No one can be authentically human while he prevents others from being so.
-Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
The #BlackLivesMatter movement began in 2012 after Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in Florida. Two years later, Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white policeman in Ferguson, and this was eventually deemed justified by both a grand jury and a Department of Justice investigation. This was when the movement really took off on social media. However, it was not long before white people started to notice the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag; a hashtag that did not include them. And so #AllLivesMatter was born.
If I’m being completely honest, I didn’t really get what was so wrong with the #AllLivesMatter hashtag at first either. But then I watched Clint Smith’s “How to raise a black son in America” TedTalk last year.
In this video from March 2015, Smith talks about his experiences as a black child growing up in America and the different “rules” that he had to follow compared to his white friends. He asks the deeply rhetorical question of, “who in this world is afforded the privilege of being perceived as fully human?”
Speaking in the wake of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Smith perfectly describes the necessity of the hashtag and, without implicitly stating it, explains why #AllLivesMatter is so incredibly misguided: “So when we say that black lives matter, it’s not because others don’t, it’s simply because we must affirm that we are worthy of existing without fear, when so many things tell us that we are not. I want to live in a world where my son will not be presumed guilty the moment he is born.”
In an article written for “everyday feminism”, Sincere Kirabo further drives this point home, stating that “there’s perhaps no greater indication of this movement’s need than the backlash earned from simply stating ‘Black Lives Matter'”. This speaks to the strong argument against #AllLivesMatter which emphasises that fact that people proclaiming that a specific group of lives matter is not in fact saying that other lives don’t.
The use of #AllLivesMatter as a response to #BlackLivesMatter drowns out black voices, thus ignoring the very legitimate problems that black people face as a result of society’s implicit bias. Essentially, using #AllLivesMatter is just another example of white supremacy.
So next time you’re at a family gathering and someone still doesn’t get why saying “all lives matter” is wrong, just whip out this incredibly apt cartoon: