Student Voice: Do People Really Mean ‘All Lives Matter?’

The all-lives-matter debate
Photo: David Stuck

Black Lives Matter is a movement that began in 2012 after the murder of teenager Trayvon Martin. It was a call to action following countless acts of violence, discrimination and racism against the black community. The tragic and recent passing of George Floyd has sparked this conversation yet again.

There are a number of people whose response to this movement has been, “all lives matter.” This is a clear example of how privilege can get in the way of change. I’ve seen it countless times as I scroll through Instagram. It seems anyone on social media who outwardly supports the Black Lives Matter movement is constantly entangled in social media arguments. Rather than being allowed to use their platform to simply show their support, they are forced to defend themselves and the movement to those who cannot understand it.

What’s the big deal?

For me, hearing people say, “all lives matter” is offensive. It is a show of ignorance. No one said all lives don’t matter. To me, people who say this are showing how little they care. Not just by disregarding the Black Lives Matter movement and overshadowing it with the conversation of, “all lives matter,” but also by showing they don’t care enough about the cause to educate themselves.

So why do people choose to respond this way? There are several reasons. One is because some people simply do not understand the message and the mission behind the Black Lives Matter movement. Their own privilege gets in the way of this and many don’t care enough to learn more and educate themselves.

Yes, You Can Get Involved Without Protesting

Recently I spoke to a friend who told me that when she first heard of the movement, her initial response was to say, “all lives matter.” She explained to me that her own privilege had gotten in the way of her understanding of the subject. For a while she couldn’t see the difference between “black lives matter” and “only black lives matter.” Fortunately she was able to look past her privilege and continue to educate herself on the movement and change her stance.

Changing the focus

Another friend told me she feels many people are too stubborn to admit when they’re wrong, even when they know they’re wrong. This made me think. Wow. There could be so many people on our side, but they simply don’t want to let anyone know they were wrong or misguided.

Saying, “all lives matter,” is taking away from the conversation at hand. Black communities are constantly being targeted, which is why this movement was created to focus on them. Not because they think black lives are more important, but because black lives are the ones being consistently lost at the hands of racist and hateful acts of violence. Saying, “black lives matter” is not equivalent to saying, “only black lives matter.”

But saying, “all lives matter” is a way people change the conversation to include themselves, and as a result, shift the focus of the movement and delay necessary changes.

I’ve heard several analogies people use to explain this. The best one I’ve heard so far is this: If your house was on fire, the fire department would not spray every house in the neighborhood with water. Not every house is on fire, just yours. It’s the same idea with the Black Lives Matter movement. Not every race is being targeted and discriminated against the way the black community is, which is why we call it “black lives matter,” not “all lives matter.”

False dichotomy

At a recent protest in Columbia, one woman who asked that her name not be used told me, “Of course all lives matter, but if that was truly being practiced then we would not be seeing black people constantly on our (social media) timelines being brutally murdered. Saying black lives matter does not diminish the value of anyone else’s life. But until black lives really matter, all lives clearly do not matter.”

Black lives matter, but unfortunately they do not matter to everyone. This fact renders, “all lives matter” false.

My cousin put it this way, “It is a racist response to black lives matter, because black lives have not yet been included in the ‘all.’”

To me, it is simply not true to say “all lives matter” when this country has shown again and again that they do not value black lives. It is clear that black lives are being placed below others, primarily white lives. Black people are subjected to a level of hatred and violence that a white person will never have to experience. Saying black lives matter is not to say that others don’t. It is simply a reminder that black people are humans. They have rights that should be respected the same way as any other citizen in this country.

We say black lives matter, because for some reason people find it so easy to forget.

Victoria Harvey is a college student and former Mid-Atlantic Media intern.

About Victoria Harvey

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