As the George Floyd protests in the US sparked a continuing effort nationwide to protest police brutality and racial inequality, Black Lives Matter (BLM) has taken center stage. If fact, some call it the largest movement in US history. However, long before this current social awakening, social media networks were full of hashtag battles between #BlackLivesMatter and the response of #AllLivesMatter. Strong opinions on both sides insist that they are expressing a desire for justice and human dignity.
Here, we’ll take a look at both sides of the debate, asking whether it is effective for the BLM movement to protest only for Black Lives, or if the call for justice should instead be All Lives Matter.
Three reasons why Black Lives Matter should focus only on Black Lives
Black Americans shouldn’t be expected to speak on behalf of other people of color
Every minority has its own unique experience of marginalization, exclusion and abuse that differs from one group to the next. Because the prejudice and racism suffered by each minority takes a different form, it is unrealistic and unfair to both Black Americans and other American minorities to request that the BLM movement speaks for everyone. BLM activists only know what it is like to live as Black people in America, especially regarding issues of police brutality; therefore, they should not take it upon themselves to speak for Latin-Americans, Asian-Americans or Hispanic Americans. Moreover, saying that all lives matter can be seen as downplaying the racism specifically targeted at Black Americans or shifting attention away from them to other groups. Why take the microphone away from BLM activists when doing so can be interpreted as a form of silencing them?
Fighting for the cause that matters most to you doesn’t undermine other causes
There are many causes to fight for in the world. It is natural for each of us to feel the most passionate about whatever cause hits closest to home. The recent George Floyd protests have put the spotlight on discussions regarding systemic racism in America toward Black people. The BLM’s huge desire to save their own families from abuse, inequality and murder (especially of unarmed victims, like Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, or Ahmaud Arbery – not to mention George Floyd) lends power to their cause, which we cannot expect them to feel for any other cause. The BLM’s focus on Black Lives does not undermine the worthiness of any other minority’s fight against racism or of any other social justice issue; it merely indicates that this is the issue that they are standing up for right now.
It extends privilege to other groups at the expense of Black Americans
Although everyone on both sides agrees that all lives matter, the “All Lives Matter” slogan is frequently used to hijack and undermine the BLM message in favor of other people. When a #BlueLivesMatter hashtag was added to support policemen, it was used to oppose #BlackLivesMatter.” This was further shown in 2016 when 10,000 people protested in support Peter Liang, a Chinese-American policeman who was jailed for killing Akai Gurley, an unarmed Black man. Many of Liang’s supporters shouted, “All Lives Matter,” claiming that he was a scapegoat because he was not white and that he should not be jailed. However, Black activists pointed out that Liang was tried by a jury of his peers and deserved to be jailed for his actions. Using “All Lives Matter” to demand freedom for someone who was convicted of murdering an unarmed Black man is nothing more than demanding that white privilege be extended to all people of color except for Black Americans.
Three Reasons why All Lives Matter is a better call to arms
It recognizes the persecution of other minorities
Black Americans are not the only minority group to suffer discrimination. The slogan “Black Lives Matter” ignores the way that the lives of other minorities have also been treated as cheap and unimportant over the centuries. By shouting “Jews will not replace us” at the 2017 Neo-Nazi march in Charlotteville, racists and fascists showed that they don’t distinguish between minorities. It is adding insult to injury to single out only one minority as deserving of protests, rallies and hashtags of support. Furthermore, there is a better chance of succeeding in the overall fight against racism if anti-racist activists can bring a unified voice, resources and action to the struggle.
It focuses attention on the problem of white privilege
White privilege is not only a problem because it discriminates against Blacks but because it discriminates against anyone who is not a white heterosexual male. Shouting “Black Lives Matter” could move the focus away from dealing with white privilege as a source of social inequality. Because the hashtag seems to reiterate that what matters are Black lives, it risks shining the spotlight on only one small aspect of a much bigger and more problematic issue. The “All Lives Matter” motto can serve as an umbrella slogan that opposes restricting privilege to just one group, instead of potentially implying that the problem could be solved if only Black Americans were included in the said privilege.
#BlackLivesMatter can hurt the cause
When Martin Luther King Jr. led the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s he called for equal rights for everyone. All Lives Matter promotes this message of shared humanity. In contrast, Black Lives Matter seems to imply that Black Lives may matter more than those of other lives. It could even create more harm than good by giving the impression that to Black activists, non-Black lives matter less. Politics have also become entwined in the movement, distracting from its cause. For instance, some BLM activists have been accused of using the movement to push an anti-Israel agenda instead of speaking up for Black civil liberties. Some members have been accused of espousing anti-Semitic sentiments in the media and/or on social media. If the BLM were to embrace the #AllLivesMatter slogan, it would show that they care for all minorities, who would then be less cautious about embracing their cause.
The Bottom Line: The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s was both smart and just, and it was successful in its struggle, though the work is far from being done, as civil rights leader John Lewis eloquently said before he died. It remains to be seen which is the best path for change in 2020. Which concept do you think is more effective, Black Lives Matter or All Lives Matter?
Co-written by Rachel Segal