Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece.
When I – as a Black woman – affirm Black Lives Matter, I am often met with confused looks and rebuttals. They all sound like this: “Of course, it’s obvious that Black lives matter. Everyone’s lives matter.” Those words often come from the mouths of white or non-Black people of color. They believe the statement is harmless as it implies all lives have value and that message should be more present in our daily conversations. When hearing those words I have to ask, does it make you (as a non-Black person) uncomfortable to know that your existence may not be at the center of a discussion?
Do you assume that I mean no lives matter except Black lives? This assumption has been present since the early growth and development of the movement in Ferguson, in 2014, after the murder of Mike Brown. The discourse has always shifted from discussing the atrocities of police violence against Black bodies towards counter-movements, such as #AllLivesMatter. The statement itself is not problematic, however it erases the particular focus of the movement that addresses issues where Black lives have been historically devalued and dehumanized. Furthermore, the All Lives Matter “movement” started as a hashtag in direct response to BLM. There were no headlines about All Lives Matter actively providing care or resources for Syrian refugees upon their arrival in Canada. No stories about “All Lives” organizers advocating for better health services for trans and gender non-conforming people. Radio silence from All Lives Matter supporters when seeking easier access to justice for survivors of domestic abuse or sexual violence. Contrary to the narrative, all lives did not matter in a multitude of spaces. Many marginalized groups who were in need of support were not receiving it.
Black Lives Matter addressed many of these issues too, connecting seemingly unrelated societal problems as part of a larger structure of systemic and institutional violence against Black people around the world. The eminence of BLM on social media propelled conversations about police- and state-inflicted violence in the United States and around the world. The global scale of Black Lives Matter sparked violent responses directed at individual organizers and the movement at large, supporting police officers and their institutions worldwide, using #BlueLivesMatter to address police officers’ whose lives who are lost in the line of duty. The most problematic thing about this statement is that there is no such thing as a “blue” life. Police officers, like many other civil servants, choose to take on the roles that allow them to serve their communities. There is no dispute that there are occupational hazards associated with the job, that result in threats of or real violence. There is also no question that in the line of duty, police officers are faced with the reality that the violence inflicted on them may be fatal. Using “Blue Lives” in direct opposition to Black Lives Matter silences the voices of Black adults and children who are victims of police brutality; not as an unfortunate consequence of a dangerous line of employment, but simply for existing and taking up space as a Black person.
Black Lives Matter aims to remind Black folks that we have permission to exist without the fear of being beaten to death, gunned down, or hung from trees. Permission to exist should not be a demand or a privilege.
When someone says Blue Lives Matter, in reference to violence against the police, assuming BLM condones violence because Black people are taking their concerns to the streets, they are complicit in the systemic violence that many Black people are experiencing. When someone says Blue Lives Matter, in defense of the “good cops”, are they and the good cops also condemning the bad cops for brutally murdering countless innocent and unarmed civilians? Are they also acknowledging that there are officers who serve but do not protect certain members of the population?
To those who say All Lives Matter: do you speak up when individuals who don’t share your identities are in danger? Do you challenge those who harass Muslims and call them “terrorists”? Do you condemn those who target refugees and undocumented folks and label them “illegal aliens”? Do you fight back against who continuously tell women they are to blame for violence inflicted against them? Do you acknowledge the colonial violence we, as settlers, inflicted upon indigenous peoples? Do you tell young Black boys they’re more than just “thugs”? Do you challenge those who yell at immigrants to “go back home”? The list goes on. When you say All Lives Matter, do you think of them?
When folks combat the BLM narratives by saying “we should all be united and love each other”, that counter-narrative fails to address the cycle of inter-generational abuse and trauma ever present in the lives of Black people and that this trauma has weighed so heavily on them that they may not know how to project love and compassion onto those who have historically inflicted violence upon them?
When I say #BlackLivesMatter, it’s because the notion that our lives matter is not yet implicit in conversations about equal human rights. It’s for the people who are in the streets, rallying for our dignity to be respected when they’re tired of shouting and not being heard. It’s for the caregivers, getting degrees, working multiple low-wage jobs, and raising our future world leaders. It’s for the elders who raised us to overcome all obstacles. It’s for me, too. It’s an act of self-love in dark times. It’s a reminder that is necessary. It’s not about you. It’s about us.