever reaching the source of these problems.

The colorblind ideology is a roadblock to discussions dealing with race. It prevents people from feeling “uncomfortable” whenever the topic shifts to race. Instead of participating in the conversation in any way, they simply say “I don’t see race” and turn away. Colorblindness also prevents people of color from discussing any negative racial experience they might have endured. If they can’t hold discussions about these problems, that does not make the problems vanish into thin air. We would all love for racism to end, but pretending that it does not exist only makes it harder to combat. This mentality leads to willful ignorance of racially-charged experiences. It makes it impossible for one to see the effects of being a part of a disenfranchised or marginalized group. Though the intent may seem to advocate for equality and fairness, colorblindness merely provides relief for those who can afford to be blissfully unaware of racial bias.

The statement “All Lives Matter” is an obvious one. It is not something that needs to be said, nor something that we need to be reminded of. In an interview with the New York Times, academic Judith Butler breaks this idea down. “It is true that all lives matter, but it is equally true that not all lives are understood to matter which is precisely why it is most important to name the lives that have not mattered, and are struggling to matter in the way they deserve.” The central problem to “all lives matter” is not in the words themselves, but the motivation behind saying them. Before the inception of the Black Lives Matter movement, no one felt the need to state this idea. The most interesting piece about this non-movement is that in its attempt to silence the voices crying out for dignity, respect and equality for African Americans, it only makes it clearer how racism affects every aspect of our lives.

Many people fail to see the true motives behind #BlackLivesMatter. When people say “black lives matter,” it does not mean that only black lives matter. There is an implicit “too” at the end. Although many believe that “All Lives Matter” is a sentiment with good intentions, it only serves as a distraction from the issues plaguing black people in America. We know that all lives do, in fact, matter, but at this moment, we are addressing the group of lives that are in jeopardy. When one responds to “Black Lives Matter” with “All Lives Matter,” it willfully ignores the lack of equality being addressed. It’s nothing short of a deflection that attempts to misconstrue the genuine intentions of the Black Lives Matter movement.blmwm4

The reason why I refuse to support #AllLivesMatter is because of how much #BlackLivesMatter means to me. The Black Lives Matter movement advocates for peace, justice and equality for black people in America. It does not condone violent action, nor does it exclude people from other groups. It serves as a reminder to black people that we do matter just as much as other Americans, despite the overwhelmingly oppressive circumstances. As an African American, I can say that there have been many instances where it seemed like my own life didn’t matter. Many of these moments occurred long before the most recent cases of police brutality made it to the news. These weren’t always instances of obvious racism.

Growing up, I’ve had to deal with a laundry list of negative stereotypes and micro-aggressions. To this day, I’m still often met with suspicious looks when I walk into a convenience store. There are still many people who seem surprised that I don’t sound quite like a black person should sound. These experiences left me feeling that African Americans were just expected to achieve less than others. The advent of #BlackLivesMatter mitigates this sense of longing by ensuring us that we have as much worth as those around us. As long as the organization continues to emphasize the importance and value of black lives, I will continue to support it. Until conditions change, it is a necessary movement that needn’t be discredited or silenced by a harmful ideology that lacks its own merit.