Why saying “All Lives Matter” is Tone Deaf
Unless you’ve been living underneath a rock, then you will know that America is experiencing a cultural crisis unseen since the beginnings of the civil rights movement. With the recent deaths of 3 unarmed black men and women, the world has been shaken to its core regarding the unjust treatment of people of color (POC). America was founded on the ideas that all men are created equal and we have inalienable rights and protections to simply live as human beings. Repeatedly, these rights have been stripped from POC’s, especially black and brown people, and our lives have been taken from us.
Breonna Taylor- a woman who was shot and killed in her own home by cops who had a “no knock” warrant. They raided the wrong house. Ahmaud Arbery decided to jog around his neighborhood. As he was exercising, two white men decided to confront him as they believed he “fit the description”. Armed with shotguns, they surprised him. He, naturally, resisted. He was killed in that encounter. George Floyd was accused of forging a bad check at a local convenience store. The police were called. He was handcuffed and detained. For 8 minutes and 46 seconds, a police officer bared his knee in the back of Floyd’s neck, restricting his breathing. He cried for 8 minutes that he couldn’t breathe. Even after his body went limp, the officer continued to apply pressure to Floyd’s neck. George Floyd was declared dead by the EMT’s shortly after. There are countless other- Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, John Crawford, Freddie Gray, and Sandra Bland. These are the ones that went viral, but there are many others that did not. I say their names, because their lives didn’t matter to who became judge and jury and took their lives. Their dignity as human beings didn’t matter to those police. Their worthiness didn’t matter to the justice system, as most of their killers walk free today. So how can “all lives matter” when these lives didn’t?
Black Lives Matter as A Movement
I think it is extremely important to define black lives matter as a movement and all of the implications that surround the idea. Blacks in America have been disenfranchised since the beginning of American history. Since the days that we were stolen from our coastal homelands in Africa and sold as slaves in the Americas, we have been trying to “catch up” ever since. Slaves were stripped of their identity, families were split, fathers were beaten and killed in front of their children, mothers were raped and flogged. They existed for the sole pleasure and gratification, be it sexual or financial, of their “master”. They were property, not seen as people- as human beings with dignity. This pain has reverberated through the black community for centuries and its crying loudly today.
In 1863, Abraham Lincoln passed a law that said all slaves were now free. This brought promise and hope. But it was short lived. Laws were passed known as Jim Crow, and oppression began again (though it never truly ended). Black codes were enacted. Segregation was the norm. Blacks could not own land or any property. In order to work, they had to enter into these poor, extremely low paying labor contracts, and were severely penalized if they broke the contract. They couldn’t vote. Separate but equal was the American society, and black people were often poorly neglected. We’ve been fighting this system of oppression since 1863, and we are tired.
This system of oppression, while no longer in its original form, it still very present today. After the passing of the Civil Right Acts (1964 and 1968), it made it unlawful to “openly” discriminate. But that did not stop the poison from spreading. Redlining- a form of separate but equal- was birthed. It is a systematic denial of various services by federal government agencies, local governments as well as the private sector, to residents of specific neighborhoods or communities, either directly or through the selective raising of prices. Black people were corralled in these areas that did not have access to basic services that so many Americans benefit from. This led to increased poverty, crime, and homelessness. Reminiscent of the days of slavery, families and communities were still being ripped apart.
Richard Nixon signed the War on Drugs Act, a racially motivated piece of legislation, which disproportionately targeted black and brown people. As a result, the prison-industrial complex (PIC) began to increase. Black people were being massively incarcerated for very minor, non-violent offences. If a person was in prison, he was “property” of the state. He/she could be forced to work and provide a service to the state (or even a private citizen!) with little to no compensation. Prisons became big business, and many have and still do exploit it for huge personal gain. The echoes of slavery are obviously apparent.
The education, and wealth gaps continue to grow for POC’s. Schools in black communities are often underfunded and under resourced creating educational gaps. Teachers in black schools are sometime underqualified but always underpaid. Black entrepreneurs are far less likely than their white counterparts to be given business loans. Unemployment among black Americans is still higher on average than any other people group in America. It is hard to create wealth when you don’t have a chance from the start.
Those who are fortunate to have nice paying jobs must deal with the daily microagressions and insensitive language. We are often overlooked for positions of which we qualify. Very few of us are in positions of leadership and are not able to affect policy or company change. And to top things off, we have this added fear that every police encounter could prove fatal. Those whom we have trusted to serve and protect us, are the very people that are killing us.
There is so much more that can be said. We could talk about the crime bill of 1994 and the “3 Strike rule” that continued to destroy the black family. We could talk about the school to prison pipeline. We could talk about banking discrimination and disparities in healthcare. We can talk about the crack cocaine epidemic and the contra CIA scandal, etc. All these injustices came as policy changes- system changes- that black communities have had to deal with for decades. We are tired. This is why we cry “black lives matter”. For so long, they have not.
The Tone of All Live Matter
My goal of this piece is not for any white friends to feel guilt or shame. But I do want you to feel uncomfortable. I challenge you to push back against your immediate reaction to justify why you are not racist. I believe most white people are not. However, I do believe that there is a blanket of ignorance and it covers a multitude of people. My goal is to help those who do not know and cannot see the problems.
I don’t think you’ll find any person that would disagree that all lives matter. Of course, they do! As I have mentioned, we all have been endowed by our Creator with rights and human dignity. That must be respected. When people say all lives matter, while not acknowledging that black lives have not, it’s extremely disrespectful and says that you are unconcerned and are willing to remain ignorant. For example, let’s say you broke your arm. You visit your doctor, and she says, “well all bones matter”. You probably wouldn’t visit her again. That would be utter nonsense, because your arm is broken. It is the bone that matters. It needs care and attention right now.
In some instances, it seems that all lives matter is an empty retort. It is a means to hush those that are shouting black lives matter. And this is extremely disappointing. Did George Floyd’s life matter to those officers who suffocated him? All lives matter bills itself as an expression of love and equality for all. But how can this be true, when at the same time, injustices still occur against black and brown people. In my opinion, I think those who are supporting “all lives matter”, are just using it to keep us from having real conversations and talking effectively about race and racism. I hope one day that we all, as a nation, will be able to say together that “All Lives Matter”! As of now, we are not there, and we still have lots of work to do. It’s not enough just to not be a racist, we all must be anti-racist. Policy must change. The system must change. The world is watching- I’m convinced that we can do it.