A photo of a white woman holding an "all lives matter" sign


What White People Really Mean When They Say #AllLivesMatter

The insidious refrain trumpets a lack of empathy and an inability—or outright unwillingness—to acknowledge the innumerable threats against Black lives.

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Remember McKinney, Texas?

Just a week ago the video of yet another police officer brutalizing a Black girl went viral. As we always do, we took to the virtual streets and actual streets to voice our outrage. A video circulated on social media showing hundreds of people from different racial backgrounds marching on the community pool to demand justice.

Some marchers held up #BlackLivesMatter signs. They even sang Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.” Yes, change is gonna come, so long as people speak truth to power, organize, and agitate.

But not so fast … White supremacy has America on lockdown.

Unwilling to let Fox News be their only defenders, White residents of McKinney publicly thanked the White police officers on the scene for their “service.”  

They are not alone. Others joined them with their “ALL Lives Matter” signs. Despite their narrative of a post-racial America, this expression—like the celebration of the officer’s “service”—is just anti-black racism at its core.

White supremacy teaches that society exists to situate whiteness at the front and center. Of every fuggin’ thing. Whiteness is not just on the marquee but the building itself. White people are so accustomed to always being in focus, always being the point of every conversation. Every idea, situation and narrative must be related to White people. Anything that does not prioritize whiteness compels outrage and backlash.

So when they see and hear #BlackLivesMatter, they essentially react by saying, “How dare you NOT focus on us?” [Cue Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds.”]

Look Becky and Connor, I know it is hard outchere in these streets being White. People are wearing shirts, writing hashtags, and carrying signs anshit that don’t prioritize YOUR lives. Sure, White people are free of any of the dangers, threats or consequences of actually being Black, but I understand it is a struggle to live in a world where you’re not reminded every moment that you matter more than others.

This is reverse racism on fleek!

Like many Black people, I am fortunate to have evolved White people in my circle—the ones who get it, and are truly supportive allies and sometimes activists. (I call them the descendants of John Brown.) They don’t push back with #AllLivesMatter. They don’t insist upon prioritizing and privileging their voices, views, or experiences over ours. And when we do call out racism, privilege, or White supremacist attitudes, they see the bigger picture, know the larger truths and come correct. Trouble is, knowing this kind of White people reveals the ugly truths of those Robert E. Lee- and Paula Deen-type Whites more starkly, and makes people like me even less tolerant of their foolishness.

The undercurrents just beneath the surface of the #AllLivesMatter backlash are that Blacks are still inferior, substandard and subservient to White folks. Metaphorically, we are still enslaved and picking their crops, getting whipped like Lupita in 12 Years A Slave for stealing soap, and they don’t even see the racism and the violence inherent in chanting “Master’s Lives Matter.”

The racism behind #AllLivesMatter displays a deep lack of empathy for the fact that, from conception through birth, every stage of life, to the threat of an early/unjust/tragically untimely death, every Black person lives with the threat of being under siege in these United States. It embodies the false belief in King’s Dream; that is, pretending not see race and racism and wishing them away. Claiming “All Lives Matters” erases the consequences of the many ways society enacts racist structural policies that impact our daily realities.

For example, since the recession began in 2009, the Black-White wealth gap has widened. The median White household was found to own 13 times as much wealth as the median Black household, according to a Pew Research analysis of Federal Reserve data.

Here comes Becky, “All Lives Matter!”

Black unemployment is consistently stuck at double the White rate. And educational attainment doesn’t do much to close the gap: According to the 2013 Survey of Consumer Finances, the average Black college graduate accumulates less wealth than the average White high-school dropout.

Conner talmbout, “Dude, All Lives Matter!”

There are 1.5 million Black men missing or dead from everyday life, according to a recent New York Times report. From the legislature to the halls of the criminal justice system, from America’s police forces to the expansive prison system, it is clear that all lives don’t matter the same. Some lives are invisible. Disposable.

Look at Meg over there crying, “Stop being racist! All Lives Matter.”

While Minneapolis is considered one of the most progressive and diverse major U.S. cities, Black residents there are almost nine times more likely than Whites to get arrested for low-level offenses, according to a new ACLU report that looks at racial disparities made in arrests by Minneapolis police. Clearly, incarcerated Black lives matter, for the state’s profit margin.

Listen to Tanner sipping iced latte on Martha’s Vineyard and defensively proclaiming, “All Lives Matter.”

Not counting early deaths from police and other unnatural causes, researchers at UCLA “found that the average life expectancy in the U.S. was 74.79 years for Caucasian men and 67.66 years for African-American men. For women, the average life span was 79.84 years for Caucasians and 74.64 for African Americans. In all states, the ethnic disparity was less for women than men.

According to a recent Urban League report, “Blacks experience less than three-fourths the quality of life experienced by White Americans,” due to a lower median income, higher unemployment rate, and greater likelihood to be living in poverty. Where was the #AllLivesMatter crowd when we were debating health care and other social-welfare programs on chopping block from the Republican Party? You were too busy talking about welfare queens, moochers, and parasites.

If #AllLivesMatter, how do you explain separate and unequal schools in America? How do you account for the differential expectations and resources in our schools that continue to break down along economic, and thus largely color lines? When it comes to where the “best” teachers go and where investment is directed, it is clear that #BlackEducationalLives ain’t worth a good goddamn because White students deserve AP classes and state-of-the-art everything.

If #AllLivesMatter, how do you account for the stark differences in how Whites and Blacks experience the War on Drugs, stop-and-frisk, or school discipline? Racism even drives school suspensions. The Washington Post reports that “African Americans and students with disabilities are suspended at ‘hugely disproportionate rates,’ said leaders of the group, called the Discipline Disparities Research-to-Practice Collaborative.”

The #AllLivesMatter refrain is a form of denial, a diversion from gross racial injustices. It shows how many White people are isolated from Black lives and realities.

The embrace of #AllLivesMatter reflects a lack of empathy as well and the unwillingness—or inability—to acknowledge the truth of all the daily odds and threats against Black lives. The deep grief and mourning when yet another tragedy dominates the news, is an unacknowledged and undiagnosed sign of White delusion.

The struggle and pain of Black life and history are real. The scars, the trauma, the heartbreak are real. Why do some White people have to shine the spotlight to beam their superiority and claim the suffering as their own?

Would they do that at a wake or a funeral, interrupt the eulogy to remind everyone that they are ultimately the ones who matter?

Another Black kid dies at the hands of police, and you say, “All Lives Matter!”

A Black child is brutalized at a pool party, and you insist that “All Lives Matter.”

A Black man suffering a stroke in his car is tazed and maced. And still you cry that “All Lives Matter.”

We keep burying our dead, protesting brutality, and they want us to say, “You matter, White lady.”

You keep locking up our men, and you want our reassurance that, “You matter, White man.”

Never mind that every moment of their lives, everything in our culture tells White people how much they matter: how beautiful, intelligent, important, and superior they are and how much people of color suck being alive.

White America can’t even acknowledge Black people’s suffering without calling attention to themselves and claiming victimhood. Unwilling to bear the burden of the countless inequities that plague Black life, they still want their IMAGINED suffering to take center stage. Listen, White people aren’t ready to slice ten years off their life expectancy or assume the very real burdens of being Black, but they want to take every opportunity to remind us, and themselves, that their reality always trumps ours.

Why can’t White folks let people who are struggling to navigate countless obstacles and threats simply mourn, grieve, rage, and reflect? Why are they so disturbed and threatened when we dare to assert our humanity and the right to just treatment?

Given how the one-percent-controlled media like Fox News and conservative talk-radio networks push the lies of “White victimhood,” “reverse racism,” and their beloved “post-racial America,” we see how easy it for the average White person to blame Black people for everything going wrong in their world.

So they insist that #AllLivesMatter as unarmed Black men, women and children are brutalized and killed by police, as the attackers and killers escape prosecution, because their very sense of self and humanity are so deeply rooted in White supremacy that they feel compelled to remind Black communities that they will never matter as much as Whites. They need Black people to view themselves and their experiences as disposable and unimportant except for the ways in which they feed and sustain the White narrative.

But we know the truth. We understand everything, and will continue to insist that #BlackLivesMatter and push back on all assertions to the contrary.

We will keep fighting the notion that our lives can be considered only against the backdrop of White lives. That our realities are valid only in the context of White perspectives. That our humanity is inferior to that of White humanity.


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