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WCSAP Responds: Why Not #AllLivesMatter?

The media and our culture at large have been flooded with counter messages to the #BlackLivesMatter movement right now, in particular by people tweeting or stating #AllLivesMatter. As social justice advocates, it is critical that we examine this hashtag and similar statements in an effort to counter negative messaging. We can add our voices to conversations and promote change by being able to convey the significance of centering black lives. 
 
The statement “all lives matter” in response to #BlackLivesMatter is problematic and harmful.  It is important to step back and recognize that saying all lives matters:
  • Minimizes the experiences being black in America. 
  • Is a defensive reaction to centering the lives of people of color.
  • Does not, in fact, convey the importance of valuing all human life, but instead masks legitimate societal inequity.

An illusion of a level playing field is central to the idea of American rugged individualism -- our mentality that everyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Until we debunk this myth and lift the veil on the systems of oppression, like systemic racism, in the United States, we cannot have a conversation about “all lives.” 
 
Alicia Garza, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, explains it this way in the article “A Guide to Debunking the Need for ‘All Lives Matter' and its Rhetorical Cousins” linked below: 
  
White lives matter / all lives matter is like saying "The sky is blue" or "The sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening." In other words, it is not only obvious and goes without saying that all lives matter, we also know how much white lives matter -- particularly when you are not white. White lives are the standards to which people of color are held accountable, and those to which people of color are taught to strive to obtain. And what’s so fascinating about "all lives matter" or "white lives matter" as a response to black people demanding our humanity be respected and our dignity be restored, is that it makes it that much more obvious that white supremacy permeates nearly every aspect of our social, economic, and political conditions. 
WCSAP continues to support the #BlackLivesMatter movement because its function is to remind us that black lives matter—that they are important. It is not an exclusionary statement. It does not mean that other lives matter less. It is about making black lives equal in how they matter to the world.  It is about centering a community that is experiencing great loss and great injustice. In essence it is saying “black lives matter, too.” 
 
Additionally, #BlackLivesMatter is often used as not only a call for justice but as a way to mourn those in the black community that have been killed. It is not helpful to tell those in mourning that their feelings of fear and grief are irrelevant because of others’ personal experiences of loss.  For example, you would not attend the funeral of a friend’s grandmother and then tell your friend “all deaths matter.” The funeral is about centering the experience of that family’s loss. The Black Lives Matter movement is centering the loss of lives in black communities. 
 
In the wake of the killing of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, many WCSAP staff members, in our personal lives, have been asked by friends, family, and Facebook commenters: “Why don’t #AllLivesMatter?” We thought you might be on the receiving end of this question as well, so we have rounded up some articles, ideas, and images that might be helpful in opening up discussion in your agencies about why saying #AllLivesMatter is problematic: 

Racism hurts white people, too. Patriarchy hurts men, too. It is in the best interest of all lives to dismantle racism and sexism, even for those who benefit from it. Collective liberation for all will follow the liberation of black Americans. 

Reviewed: August 1st, 2016