The Problem with Saying "All Lives Matter" as a Response to "Black Lives Matter"
Photo credit: Temi Oyeyola
From Oprah Magazine
Layla F. Saad is the author of the book and workbook Me and White Supremacy: Fight Racism, Change the World and Become a Good Ancestor. This piece comes from an interview with OprahMag.com's culture editor, Elena Nicolaou.
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Saying "All Lives Matter" feels like a weapon. It may not be a deliberately used weapon, but it is a weapon to silence, to silence. A weapon to undermine what the blacks are trying to say.
It's not like people go around saying "All Lives Matter" under normal circumstances. They only say that when people say that "Black Lives Lives" is important. "All Lives Matter" is an immediate counter-reaction to centering the blacks.
The statement All Lives Matter at least shows me that white privilege protects whites from seeing the state of the world as it is. That they believe that all lives are important. When people say "Black Lives Matter", the Blacks are asking for something more.
All that is required is justice. All that is asked is: can we have an actual world where all life is important?
I don't know that we can name a date when black lives were as important as all other lives. Because as soon as non-blacks and whites came into contact with blacks, this first contact was about colonization and enslavement. There was never a context within these races in which all lives were important.
Let's take a very specific situation. In the United States, black women are two to six times more likely to die from birth-related causes than white women. And the statistics in the UK are similar. If we had a world where all life is important, it would not be true. There would be an interracial parity of how high that rate would be.
And that's just one facet of life in which black people experience a completely different life than whites. But the white privilege has prevented most whites from knowing that this is the case. The white privilege offers comfort, lightness and security. Ignorance too.
To say "all life is important" is similar to "well, I don't see color" or "there is only one race, humanity". This is technically true: there is only one race, humanity. It is a fact. In social terms, however, we do not live as if there was only one race, humanity. We live as if there are different races, and we assign different values to each of these races based on this paradigm of supremacy.
Both are true at the same time. There is only one race, humanity. The construct in which we live today and in which we have lived for centuries does not agree with this universal truth.
Similarly, "Black Lives Matter" and "All Lives Matter" are both true at the same time. I always find it strange that some people find the statements "Black Lives Matter" and "All Lives Matter" on the other side of a spectrum. That it's either one or the other: Either black lives are the lives that matter, or all lives are important.
If it was designed that way, each of us would of course say: "All life is important." All lives are inherently important - that is a fact. But the social construct we live in shows us that not all lives are equally important.
What Black Lives Matter says is that Black Lives Matter is also. Black lives are important like all other lives.
The goal we want to achieve is a world where we never have to say Black Lives Matter again. Because the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter doesn't actually have to exist.
If we had a post-racial, color-blind society, we wouldn't have to say "Black Lives Matter". But unfortunately we don't have this world. Instead, we have a world in which black people in America and around the world are treated as if they are not as important as those who are white or fair-skinned.
So if "all lives" are really important to you, help us to create a world where this is true. Examine within yourself the times when you pretended that the statement "All life is important" was not true. The times when you treated black and brown people differently.
Do you know what would happen if white, white companies and organizations joined forces for Black Lives Matter? What would happen would be that we create a world in which all life matters.
It speaks for the layers of white supremacy that white people are not used to being challenged by black people. Whenever blacks have tried to ask about their rights, fight for their rights or bring about changes for their rights and for better treatment of their humanity, there has always been a white recoil, because to create a world in who cares about all life, people with white privileges should actually release power and privileges. Things should actually change.
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