All Lives Matter is a collective response to explosive racial tensions, the go to catch phrase for those fed up with heated and controversial arguments of America’s racial divide. It’s the banner for those who want to look beyond the dimension of race and point to the values of equality and justice our country was founded upon. But the problem with saying “all lives matter”, to put it bluntly, is that they don’t.
Historically, black lives have been seriously underappreciated in American society. It wasn’t that long ago, just a couple generations, where the dominant social discourse racialized black lives as biologically inferior and segregated them from the public sphere. The average American viewed them not just as racially inferior, but dangerous. Legal segregation is over now, but the fear of African Americans, especially young men, lingers in our society. That’s why they are disproportionately killed by the police force; every officer that takes the life of a black man claims it was in fear of his own.
The Black Lives Matter political movement seeks to address this history of undervalued black lives, while also spreading awareness that the problem does still exist through systematic state repression. These folks want blacks to be recognized as human beings with rights and dignity. They’re not saying that black lives matter more than any other, not even the police. No, not at all. These folks simply want you to know that black lives matter too, a long overdue message that is chanted louder and louder as unarmed black men and women continue to be brutalized at the hands of the police while white rapists get reduced jail sentences on account of privilege.
Yes, all lives do matter. It’s a beautiful ideal of equity, but as with any ideal, it’s just not the reality. So to bark back “All lives matter!” to a BLM protester out of compassion for racial equality is to dismiss the larger problem: racial inequality. The saying comes from a place of good intentions. But good intentions mean nothing, they have no merit in preventing the unnecessary deaths of black lives by a racially biased police force. All lives can matter, and they should, but the day in which all lives truly matter will only come when we agree to recognize the gross injustices to our men, women, and youth of color, and then decide to stop dismissing them because of the color of their skin.
-P.S. A year ago, Reddit user GeekAesthete posted a very clear example which I think will help those of you who are more visual learners. Here is the link to the brilliant post.