It's fairly common these days to see those who try to substitute Black Lives Matter with the generic All Lives Matter. My Facebook feed attests to this reality.
Obviously, I agree with the superimposed statement.
I think human life is sacred, and should be valued.
Yes, all lives do matter.
But each time I'd see All Lives Matter, there was something about the phrase, and how it was used, that bothers me. My conversations with those who posted it showed many of these folks unwilling to consider my discomfort or hear my concerns.
That in itself was very telling to me, and pushed me to examine why the phrase—which on the surface seems life-affirming—didn't sit well with me.
And too often, those posting were people, who like me, who identified as Christian. That was troubling too.
As I pondered my reaction and my feelings, what occurred to me is this: All Lives Matter is similar to the statement “God Loves Everyone.” I don’t deny the truth of God's universal love, but that statement just makes the focus too vague, too broad, and too undefined.
It doesn’t give that divine love an actual target.
Does God love that lesbian couple who wants to buy a wedding cake?
Does God love the Trans boy who wants to use the restroom at school?
Does God love the immigrant who's seeking refuge in my community?
Does God love the sick person needing affordable healthcare?
Does God love the poor person who wants to earn a living wage?
In each case, it's easy to say "Of course, God loves everyone," but that doesn't address actual problems, or provide comfort and help to those who need it. With "God loves everyone," there's no need for personal expressions actions of divine mercy and compassion. And sadly, watching the actions of many who profess the Name of God, I don't see that love in real-life situations, with real people who have real problems. (e.g., Is it love to refuse service to a gay couple? Is it love to oppose affordable healthcare?)
“God love everyone” may be true, but it’s more of a truism. It doesn’t involve me in the demonstration of that love!
“God loves everyone” is merely a shrug of acknowledgment without any expended energy.
Similarly, All Lives Matter is obviously true. No one is denying that. But it's so easy, and requires no commitment, no involvement, no effort. It's more of a platitude—a mental shrug, perhaps to soothe the pang of conscience. I don't see All Lives Matter as a noble Affirmation of Live, but as a reaction to situation we don't understand. I can tell that for many white people, All Lives Matter is certain a more comfortable statement. That would indicate to me at least some latent racism.
Black Lives Matter isn’t saying that all lives...or other lives...don’t matter. The movement grew out of the reality that black people are being killed at a high rate, and for activities that shouldn’t merit such action. Black Lives Matter is calling attention to an actual need, much like the Boston Tea Party or the Stonewall Riots.
It's demanding attention...now!
It’s shining a spotlight on the problem, while All Lives Matter strikes me an attempt to diffuse the light.
Or turn it off.
When I insist on using All Lives Matter as a substitute for Black Lives Matter, I’ve opted for the vague, the nebulous, the undefined.
“Whatever. All Lives Matter.”
By substituting my preferred wording over Black Lives Matter, I've ignored the reality of the pain, adding an unspoken and hurtful “but” to their proclamation of suffering.
“BUT...all lives matter.”
More than that, I've negated their feelings and diminished their grief.
"Sure people are dying, BUT let's remember: all lives matter."
Black Lives Matters is about bringing awareness!
All Lives Matters seems to make it a competition.
Supposed we learned that more than 100 school children had suddenly died of an unknown disease in our elementary school.
How would we expect the parents and community to respond, especially if their needs weren't being met, their concerns not heard...and children continued to die?
And if concerned parents and friends decided to protested this unidentified, deadly malady, how helpful would it be if I disregarded their concern by saying something like "But what about leukemia? All children's lives matter!"
When I promote All Lives Matter, I’m failing to confront a specific, imminent racial problem in our country, and I’m refusing to become involved in any actual solution.
I’m not required to admit my personal sense of privilege. It could be that I don't want to confront my own secret prejudices.
When I promote All Lives Matter, I’m part of the problem!
And finally, by refusing to acknowledge this very real problem and the needs of this very real group of people (i.e., Black Lives do matter...right now!) haven’t I kinda proven I really DON'T believe All Lives Matter?
I'm an old, middle-class, white guy, so I can't begin to fully comprehend the realities of violence and fear that infects many neighborhoods in our country, nor the racism and injustice that comes with those in authority. But as a human being, who supports justice and equality, I can step outside myself and empathize with them. I can do as Jesus commands and love my neighbor as myself.
If I can't...or won't...then I should abandon any claim to a belief in God's love or the sanctity of all lives.
Yes, God love everyone.
Yes, all lives matter.