All Lives Matter
The problems and possibilities of saying “All Lives Matter” in response to “Black Lives Matter”
We’ve all come across an exchange where someone says, “Black lives matter,” and someone else responds with, “All lives matter.”
On the surface, the statement “All lives matter” sounds innocent enough in its declaration of equal importance for all lives.
When used as a response for “Black lives matter,” it takes on a whole new meaning.
To understand the problem with “All Lives Matter,” it’s important to understand the context of what “Black Lives Matter” means.
Stating black lives matter doesn’t imply that other lives don’t.
What does “Black Lives Matter” mean?
The slogan “Black Lives Matter” is used in protest against incidents of police brutality and all racially motivated violence against black people in America.
It birthed the namesake Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. The movement, and its related organizations, typically advocate against police violence towards black people and various other policy changes considered to be related to black liberation.
The point of Black Lives Matter isn't to suggest that black lives should be, or are more important than all other lives.
“Black lives matter” simply points out that black people's lives are relatively undervalued in the US. Black lives are disproportionately affected by institutionalized racism, such as police brutality. It emphasizes the need to recognize and end this inequality.
A good way to understand this is by looking at the phrase as, “black lives matter, too.”
While all lives do matter, it’s one particular subset of lives currently undervalued in America. That's what is implied by “Black Lives Matter.”
The problem with “All Lives Matter”
When you say “All Lives Matter” in response to “Black Lives Matter,” you are essentially dismissing the message that black lives are and have been historically devalued through institutionalized racism.
It derails the specific conversation about racism against Black people. The phrase automatically dismisses, ignores, or denies these problems and shuts down any discussion.
The phrase is harmful as a rebuttal to Black Lives Matter because it acts to diminish and suppress the voice of Black people and belittles their experiences.
It mutes the Black community's specific sense of suffering; the generational trauma from the slavery experienced by their ancestors, their fight to attain fundamental civil rights, and their continued fight to be treated with justice and equality.
So, to say “All Lives Matter” in response to “Black Lives Matter” is insensitive and inappropriate.
Especially when the black community continues to mourn lives lost to police brutality and other similar cases.