The Absurdity of #AllLivesMatter

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 8.37.52 AMI suppose the social media hashtag #AllLivesMatter is well-intentioned.  Of course, everyone’s life matters. But as an offering in response to the #BlackLivesMatter campaign and philosophy, which is how people seem to be using it, the hashtag is insensitive,  a gross misunderstanding (or ignorance) of history and its legacy, and entirely absurd.

#BlackLivesMatter reminds us that American heritage reflects 400 years of institutionalized enslavement, oppression, and murder directed specifically toward – wait for it – black folks. And here’s the real sticker: for the most part, white America has stood silently by and let it happen…for four centuries.

Have “all” people been singled out for enslavement? Have “all” people had their children stolen and sold? Have “all” people had to resign themselves to arbitrary beatings and rape? Have “all” people faced a lynching for simply exercising their Constitutional rights?  Have “all” people faced the humiliation of legal public segregation? Have “all” people been denied a seat at a lunch counter or on a bus or in a theater? Have “all” people faced the reality of being singled out by law enforcement when they leave their homes? Have “all” people been criminalized for their manner of dress?  Have “all” people had to instruct their children that they will be treated as potential threats and thus take especial care not to be killed? No.

Many white Americans understand the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow era racism as things of the past – terrible yes, but over. And these folks suggest that we all move along; that if everyone obeys the law, there will be no trouble. And we will all live in peace – all of us. But anyone who has been paying attention knows that this is not the case. Anyone who reads the news and still believes things are fine is confused. Using #BlackLivesMatter does not mean that other lives do not matter – it is an acknowledgement of a history of brutality, its legacy, and its modern manifestations.

#BlackLivesMatter reminds us that the unseemly American tradition of enslavement, oppression, and murder is still with us. And until “all” Americans can admit this, little will change.

Just in case you need a reminder…

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Peace be with you,

Keith

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6 thoughts on “The Absurdity of #AllLivesMatter”

  1. The history of the black experience is inarguable, but the glossing over the white experience is inexcusable from a historian.

    If white lives really matter would the lives of white men been so easily sacrificed in morally dubious conflicts? Would there have been a Ludlow, a Mountain Meadows, or the Bath School Massacre? Would there have been a Civil War if lives really and truly mattered?

    Life has always been held cheap in the US. None more than that of blacks. But the author of this piece is seemingly leaving out stripes of history detailing white-on-white violence. The
    failure to mention the violence of the labor wars, Bleeding Kansas, John Brown, Shays Rebellion, Duffy’s Cut, and numerous other incidents leaves one questioning the history being told here.

    How exactly can you talk about violence and not talk about the Civil War, a seminal event in American history? War is the ultimate act of violence, it destroys life and liberty, and leaves a residue of bitterness that plagues generations long after the fighting generation has passed. War is the most violent act a nation can undertake and this nation went to eat with itself.

    Violence has been a central theme in American history and still is. The willingness to use it so casually has immense consequences not just for ourselves, but for the world as Iraq so brutally and bloodily shows.

    All lives matter is perfectly logical seen in that light. The violence of our past has left indelible marks on us all. It has help create the very things the author refers to. You cannot divorce violence perpetrated on one part of the population from the violence committed by society as a whole.

    America has been an extremely violent country since it was a colony. The behavior that created and sustained the slave system, impose Black Codes and Jim Crow, instigated the numerous massacres of the Reconstruction and post-Reconstruction Eras, and mutated into what we see now, also was responsible for the violence against Natives, the various rebellions and massacres committed by whites against whites, and the Civil War.

    America has both a race and violence problem. Both are intertwined and separate at the same time. It’s important that we acknowledge the truth that black lives have not mattered in our history. But it equally important life itself has not held the sanctity that it ought to. We are a nation awash in the blood of men regardless of their skin color.

    1. Ryan – thank you for your comment. I do not believe I am glossing over the experiences of white Americans. I understand that white people have experienced violence. And for the record, I am a Civil War historian…so I get it. My point, which I think you have missed here, is that while white people have been caught up in violence, they have never been singled out as a group as the objects of violence determined by the virtue of being white. Black people have historically, and continue to be.

  2. My sense is that most who use “All Lives Matter” aren’t intentionally being insensitive. My sense is that it’s mostly not thinking about history or being unaware of the history.

    1. Agreed – as I mentioned in the post – the thought is most certainly well-intentioned.
      As always, thanks for the comment, Al 🙂

  3. I never intend to make comments on these blogs, rather, the Sirens call at the most inopportune times, such as 3:00am. This one caught my attention with a 4-line Tweet. A new record!

    The day after the Dallas shootings, I went to Starbucks (something I am supposed to give up to save for CWI2017, but the Muses interfere with sleep) I had not immediately noticed the others in line, but the young African-American girl next to me gives a shout-out: “Hey, this must be where all the brown people go — it must be safe!” Whut? I looked around, and yup: it was the united nations of color — from beige to black — and not one single white person in sight. Perhaps. What about the other half of ME? Do I have to choose sides, accordingly? (depending how safe it is?) More than I have at any other time in my life: I feel both sides pressing in against the middle. The middle wishes to remain Undeclared.

    I cannot help but to experience the knee-jerk reaction
    that “AllLivesMatter” is at worst, an ignorant, selfish attempt to pull the carpet out from under a people who have struggled to fully take their place amongst their fellow citizens. A better, more rational evaluation is that it is an incredibly naïve attempt at some sort of cum-bi-yah can’t-we-all-just-get-along. Which is it? I am not the one to say for sure, but sometimes first impressions are the lasting ones.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Shoshana. I believe that our country’s racist heritage runs so deep that it tends to direct even well-meaning people away from the matter at hand. I think that many white folks want to believe that racism is a thing of the past – or at least on the way out…but it isn’t, not by a long shot. Is this urge to put the past to bed some sort of latent guilt or unconscious acknowledgement that we can’t? I have my suspicions.

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