There have been plenty of explanations on social media about why you should stop saying “all lives matter.” Yet I continue to see it shared by well-meaning friends who think they are adding balance and reason to a debate that has gone off kilter. Despite deep misgivings about my ability to sway anyone’s opinion, I have at least to make clear why I believe saying “all lives matter” does not add balance or reason and actually shuts down the conversations we need to have about race if we are going to make any progress toward a more just world.
Here is the best analogy I’ve heard.
Suppose you and your brothers and sisters have just come in from a day outside playing hard. You smell dinner, and you all sit down around the table—after having washed your hands, of course. Your mom comes in and starts ladling food onto plates, starting with your oldest brother and working her way around the table. When she gets to you, she skips you and continues with your sister who is sitting next to you. Everyone acts as if nothing unusual has happened. Your dad says a brief prayer, and everyone starts to eat.
“Hey!” you say, “I’m hungry!”
Your oldest brother looks at you. “We’re all hungry, bro,” he says and goes back to eating.
Of course, you have no quarrel with the literal truth of your brother’s statement. It’s obvious to you that everyone is hungry. But you are still angry because everyone else acts as if you have food when you don’t. In saying, “We’re all hungry,” your brother is implying that you have the same capability to satisfy your hunger that everyone else has. Or perhaps he is implying that you believe your hunger to be somehow special, so you deserve special treatment. In fact, all you want is to be treated the same as everyone else.
When you respond to “black lives matter” with “all lives matter,” it sounds like you are saying either, “blacks have no reason to complain because we got rid of racism in America,” or “blacks want special treatment.” In fact, however, racism is still a continuing threat to black lives, and what they want is to be treated like whites. They want not to be killed with impunity by white police officers or white vigilantes. They want not to be seen as a threat because of the color of their skin. They want not to be treated with suspicion or alarm when they are birdwatching in a park, shopping at WalMart, or entering their own home.
So stop saying “all lives matter.” Until black lives matter as much as white lives, all lives do not matter. You are not being reasonable or adding balance. You are being infuriating.