I posted this as my FB status the other day:

when do #blacklivesmatter

It was a bit of a poke at the expense of those who rush to declare #AllLivesMatter (special emphasis on all) at the barest whiff of someone uttering #BlackLivesMatter. Additionally, in case you missed it,  It was also an ironic twist towards the people who show more outrage at the death of a lion in Zimbabwe than their unarmed black fellow citizens down the street.

I found one response to this post to be particularly intriguing. A FB friend —  a black guy that I went to college with –told me that #BlackLivesMatter is divisive. He said:

I actually think all lives matter is a more effective rally cry. Have you ever been around white people when black lives matter is discussed? They instantly go into defense mode. That simple hashtag polarizes the argument and we lose traction. It’s about the end game. There will be no legislation passed to protect black people. We CAN push for criminal justice reform and fair police standards. But that’s an inclusive thing. And why are people so offended by#AllLivesMatter? Isn’t that the very core of our argument? We all deserve to be treated fairly?

My response to his comment is in various forms below, but looking at this against the stark white background of my word processing editor vice FB highlights one of the major issues that I have with this line of thinking. I just finished a week-long review of English grammar (don’t ask) and the thing that grabs me about his comment is the desire to change the Subject of this sentence: Black Lives Matter. Namely:

Have you ever been around white people when black lives matter is discussed? They instantly go into defense mode. That simple hashtag polarizes the argument and we lose traction.

Lives is the subject here with Black being the adjective which specifies exactly which lives we’re talking about. My FB friend wanted to talk about white people instead and their response to Black Lives.  Several people responded to his comment, but each time, instead of staying on subject (Black Lives in this case), he would veer off and talk about white people’s feelings or the need for white support. He spent more time arguing that we should take into account white people’s feelings than arguing against the senseless killing of black lives.

Isn’t that the very core of our argument? he asks, We all deserve to be treated fairly? Yes, we do! Which is why the adjective black is being used and not all  in the the first place. I said this in my response:

Except for the fact that “we” aren’t all “being treated fairly.” Which is why the hashtag calls out the particular lives that are on the receiving end of injustice. ALL lives aren’t being killed by the police every 28 hours in this country, but black lives are. And that is what the hashtag and subsequent organizations and protests are meant to highlight: that black lives matter just as much as all other lives (a fact that seems to be missed in these conversations and every day American life. See #SamDubose, #EricGarner, #JohnCrawford#TamirRice and entirely too many more for details.)

He isn’t alone in this line of thinking. I see this routinely. Saying #BlackLivesMatter provokes a knee jerk reaction to changing the subject which is exactly what #ALLlivesMatter does — it attempts to derail and negate the conversation about #BlackLives. It attempts to ignore the fact that black people are being killed extra judicially at an alarming rate. Why are people so offended by #ALLlivesmatter he asks with no irony, when the question should be: Why are people so offended by #BlackLivesMatter?

Are you equally offended when your friends draw attention to other matters?

Let’s say that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month (because it is). Your mother changes her FB profile picture to a pink ribbon and writes “Save the Tatas!” as her FB status. Would you reply under her post: Don’t forget about testicular cancer! #ALLCancersMatter? No, you wouldn’t. Why is that?

Because you understand that someone highlighting a particular disease to bring awareness to it is in no way implying that other diseases don’t matter. In fact, you wouldn’t find it remotely polarizing or divisive. You would not only like your friend’s picture, but willingly pour ice water over your head in a show of solidarity. You also realize that to place testicular cancer under her status is to change the subject of a conversation that you didn’t start. You are literally making someone else’s conversation subject to your own desires. It also makes you seem like a particularly obtuse and petty asshole.

So what is it exactly about #BlackLivesMatter that provokes this defensive posturing? Is this Hashtag really the reason why you remain silent about those horrific videos that surely flood your timeline? Is it the adjective black that keeps you from protesting against police brutality? I said this in the rest of my response:

For those people who feel defensive about this hashtag, I would posit the following: so you were going to go down and protest against the death of that unarmed black person at the hands of police because you recognize that it is unjust and contrary to America’s ideals and justice (things that you care greatly about) but then you saw #BlackLivesMatter and your feelings started to hurt and you were like “meh..maybe not.” Is that how that works or nah? Or is it that you really don’t care at all about what happens to black lives (as evidenced by your inaction and your silence). You aren’t ever going to actually “do” anything to support this movement, but you would “rather” that we say “ALL LIVES” so you don’t have to think about the ways in which the system doesn’t actually support all lives. So that you can keep believing the lie of fair treatment.

So why the burning desire to change the subject? If you want to talk about #ALLlivesMatter then feel free to start your own conversation (and by all means protest and organize against police brutality under that banner) but saying it in response to #BlackLivesMatter acts as a dismissive rebuttal at best and a straw man argument at the very least (no one is arguing that only black lives matter or that all lives don’t matter). Your posting #ALLlivesMatter serves no purpose other than pacifying your feelings at the expense of derailing a conversation already in progress and dismissing the very real life and death issues facing black people. Let’s stop trying to recenter this ongoing and necessary conversation.

4 Comment on “Recentering the Conversation

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