The Black Lives Matter movement began as a hashtag following the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in 2012. It became a rallying cry in the wake of deaths of black men at the hands of police. The latest police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile have sparked a new round of nationwide protests. Coupled with the recent killings of police in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Black Lives Matter has received praise from supporters of the movement and scrutiny from others.
Cries of black lives matter are often met with the response that all lives matter. Some people have expressed confusion about the controversy involved in broadening #BlackLivesMatter to include people of all races. While strictly true, all lives matter distracts from the real issues blacks in America face. Kevin Roose, news director at Fusion.net, provided an excellent explanation by Reddit user, GeekAesthete, of why changing #BlackLivesMatter to #AllLivesMatter is an act of erasure that makes many people cringe.
Imagine that you’re sitting down to dinner with your family, and while everyone else gets a serving of the meal, you don’t get any. So you say 'I should get my fair share.' And as a direct response to this, your dad corrects you, saying, 'everyone should get their fair share.' Now, that’s a wonderful sentiment — indeed, everyone should, and that was kind of your point in the first place: that you should be a part of everyone, and you should get your fair share also. However, Dad’s comment just dismissed you and didn’t solve the problem that you still haven’t gotten any!
Getting your fair share implicitly included the word too at the end, suggesting you should get your fair share like everyone else. But your Dad’s response treated your statement as though you meant only you should get your fair share, which clearly was not your intention. As a result, his statement, while true, only served to ignore the problem you were trying to point out.
That’s the situation with the Black Lives Matter movement. Culture, laws, the arts, religion and others repeatedly suggest that all lives should matter. However, in practice, the world doesn’t work that way. Instead, as a society, we don’t pay as much attention to some people’s deaths as we do to others. So, currently, we don’t treat all lives as though they matter equally.
As in the Reddit user's example, the phrase black lives matter implicitly included the word too at the end: it’s saying that black lives should also matter. Responding to this statement by saying all lives matter is ignoring the problem. It’s a way of dismissing the statement by falsely suggesting that it means only black lives matter, when that is obviously not the case. Thus, saying all lives matter as a direct response to black lives matter is suggesting we should go back to ignoring the problem.
What does all this mean for the Georgia State University community? As a community, we embrace and celebrate diversity in a variety of shades. We welcome students, faculty and staff into safe spaces to share differences of opinion. As a community, we need to get to a place where we are comfortable saying black lives matter without quarreling over adjectives. Until we can do so, we’ll never be able to have a serious dialogue that gets to the root of our issues which is finding common ground in our differences.
This discussion can continue for Georgia State community members who participate in an upcoming dialogue series offered by Black Student Achievement. The Hot Wings, Hot Topics series will discuss hot topics centered on African American constituents. The series will be held weekly from 4 - 5 p.m. starting September 19 and is open to students, faculty and staff. In addition, on September 20, a special Coffee Talk hosted by Civic Engagement will be devoted to the Black Lives Matter movement. C. Bernard McCrary, director of Black Student Achievement, will facilitate the discussion. For more information on this movement, visit Black Lives Matter.