A friend recently posted on Facebook about how the hashtag should be "All Lives Matter", and I rebutted that it should remain "Black Lives Matter" with an explanation of why I thought so. Someone had to explain it to me, but I now understand his post came out of the frustration of a Gay Pride Parade in Toronto interrupted by a Black Lives Matter protest earlier this July that asked that certain demands be met before the parade could proceed. That, I didn't know about. It's a criss-crossing of vulnerable populations that I don't have the depth of analysis to address, or, perhaps, any prerogative to talk about.
However, even as an outsider to both movements- a straight, white person- I still stand by my statement that the hashtag Black Lives Matter is essentially good, and that people should stop insisting that it be changed to All Lives Matter. Here's why.
Imagine everyone in the world is just wandering around and we haven't figured out how to build houses yet. There are no shelters of any kind- we're all just hanging out in the forest or the jungle somewhere and getting wet from the rain and frozen from the cold.
One day, a white family gets together and organizes to build a shelter for themselves. Everyone gathers around them on moving day and claps. "Well done", exclaims everyone. "You have built a house for yourself out of your own manpower. That is your prerogative and your right to do with your resources as you choose. Well done."
A few days later, a black family gets together and organizes to build a shelter for themselves. They've got the frame in place before the white family looks out their windows and notices a buzz of activity next door. They start getting anxious. "Wait a second!" they say, emerging from their house and waving their arms at their neighbors. "Wait a second! Are you just building a house for yourselves?" "Yes", says the black family, looking at each other, wondering what the problem could be.
"But what about all the other homeless people? You're not going to build a house for them too?"
"No, just for us."
The white family huddles together for a few minutes and discusses this, when suddenly, a shrill whistle emerges from their midst. A tall white man walks to the front of the crowd with his chest puffed out and in a deep, booming voice, annouces to everyone,
"Disqualified! This house is disqualified!
"Disqualified from what?" asks the black mom.
"It doesn't meet our standards of inclusion. I live in the upstairs of the white family's house, and it affords me a view of all the homeless people who still need shelter, which breaks my heart more than your heart could be broken, because you only see your own family's needs."
"Well that's the kind of the point", said the dad of the black family. "Help us out and when we're done, we can get together and help everyone else!"
"What!" shrieked the big white man, betraying his booming voice for a second. He collected himself, laughing. "No, no, no, no, no. Follow my lead everyone, and start tearing this structure down because it's not being built for everyone who's homeless. Furthermore, while you watch us tear it down, we're going to blast you with cold water until you are able to build a structure for everyone. Blasting you with cold water will serve as a reminder to care more about your homeless neighbors. Go back to the drawing board. How selfish are you? Good lord, in times like these, when the weather is so bad, you'd think that you could think of other people. I can, because I live upstairs and can see beyond your petty needs. Everyone needs protection and safety, not just you."
I think it's pretty obvious that this white family member needs to shut up and let the black family just build their house in peace and quiet. They could maybe even help them.
Black Lives Matter is a response to the out-of-control shootings of random African Americans last summer and continuing into this summer. It's a conscious channelling of a very particular experience of grief, helplessness and fury at being singled out by police and then ignored by the justice system because of their skin color. The BLM movement is trying to galvanize a particular people with its own unique place in the American political context to get a specific set of results: Retrain police officers. Fire and prosecute those who have killed the Trayvon Martins and Eric Garners.
The organizers have spent a lot of time off work and in their spare time planning events that will some day make it safer for them to walk their own streets. By having their hashtag pulled away from them saying, "But you have to represent ALL the casualties of everything!" takes away from the energy of what they're focusing on.
Notice that just as the BLM movement was getting some momentum and visibility, that other groups started saying, "Hey, give me a piece of that star-quality angst! I suffer too, you know." Having their talents and hard work appropriated by others is actually pretty typical for black people when something good happens to them.
Moreover, acting like Blacks are too shortsighted to see the bigger picture of the rising tide of fascism in the West, a tidal wave making many people nervous right now, is yet another diminishment of their efforts. We all know that a lifeguard is going to save the drowning kid before he confronts the bully by the side of the pool. Black people are being shot at -and killed- for reasons that white people would never even be questioned for. That's an emergency- we don't need to start questioning anybody's intelligence here.
Furthermore, we're also not going to start questioning their love or appreciation for other walks of life just because they want to protect their own lives. We can support them by saying, "Yeah, it's okay for you to want something good for yourselves and were not going to all of a sudden start questioning your loyalty to us just because you're doing something good for your own families."
How ludicrous would it be if we demanded that Mothers Against Drunk Drivers be Mothers Against Everything, otherwise they're not being fair to kids who were kidnapped or kids who got cancer? Being kidnapped is horrible, but if that's what happened to your child, try getting together with other parents whose children were kidnapped and try to come up with your own slogan and your own funding, resources, and media and political connections. MADD works because it remains focussed.
The Canadian Cancer society has a different culture and different strategy to attaining their financial and political goals than the Heart and Stroke Foundation. They work with hospitals and caregivers differently, so the needs they present to the health community are different. To ask them to spread their resources to other sicknesses just isn't how they do it in the non-profit sector, so it doesn't make sense to ask black professionals using their own time and resources to stretch out their movement to others. Those types of people are called freeloaders. We don't say to white fundraising professionals, "Hey! I see you got some funding there, and you got a spot on CTV to talk about your cancer cause. Can you mention the Heart and Stroke people too? Because we're important and if you don't mention us, it means you're not seeing the bigger picture of sickness."
The bottom line is we don't ask white people to spread the resources of their projects and campaigns so thin it doesn't accomplish anything specific anymore, so it doesn't make sense to ask it of African Americans who are organizing the Black Lives Matter protests. We got ours, now let's help them get theirs.