Since protests over the death of George Floyd began, the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ (BLM) has been a phrase shouted by many. But with that, so has the phrase ‘All Lives Matter’, which came about as a direct criticism of the BLM movement.
The Black Lives Matter phrase originated in 2013, after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the 2012 shooting death of 17 year old black teenager Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman was part of his local neighbourhood watch, and some believe he profiled Martin as a criminal based on his race.
It was only after BLM originated that we also start hearing the phrase ‘All Lives Matter’, similarly to how the term ‘Straight Pride’ has been used in response to ‘Gay Pride’.
No one is disputing the fact that all lives do indeed matter, but the statement is completely missing the point. All Lives Matter might intend to put all lives on an equal footing and attempt to give a sense of unity, but it’s dismissive and diminishing the focus on the violence and discrimination Black people face.
Alicia Garza, one of the creators of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, explained why Black lives need to matter in order for all lives to matter: “Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important, it means that Black lives, which are seen as without value within White Supremacy, are important to your liberation. Given the disproportionate impact state violence has on Black lives, we understand that when Black people in this country get free, the benefits will be wide-reaching and transformative for society as a whole. When we are able to end the hyper-criminalization and sexualization of Black people and end the poverty, control and surveillance of Black people, every single person in this world has a better shot at getting and staying free. When Black people get free, everybody gets free.”
Let’s put it another way. If multiple people get into a car accident and some people are seriously injured, while others only received some bumps and bruises, or maybe a few scratches, it’s the ones with the serious injuries that get first priority. Paramedics will tend to the other people involved in the accident, but someone with a profusely bleeding wound takes precedence over someone with a minor scratch.
I can count on one hand the amount of white people I’ve heard of killed by police. One hand. Meanwhile, the number of Black people who were killed because of the colour of their skin could fill this entire column and beyond, and include the likes of Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Mya Hall, Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner, Tanish Anderson, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Riah Milton, Dominique “Rem’Mie” Fells, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and too many others to name here.
It’s been pointed out numerous times that those saying Black Lives Matter know all lives matter, but as one protest sign put it “We said Black Lives Matter. We never said only Black Lives Matter. We know all lives matter. We need your help with #BlackLivesMatter for Black lives are in danger.”