The Problem with Saying "All Lives Matter" as a Response to "Black Lives Matter"
Layla F. Saad is the author of the book and workbook Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor. This piece is adapted from an interview conducted with OprahMag.com's Culture Editor, Elena Nicolaou.
Saying “All Lives Matter” feels like a weapon. It may not be a consciously wielded weapon, but it is a weapon to silence, to shut up. A weapon to undermine what Black people are trying to say.
It’s not like people go around saying “All Lives Matter” in normal circumstances. You only say that when people say “Black Lives Lives” matter, first. “All Lives Matter” is an immediate backlash to the centering of Black people.
The statement All Lives Matter shows me, at least, that white privilege protects white people from seeing the state of the world as it is. That they believe that all lives already do matter. So when people say "Black Lives Matter," now Black people are asking for something more.
All that's being asked for is equity. All that's being asked for is: Can we have an actual world where all lives matter?
I don't know that we can name a date when Black lives mattered in the same way that all other lives do. Because as soon as non-Black people and white people came into contact with Black people, that first contact was about colonization and enslavement. There has never been a context within those races being in connection with one another where all lives mattered.
Let's take a very specific situation. In the United States, Black women are two to six times more likely to die from childbirth related causes than white women. And the statistics in the U.K. are similar. If we had a world where all lives mattered, that wouldn't be true. There would be parity between all races of what that rate would be.
And that's just one facet of life in which Black people are experiencing an entirely different life than white people are. Yet white privilege has protected most white people from knowing that that's the case. White privilege affords comfort, ease, safety. Ignorance, too.
Saying "all lives matter" is similar to saying, "Well, I don't see color," or, "There's only one race, the human race." That is technically true: There is only one race, the human race. That is a fact. Socially, however, we don't live as if there's only one race, the human race. We live as if there are different races, and we assign different values to each one of those races based on this paradigm of supremacy.
Both are true at the same time. There is only one race, the human race. The construct that we live in today and that we have lived in for centuries has not matched up with that universal truth.
Similarly, “Black Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter” are true at the same time. I always find it curious that some people find the statements "Black Lives Matter" and "All Lives Matter" as being on the opposite side of a spectrum. That it’s either one or the other: Either Black lives are the lives that matter, or all lives matter.
When it’s conceptualized that way, then of course every one of us would say: “All lives matter.” All lives inherently matter—that's a fact. But the social construct that we live in shows us that all lives do not matter equally.
What Black Lives Matter is saying is that Black lives matter, too. Black lives matter like all other lives matter.
The aim that we're trying to get to is a world where we never have to say Black Lives Matter again. Because the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag shouldn’t actually need to exist.
If we had a post-racial, colorblind society, then we wouldn't need to say "Black Lives Matter." But unfortunately, we don't have that world. We have a world instead where Black people in America and around the globe are treated as if they do not matter as much as those who are white or lighter skinned matter.
So if "all lives" really do matter to you, then help us create a world where that's true. Investigate within yourself the times you've acted as if the statement "all lives matter" was not true. The times you treated Black and brown people differently.
Do you know what would happen if white people, white led businesses, and organizations collectively rallied behind Black Lives Matter? What would happen is we would create a world in which all lives did matter.
It speaks to the layers of white supremacy that white people are not used to being challenged by Black people. Any time that Black people have tried to ask for their rights, fight for their rights, or create change for their rights and for better treatment for their humanity, white pushback has always come, because in order to create a world where all lives matter, people with white privilege would actually need to release power and privilege. Things would actually have to change.
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