Saying That "Black Lives Matter" Doesn't Mean That Other Lives Do Not

Saying That "Black Lives Matter" Doesn't Mean That Other Lives Do Not
Saying That "Black Lives Matter" Doesn't Mean That Other Lives Do Not
Lizz Schumer

From Good Housekeeping

As protests against racist police brutality sweep across the United States and spread around the globe, rallying cries of "Black Lives Matter" echo through our streets and our digital avenues. As we all digest the news and think about how to respond and participate at such a pivotal time, it’s important to recognize what Black Lives Matter really means — as well as why the phrase "All Lives Matter" is problematic.

At its face, "All Lives Matter" sounds like a we're-all-in-this-together statement. Some may be using the phrase to suggest that all races should join hands and stand together against racism, which is a sentiment that comes from a good place. But the problem is, the phrase actually takes the focus away from those who need it. Saying "All Lives Matter" redirects the attention from Black lives, who are the ones in peril.



Instead, it's important to understand what drives the BLM movement and how to support it — by using the phrase and standing behind what it means. It can be an uncomfortable experience for many of us, especially if you're someone that hasn't taken the time to grapple with your own role in the systemic oppression that exists in our society. But it's also an essential education, no matter where you are in your journey.

What Does Black Lives Matter Mean?

Black Lives Matter is an anthem, a slogan, a hashtag, and a straightforward statement of fact. While it is not a new movement, the message is central to the nationwide protests happening right now. BLM speaks out against the police brutality and systemic racism that caused the recent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade and Breonna Taylor, as well as the thousands of violent incidents that happen to Black people that aren’t recorded, aren’t reported or aren’t afforded the outrage they deserve. At its most basic level, it calls for a shift in the statistics that Black people are twice as likely to be killed by a police officer while unarmed, compared to a white individual. According to a 2015 study, African Americans died at the hands of police at a rate of 7.2 per million, while whites were killed at a rate of 2.9 per million.

One of the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement is to raise awareness that we, as a nation, need to reconsider our priorities. Right now, there are U.S. institutions and systems that act as if black lives don't matter. For example, according to a report by American Progress, in 2015, each of the 10 states with the highest percentage of Black residents reported state and local policing expenditures of more than $230 per resident per year. That’s at least 328 times more than what each state spends on enforcing anti-discrimination laws.

How Did Black Lives Matter Start?

While racism in the United States goes back hundreds of years to the country's founding, the Black Lives Matter timeline started much more recently. The movement arose out of the acquittal of George Zimmerman after he killed Trayvon Martin in 2013. Today, the Black Lives Matter Foundation, Inc. is a global organization that’s active in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, although it has supporters all over the world.

The BLM guiding principles are to eradicate white supremacy and intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities through advocacy, fundraising and education. The organization aims to combat and counteract violence, amplify Black innovation, and center Black joy.

Why It's Missing the Point to Say "All Lives Matter"

While the intention of the phrase "All Lives Matter" may be to put everyone’s life on equal footing and convey a sense of unity, responding "All Lives Matter" to "Black Lives Matter" is actually more divisive than unifying. That's because it discounts and diminishes the focus on the violence and discrimination Black individuals face every day in this country.

It's a natural reaction to respond to one group centering its experience with, "But what about all lives?" or "Isn't my safety important, too?" But the truth is, Black Americans are disproportionately impacted by police violence and systematic racism in our nation. Our entire social structure centers around whiteness as a default. Asserting that "All Lives Matter" just reaffirms — or at best ignores — that reality. Of course every life is valuable, but not everyone's lives are in danger due to their skin color. Saying "Black Lives Matter" isn't equivalent to saying other lives don't, but rather that Black lives should matter as much as white lives.

Alicia Garza, one of the creators of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, explained in 2014 how Black lives mattering is a precondition for all lives mattering:

"Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important – it means that Black lives, which are seen as without value within White supremacy, are important to your liberation. Given the disproportionate impact state violence has on Black lives, we understand that when Black people in this country get free, the benefits will be wide-reaching and transformative for society as a whole. When we are able to end the hyper-criminalization and sexualization of Black people and end the poverty, control and surveillance of Black people, every single person in this world has a better shot at getting and staying free. When Black people get free, everybody gets free."

Think of it this way: If you get into a car crash and one person has a serious head injury but the others have a few bumps and bruises, the person whose life is at risk gets first priority when it comes to medical care. That doesn’t mean paramedics won’t help the rest of the passengers, but that triage places the most dire situation first in line. Or, to look at it another way, if someone keeps setting your house on fire, you'd want firefighters to do something about it. Wouldn't it upset you if instead, people kept telling you that "all houses matter equally," if yours was the one burning?



Why Black Lives Matter Still Matters

For those of us who are invested in working toward equality for all people, it’s important not to only see color, but to work on leveling the playing field. It’s a sad reality that the Black experience in America isn’t the same as non-Black experiences, in both seemingly small and incredibly large ways. If you’ve bought adhesive bandages, pantyhose, or foundation, you know what the default color range is. Many workplaces and schools still prohibit natural hairstyles or look at them as less "professional."

More than half of African Americans also report experiencing racial discrimination at work, from getting interviews at lower rates right on up to pay and promotion disparities. And the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that was established to fight workplace discrimination is too underfunded to adequately respond. In 2018, the EEOC secured $505 million for victims of discrimination, but the agency’s lack of resources has created a backlog of nearly 50,000 charges. Moving through the world is just easier for non-Black people in America, and it’s long past time we acknowledge that. Only then can we work to fix it.

How to Get Involved

The first step to combating racism in our society is listening, no matter who you are. It hurts to hear that you might hold prejudice, especially if you consider yourself an open-minded person. But instead of getting defensive or jumping in to explain your own perspective immediately, listen to other points of view including those of Black change-makers, elected officials, celebrities, friends and coworkers. Push back on prejudice in your own social circles, even if it requires awkward conversations. And educate yourself on your own inherent bias, even if you don’t think you hold any. Vote in your state and national elections to help enact change on a wider platform. And support racial justice organizations monetarily if you can, and share their messages on social media so others can get the information, too.

“Follow the lead of black leadership and your own local city and your state," BLM co-founder and chair of Reform L.A. Jails Patrisse Cullors told Nightline. She listed Dignity and Power Now and the Youth Justice Coalition as places to start. “Those are just a few organizations that help in these moments when we have people who are upset and [in] pain, angry, grieving," she added. “There's hundreds of thousands of more organizations across the country.”

We can all work together to dismantle the racial bias that underpins virtually every aspect of our country and world. It’s hard work. It’s uncomfortable. But nothing worth doing is easy. There’s nothing more important than creating a world in which our children don’t have to be afraid to walk through an unfamiliar neighborhood, to go birdwatching, to buy a bag of Skittles, to browse in a high-end store, or even ask a police officer for help, no matter the color of their skin.

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