Why ‘All Lives Matter’ Is Such a Perilous Phrase
The New York Times by DANIEL VICTORJULY 15, 2016
William Widmer for The New York Times
“All Lives Matter” hasn’t brought people together.
That may have been the intent of some who use the slogan. They see it as a let’s-all-join-hands sentiment to which no one could object.
Yet the phrase has created backlash for some celebrities and politicians, and quite possibly fevered arguments on your Facebook feed.
It is sometimes — but not always — used by people who appear to be acting with good intentions, and who are in turn surprised that anyone would protest.
So why is the phrase so perilous?
To those who find it offensive or misguided, especially those sympathetic to the Black Lives Matter movement, the statement — particularly in a social media hashtag — is not seen as a Kumbaya sentiment but as a way to remove focus from the specific grievances of black Americans.
The doctor analogy is one of many explanations people have floated.
There are others: A house on fire needs water more than the neighbor’s house that isn’t on fire, and “everyone should get food” is no consolation to the person who wasn’t fed at dinner.
After the terrorist attack in Nice, a new comparison emerged:
Those in the Black Lives Matter movement say black people are in immediate danger and need immediate attention, like the broken bone or house on fire.
Saying “All Lives Matter” in response would suggest to them that all people are in equal danger, invalidating the specific concerns of black people.
“You’re watering the house that’s not burning, but you’re choosing to leave the house that’s burning unattended,” said Allen Kwabena Frimpong, an organizer for the New York chapter of Black Lives Matter. “It’s irresponsible.”
More to the point: It is a given that all lives matter, said Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, an assistant professor of African-American Studies at Princeton University.
“That has always been an assumption,” she said. “The entire point of Black Lives Matter is to illustrate the extent to which black lives have not mattered in this country.”
Judith Butler, a professor in the department of comparative literature and the program of critical theory at the University of California, Berkeley, said in a 2015 interview that “if we jump too quickly to the universal formulation, ‘all lives matter,’ then we miss the fact that black people have not yet been included in the idea of ‘all lives.’ ”
Many people — even people of color — who have said “All Lives Matter” on social media have faced swift backlash.
Jennifer Lopez deleted a tweet using the #AllLivesMatter hashtag on Tuesday, and a singer at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game on Tuesday added the phrase into the Canadian national anthem. His fellow singers disavowed the change and said he’d no longer be performing with them.
Fetty Wap, a rapper, apologized l after he used the #AllLivesMatter hashtag in a tweet last week that he later deleted, saying on Instagram that “I didn’t fully understand the hashtag.”
Two other singers, Christina Milian and Keke Palmer, also faced fury from fans, causing them to backpedal or delete tweets.
Republicans, including Donald J. Trump, frequently use the phrase. Democrats, too, have said it. Hillary Clinton faced intense criticism after she used it in June 2015.
While some who use the phrase may be intentionally slighting Black Lives Matter, or offering a counter-slogan to one they view as divisive, others have seemingly been unaware that anyone would be offended.
When that happens, Ms. Taylor said, “it’s important to use this as an opportunity to explain to people, and not just deride them and condemn them for being insensitive.”
There might be some common ground to be found.
In Dallas, people from competing “Black Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter” protests ended up hugging on Sunday after they came together to talk it out.
A police officer who had been keeping them separate joined a prayer with both groups.