The Problem with “All Lives Matter”

We have heard the phrase for the past several years. It did not exist until the Black Lives Matter movement brought fresh attention to the problem of police brutality and its impact on the black community.  “All Lives Matter” is not a movement or even a phrase attempting to bring unity. It was coined to silence the voices of the most vulnerable; to shield the public from seeing the need for progressive change in law enforcement. 

When Vice President Pence was asked in an interview if he supported the Black Lives Matter movement, not only did he refuse, but his response was “all lives matter.” He claimed it was due to his position on being “pro-life” and that he believed all people were valuable. 

On the same day, President Donald Trump tweeted a video of one his supporters yelling, “White Power,” a video in direct protest to the Black Lives Matter movement. The tweet was later deleted. 

The question must be asked: “How serious is the phrase ‘All Lives Matter’ taken?” To what end does it apply to a person’s life? Our economy, actions, and rampant nationalism in make it obvious that this is nothing more than a way to control the narrative. It’s faux compassion manufactured so people can think they give a damn. Reality tells a different story. The “All” in all lives matter seems to be as narrow as it gets when we look at the extent of suffering in the world and how we respond to it. Below I have compiled a brief look at just how many people are excluded in the phrase. “All” excludes:

  • The prisoners in the United States who make up 22% of the world’s prison population.
  • Sweatshop employees in the global textile industry who have died in fires, collapsed buildings, from heat exhaustion, poisoning, both foreign and domestic.
  • Men, women, and children displaced by global war and dismantled economies seeking refuge and asylum from all corners of the world.
  • The men, women, and children in cages on the southern border of the United States seeking a new life.
  • Black men and women treated unjustly and murdered at the hand of law enforcement.
  • Children who go to school in fear their picture will be on the news next after they are murdered in a school shooting.
  • Every child in poverty whose food and healthcare are just one presidential pen stroke away from being taken from them.

All lives matter is nothing more than a divisive phrase, but it doesn’t have to be. If all lives truly mattered, we would see far more activism in our communities. When a group brings up the problem of conditions of the workers in the textile industry, we are asked, “Well, what other jobs should they have” as if we can not have clothing if we provide safe work environments. When we speak up for the refugees fleeing their country for lack of resources, we hear “Why don’t they just stay and make their country better” when we literally had a toilet paper shortage over a false fear of scarcity. How can we continue to refuse to accept the need for change in a world desperate for justice? How can we say “All Lives Matter” when we won’t even acknowledge the most basic social justice issues?

We can one day come together and mean it but, we must first start by listening to those who feel unheard.  Let us acknowledge where we have failed and begin to understand why black men and women need this movement now. 

American history is rooted in moments where the Black community has been oppressed, beaten, segregated, abused, and lynched by white people. I am not saying that you or that I have, but this shouldn’t stop us from listening to where we have failed. 

Those who have not experienced oppression because of the color of their skin have no right to tell others that change does not need to happen. It needs to be acknowledge that powerful white men have been responsible for a great deal of inaction, even today in 2020. 

It is time white people stopped being offended that they are not included in “Black Lives Matter” and start realizing it is a privilege to not need such a movement to feel heard. This is why I, as a privileged white man, am writing this today and pointing out how we have an opportunity to listen to those who have experienced hardship we will never understand. 

 My faith tradition is centered around a man named Jesus, a man murdered as an enemy of the Roman Empire, seeking peaceful revolution in a time where so many were being oppressed. He came and upset the status quo, and the religious leaders and politicians rejected it, for it required them to look inside themselves.

 Jesus challenged them and implored everyone to seek the inclusion of others, to listen to the needy, feed the hungry, care for the poor, and teach that all people can experience both forgiveness and acceptance. We read in John that Jesus came to eventually teach this to “the world. His ministry was one that corrected the marginalization and instead of saying, “All Lives Matter” he said: 

“Widow’s lives matter.”
“Women’s lives matter.”
“Children’s lives matter.” 
“The hungry matter.” 
“Samaritan lives matter.” 
“Prisoner lives matter.” 
“The sick matter.” 
“The poor matter.”
“The homeless matter.”

I would even venture to say he would say, “Black Lives Matter.”  He included everyone by ensuring that when they needed to be heard and lifted up, they were. 

So, if we want to be able to truthfully say that “All Lives Matter,” we need to start by listening to those who feel theirs does not.

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