This is not a good time to be a black person. If disparate economic and social policies aren’t wiping us out, so-called “black-on-black” violence, the police, or random church-shooting lunatics are. But perhaps one of the most indirect assaults on black people in recent weeks is the promotion of the #AllLivesMatter campaign, which posits that we shouldn’t ignore the value of other people’s lives at the expense of concentrating solely on the issues pervading black people. Even certain presidential candidates are expressing this sentiment. Why is this an issue? More on that in a moment.
First off, allow me to go on the record by stating that, yes, all lives matter. Your life. My life. They all matter. Every single life on this Earth matters. But the problem with promoting that concept – especially in direct contrast to the #BlackLivesMatter movement – is that it not-so-subtly discounts the disparities black people are facing every day. We know the statistics. We’ve all read or heard about the rampant arrests, beatings, and killings of black people. But the problem is: the more we know, the more we tend to forget. Every now and then, we have to be reminded that – while we should all matter – we all don’t. If you disagree, explain to me how white assailants who shoot up movie theaters and churches can be apprehended alive and unscathed while unarmed black kids are being shot dead for questionable offenses? I’ll wait.
Harvard professor and psychiatrist Chester Pierce was the first to establish the “Microaggression Theory“, the idea that black people (and any other social minority) experience small insults and dismissals by non-minorities almost on a daily basis. Though these microaggressions are often unintentionally discriminatory, they are still problematic for most black people. The term “all lives matter” – even with all of its validity – represents one of those microaggressions. Promoting that concept (specifically as a counterpoint to “black lives matter”) downplays and ultimately ignores the hardships that a specific type of person is facing. What’s worse is that it allows its promoters to insert themselves into a very emotional and personal space without even a modicum of respect or empathy. It’s responding to someone’s pain by saying “I know the feeling. We all have pain.” Erasing the individualized nature of black people’s suffering does absolutely nothing to solve the problem. It only creates added hostility.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement was birthed specifically during a time when police brutality towards black people took center stage. I’m sorry, but this IS a black issue. So my message to our white brothers and sisters is simple: allies on this front are definitely welcomed. But please know that it comes with conditions. Allegiance means that you are NOT allowed to tell us how to deal with being marginalized. It means that you can NOT erase the significance of our very real, very specific issues by neatly folding them into a general space; a space you use to satisfy your feeling of indignation. It means that you can NOT promote ideas of equality when the direct evidence suggests the contrary. If we can see heterosexual (many of whom are Christians, in fact) standing in solidarity with our LGBT brothers and sisters without those conditions, especially in light of marriage equality passing throughout the entire country, surely black people can be afforded the same courtesy.
One immediate way you can help is by removing the phrase “All Lives Matter” from your directory. We already know that’s the case. But what we need you to understand is that the police brutality of late disproportionately affects black people. Justice and equality are not equally applied concepts. So it stands to reason that our outrage isn’t either.