As countless Americans took the streets and to social media to voice their outrage over the slew of black deaths that have occurred (and continue to do so) at the hands of the police, some among them began to use the chant ‘All Lives Matter’. The genesis of this slogan is unknown, but it did make an appearance early on in the Ferguson protests. There exists a lot of speculation about the intentions behind this chant – some say it’s the result of a race-blind policy, others say that it’s to account for all victims of police brutality, even those who were white. Of these, the latter is a valid concern, and we must mourn the loss of any life, regardless of race. And while I support groups that represent all victims of police brutality standing in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, I cannot in good conscience support the All Lives Matter campaign. It may be well-intentioned, but it ultimately does nothing but to undermine the Black Lives Matter movement.
Let’s talk about how African-Americans are disproportionately affected by police brutality. I’m not going to dump a plethora of statistics on you, but a simple one would do. An analysis of CDC statistics, conducted by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, reveals that young African Americans are 4.5 times more likely of being killed by the police than any other racial or age group. And the violence does not end there, but continues through incarceration, release and integration. So, while all lives matter, black lives are the most vulnerable to violence. And there exists a need to state what should be obvious, that black lives matter. The sad reality is that black lives are not always valued as human lives. If Ferguson did not spark off a wave of protests, who would publicly mourn the dehumanization of these lives?
For what it’s worth, the All Lives Matter campaign is a symbol of race-blind polices, and I have a number of concerns about this approach to race politics. While those who champion this cause may have pure intentions, race-blind policies completely disregard the reality that people do see race. This inclination is inherent and automatic and cannot be easily curbed. What is distressing is not this inherent tendency to see race, but that there are many who see race along a social hierarchy, and value some less than others. Being race-blind will fail to address this fundamental problem of racism. What is most distressing of all is that in a seemingly post-racial utopia created by race-blind polices, violence will not be viewed in racial terms. It becomes easier to turn a blind eye to the racial connotations of violence, thereby tacitly encouraging it to continue. Furthermore, there are a number of African Americans, as well as other minorities, who are proud of their racial identity. They celebrate their history, their culture, and the achievements of their race. Let us not disempower them any further by robbing them of the choice to embrace their identity.
At the end of the day, All Lives Matter has had a deleterious effect on the Black Lives Matter movement. It is telling that some people who claim to believe in the sanctity of all life respond to the Black Lives Matter movement by citing instances of police brutality against White Americans. What happened to the Latinx population or the Native American victims that no one speaks about? As for those white allies who claim that police brutality is not a black issue but is a threat to even white people, I have but one response: It is a form of white privilege to be unable to grieve for the suffering of black people unless their trials have the potential to be yours.