So you’re at a party, and someone says something ignorant. And while you know that they’re in the wrong, and that you could totally engage them and win if you were a bit more prepared, your words escape you. To make sure that doesn’t happen, we’ve compiled a series of handy reference guides with the most common arguments — and your counter-arguments — for all of the hot-button issues of the day. This week’s topic: How to argue against saying "All Lives Matter."
Common Argument #1: Isn't saying "Black Lives Matter" racist? What about white lives?
Your Response: The phrase "black lives matter" doesn't in any way suggest that non-black lives don't matter. It's not an exclusionary statement. The point is that yes, everyone's life does and should matter! But in America ― especially by way of law enforcement and the criminal justice system ― black lives are too often treated as disposable, unimportant, and of exponentially less value. That's the problem, and the cruel reality of so many people's lives that needs to be spoken out about.
Really, when you get right down to it, the rhetoric and message are both pretty clear: Black lives matter, so why won't America act like it?
Common Argument #2: But wouldn't "All Lives Matter" be more inclusive?
Your Response: Maybe in some sense, but it'd be at the direct detriment of the movement's message. The point is that American society privileges white people over black and brown people in myriad ways, and the decades-long caustic relationship between police and communities of color they're meant to serve is a prime example. It deserves specific, pointed, and unapologetic recognition, not artful avoidance wrapped up with derailing tactics.
The current status quo is that black life isn't being treated with the value, respect, and love it deserves ― like it matters, in other words. Waffling on saying so won't help anything.
Common Argument #3: Well, nobody is arguing that black lives don't matter.
Your Response: Really? Consider the enormous, instantaneous backlash that arrives whenever there's a high-profile police shooting caught on video. Entire (generally conservative) media outlets hurl themselves wholesale into digging up dirt on the slain person's past, casting any previous legal troubles (often entirely extraneous and irrelevant to the circumstances of their death) as justification. This happens even in incidents which are captured on video, displaying plainly abhorrent events.
Hell, even mainstream media outlets sometimes do this, often while taking police narratives of these deadly encounters as virtual fact, rather than a competing allegation in a situation of grave consequence.
And that's before saying anything about the endless swamps of racism these sorts of cases bring out on social media. Simply put, it's not hard to see how black lives are treated differently from white ones ― to the contrary, if you're approaching these issues in good faith, you'd be hard-pressed not to notice.
Common Argument #4: But saying "Black Lives Matter" frames this as a black vs. white issue. Doesn't this ignore black-on-black crime? Did you know that 93 percent ...
Your Response: Let me stop you there. The issue of so called black-on-black crime ― especially when it's raised by people who don't express any interest, motivation, or desire to prevent black death in any other context, purely as a way to derail conversations about violence by the state ― is perhaps the biggest, most offensive, and most easily dismissed card in this entire discussion.
Here's the thing: people are most likely to kill the people they live around. Thanks to a number of factors, including housing discrimination, white flight, and the resulting, heavily self-segregated nature of American life, an overwhelming majority of violent crimes are intraracial ― white-on-white, black-on-black.
And, while black-on-black crime rate is slightly higher (by an average of about 7 percent), there are any number of simpler, more rational explanations for that than the overtly racist notion that black people are predisposed to commit crimes ― like, centuries of systematic oppression and resulting poverty and desperation, maybe?
In any case, this is a deeply fallacious argument that's commonly used by race-baiters looking to wriggle out of a serious debate, and it's tiresome.
Common Argument #5: So do you have a problem with Blue Lives Matters too? How about White Lives Matter?
Your response: Yeah, I do. Again, not because those things aren't true ― they plainly are, which is why it's so pointless to bring it up. When police officers are slain, as recently happened in shocking and horrifying fashion, almost everyone comes together in solemn grief over it, a unity that's often lacking for black victims of police violence. It's the difference between challenging a status quo that hurts one group, and affirming a status quo that benefits the other. And frankly, many people who use these phrases seem to be doing so them in rather bad faith, crudely appropriating BLM's moniker to try to discredit or demean. It's needlessly cruel.
The more compelling case would be when a group similarly subject to oppression and state violence borrows the phrase, as has happened in the case of Native Lives Matter. This hasn't proven nearly as controversial, and the reason seems pretty clear: Native Americans suffer similarly abysmal and onerous treatment in America as black people have. And those modern-day violations and indignities ― again, just like black America ― are rooted in deep historical atrocities that should haunt the country to this day.
But that's a world apart from things like "all lives matter," "blue lives matter," or "white lives matter." Because again, nobody who's taken seriously ever argues the opposite, and the real-world truths you see evidence of all around you constantly line up with those ideas.