We have all been bombarded with social media messages that attempt to redirect our attention and “correct” the discourse of the Black Lives Matter movement.
In essence, the All Lives Matter “crusade” creates a metanarrative that disregards racial discourse, racial inequalities, and contemporary and historical assaults and brutalities disproportionately directed toward Black bodies. The All Lives Matter crusade supplants a metanarrative that claims a universal experience, history and meritocracy. The All Lives Matters crusade essentially commodifies not only the movement’s title, but appropriates, colonizes and revises Black contemporary living and historical memories.
In order to understand the negative backlash directed toward a racial justice movement like Black Lives Matters, one must consider the naivety about racial discourse, the psychology of White fragility, and the pathological disposition of privilege and supremacy. In fact, we argue that the current rhetoric regarding the All Lives Matters crusade is a typical “fragile” response to racial discomfort and racial disequilibrium, as evident in Dr. Robin DiAngelo’s work on White fragility. DiAngelo pronounced fragility as stamina deficiency linked to unexamined, uninterrupted biases and misconceptions around race and racism.
The overwhelmingly negative and illogical commentary (i.e., Black-on-Black crime is the problem not racism); the appropriation of a radical and racialized movement (i.e., the BLM “slogan” as trendy accessory in exclusive White communities); and the refusal to acknowledge the recent and historical experiences of violence directed toward Black people (i.e., a few overzealous cops can be fired or forgiven) all point to White fragility and privilege working in tandem to turn the racially conscious discourse to a naive yet comfortable “colorblind” equilibrium. Hence, the All Lives Matter stance works hard to construct a “universal life” that is comfortable, colorblind and historically inaccurate.
Yet there are too many clear indications that, in America, individuals, organizations and institutions continue to discriminate based on race, gender, class, etc. For instance, research clearly describes a pervasive system of privilege based on race that works against people of color in terms of employment. Since skin color is a clear determinant of one’s potential employment then it is also clearly intimately connected to one’s economic prosperity. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that, since racism complicates employment, people of color are routinely sent into the throes of the lowest rungs of socioeconomic status (see James Joseph Scheurich’s work).
Further, neo-Jim Crow and segregation also continue to play a role in U.S. contemporary society. How do lives of Black people and people of color matter if the norm in the United States is to segregate in most aspects of ordinary living? How does one truly understand the lives of all people if they do not know all of the people? How much can anyone learn about difference from intentionally and purposefully segregated spaces and racial exclusion? Exclusion and segregation occur in most people’s lives all day and everyday. It is normal. Think about the spaces in which you attend or attended school, your neighborhood, family events, weddings, holidays, children’s birthday parties, or a child’s baptism, christening, or any religious or spiritual gathering. Who’s invited? Who’s always present?
Let’s face it — it is easy to live in the United States totally disengaged from particular groups. Look at housing and educational patterns. Think honestly about how we chose schools — universities included — or our neighborhoods, which also mean schools. Think about a simple trip to the grocery store. The celebratory spotting of a person of color in the dairy section does not count as racial integration. Better yet, think about whether you question when an entire group of folks are missing from every aspect of your living. In fact, do you question when “good” is code for predominantly White and “normal” is the adjective applied to describe your own neighborhoods the schools a few blocks away and all your choices?
The All Lives Mattering mantra is rhetoric that extols that, in fact, all lives matter, yet poignantly denounces and dismisses the value of the Black Lives Matter movement and Black lives mattering. It irreverently “instructs” the movement on what and where one should place focus: anywhere but the truth. Essentially, All Lives rhetoric argues that all “lives” operate from one voice, one standard and from one particular entry into this country. (In contrast, the Black Lives Matter movement brings with it a subtext that, in fact, Black lives have not and do not matter to many — yet the movement reminds people of color that our lives do matter.)
Ultimately, we argue that the Black Lives Matter movement does not intend to convey a message that all lives do not matter. We indict the deceiving warmth of colorblindness and its insidious cousins: ignorance, privilege, supremacy and arrogance. Yet the artifacts from a long, unique and violent history of slavery, coupled with contemporary experiences and supportive evidence from judicial systems, unemployment offices, disproportionate financial realities, all educational preK-20 enrollment, retention and “successes” continue to confirm that all lives still do not matter — equally.
Robin Hughes is interim executive associate dean in the School of Education at Indiana University. Natasha Flowers is a clinical assistant professor at Indiana University.