“The plea is a very simple one: look at it”- James Baldwin
If you are a regular Twitter user, you’re familiar with the term “troll”.
On the playful side, people within the same social community troll others or each other as a joke (example: a celebrity makes a funny face, and they become an internet meme). On the annoying side, trolls go to someone’s mentions and thrust unsolicited arguments over a specific issue (race, class, gender, Murica, which superhero is the best, etc.). Their points are shaped as attempts to highlight “the real issue,” but are merely derailments. But there are other kinds of trolls who use their voices and opinions to harass and terrorize. These types of trolls are (not always but) usually champions of the status quo. They can be contrarian, serial caveators, undermining, privilege-defending, apathetic, racist, sexist, homophobic, jingoist, and just straight-up bullies.
So when I first heard the phrase, I couldn’t help but think that #AllLivesMatter is merely a troll response to #BlackLivesMatter. Its sentiments are closer to annoying, but at a time where police brutality is at the forefront of our minds, its words are terrible.
#AllLivesMatter is a flowery notion we can posture to, shielding us from any blame for the state of our union, while still getting credit for faux inclusiveness. It’s a reconciliation for those of us who want good feelings and social capital for backing an idea like “All Lives,” but don’t want to isolate ourselves (politically or socially) in a historically anti-Black society by supporting “Black Lives.” #AllLivesMatter is a cousin to the knee-jerk reaction of “stop making everything about race” when someone points out clear, salient racial elements of an issue like police brutality. It’s the cookie we want everyone to give us for not being a racist. It’s so splendid, and so Splenda.
And what may be more important in this social media connected world, saying #AllLivesMatter has no social or political consequences. It isn’t a call to re-examine our broken and too often corrupt justice system. It isn’t a movement, it’s a sentiment, so there is no risk, just reward. Post it on Facebook and you get a few dozen “likes,” the feeling that you “drew attention” to police brutality, and a nice subconscious pat on the back. #AllLivesMatter is a utopia where we can act like we don’t know why it seems freer and easier to make posts about Syrian refugees or change our profile to the French flag than to talk about Rekia Boyd, LaQuan McDonald, Sandra Bland, or Michael Brown, or #SayHerName.
But saying #BlackLivesMatter is a political statement that has very real consequences, even if you say it on social media. Your colleagues, your teacher, friends/family, everyone around you looks at you differently, assume you are “radical”, and their latent prejudices come out. Because of media misrepresentations about the movement, that friend whose father is a cop now hates you, because she conflates #BlackLivesMatter with a group of thugs who want to kill cops. Your boss now looks at your work with indifference, because seeing #BlackLivesMatter reminds him of the uncomfortable guilt he felt after seeing a white cop shoot a Black kid and automatically thinking “well, he must have done something” to get shot 16 times.
Just looking at the words “All Lives Matter”, most of us would argue that the intention behind it is awesome. As humans, we should value all life, whether the person is Black or white, Muslim or Christian, Palestinian or Jew, gay or straight. But what’s disheartening is #AllLivesMatter allows us to be activists without actually doing anything. But when you post #BlackLivesMatter, you have declared solidarity with a group of young, Black, and often poor activists in a society that is too often anti-Black, anti-poor, and demonizes dissent. You’re holding up a mirror to a country eager to soothe its racial guilt with post-raciality.
Many misconceptions about #BlackLivesMatter are rooted in some astonishing mistruths and peculiar logic. Do people really think that when someone says #BlackLivesMatter, what they are actually saying is #ONLYBlackLivesMatterAndNobodyElse? Do people really think that groups of non-violent, unarmed protesters take to the streets to incite open warfare against police officers? And I can’t imagine #AllLivesMatter being a perceived appropriate response if the “Black” in BLM was replaced with any other demographic.
#BlackLivesMatter draws attention to the specific issue of police killing Black people with frequent impunity. It cries out that a Black person’s life should matter as much as anyone else’s. It makes the firm accusation that in this country’s past and present, Black life hasn’t been treated as if it matters. Unironically, #ALM is not heard when an officer shoots a Black citizen, it is the response the outrage of Black citizens. Unironically, #BLM is fighting to erase an issue that affects us all (no matter how disproportionately it affects Black and Latino citizens). Unironically, #ALM poses as inclusiveness when it is derailing. Unironically, #BLM is mistaken as divisive when it is striving for equality. And unironically, the best way to empathetically state that “All Lives Matter” is actually to say these three words: