On social media you see it everywhere in response to Black Lives Matter, memes and comments impatiently proclaiming that all lives matter. Well, yes, of course they do, but it entirely misses the point — and more on that soon — but more importantly, this is hardly anything more than a dismissive response to the cause for which the Black Lives Matter movement stands. The very reason there is a Black Lives Matter movement is precisely because race makes a difference in how people are treated in this country, sometimes a lethal difference.
The problem with “All Lives Matter” is its inherent lack of engagement with the problem of race that festers in this country. It promises in a slogan that all lives matter, while in practice acknowledging nothing about the reality that says otherwise. It co-opts victimhood, using indignation based on a false sense of persecution to put non-blacks on the defensive. Some even complain that Black Lives Matter is an attempt to show that black lives matter more than those of whites or the police. That is nonsense.
“White lives matter” responses imply an existential threat to respect already enjoyed by whites and others. It betrays an unsaid awareness of white superiority by suggesting that blacks are seeking it. The Black Lives Matter movement strives for equality, not superiority, and makes no claims to it. Indeed, if all lives matter, what’s the problem with Black Lives Matter…unless some threat is perceived? So-called White Lives Matter counter protests expose the fear of that non-existent threat.
There certainly can be reason to question the Black Lives Matter movement at times. I have complained that the organization here in Minneapolis/St. Paul can be amateurish, petulant, and undisciplined — and I have drawn some ire for it — but that doesn’t mean they don’t stand behind a cause that has a legitimate complaint. As much as we would like the people and organizations in a movement to be perfect, that isn’t always the case. Disagreement about methods does not invalidate the cause.
When someone says amen to White Lives Matter defense, they are denying that legitimate complaint. No one supporting Black Lives Matter — especially the minorities it represents — denies that all lives matter. Equality is precisely the point that they seek when they protest for respect and equality. The fact that respect and equality does not exist is why Black Lives Matter exists. That’s the point, not the claim that one person’s life matters more than another.
Whites and others who do not face racial injustice cannot make the same claim. Thus the White Lives Matter response rings hollow. At best it is naïve. At worse it represents a rhetorical trick to maintain an unjust status quo by stealing away the history of injustice legitimately experienced by blacks and others.