Whose lives matter?
A few months ago I began to see people posting things on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter saying that it was wrong to say that “All lives matter”.
Now I know that many people do not believe that all lives matter (I’m talking about human lives here). Many people divide the human race into “us” and “them”, and believe that “our” lives matter more than “their” lives. Some speak about the cost of this or that action in terms of “American lives” or “British lives” or “Jewish lives”, as if these lives were more important than other lives. I think we all have that tendency. I know that the death of someone I know and love affects me more than the death of a complete stranger.
But where it gets weird is when people start giving different values to different groups of strangers, and not in relation to death as such, which happens to all of us, but death at the hands of other people. I’m not just talking of dying here, but of killing, or hastening the death of someone by some deliberate human act. And it is in that context that I say “all lives matter”. And it is in that context that I find it very strange when people say that it is wrong to say that all lives matter.
Over the last couple of years there have been a number of news reports of police in the USA assaulting and sometimes killing unarmed people, usually young people, and a disproportionate number of those young people were black. So people came up with the Twitter hashtag #blacklivesmatter, because they believed, not without reason, that many policeman believed, or acted as though they believed, that black lives mattered less than white lives. I preferred to use the hashtag #policebrutality for such incidents, because I believe that all lives matter. I have already blogged about that here, so before anyone starts explaining to me that I don’t understand the context, please read that. And please read what follows to understand why I say I believe that “all lives matter”, and why it is important.
If you Google the phrase “all lives matter” you will find that a lot of people, especially in the USA are saying that it is wrong to use that phrase. But they generalise it outside their own particular context, and some of the people who were saying that it was wrong were not in the USA, but in Britain and elsewhere. I believe that those who say that it is wrong to use that phrase have lost not only their moral compass, but also their reason. Unless, of course, you really believe it. Then you may have lost your moral compass, but your reason is intact. If you believe that Syrian or Afghan lives matter less than American lives, then obviously you won’t believe that all lives matter, and you might have a good reason for thinking that the only good Syrian refugee is a dead one.
But my use of all lives matter goes back quite a long time before that.
Soon after the end of apartheid and South Africa’s first democratic elections, white people who longed for the “good old days” of apartheid began speaking of “white genocide” and propagating the idea that the murder of white farmers by armed robbers was evidence of such genocide. It seemed pretty clear from the way in which they told these stories that the aim was to to show that they were right all along — if you give blacks political power, there will be a bloodbath and “they” will kill all the whites. In view of the obvious political motive, it is difficult to know whether the figures they give are accurate, or exaggerated for the purposes of political propaganda.
What did happen in the 1990s, however, was a dramatic increase in the crime rate.
That also happened in other countries that also made a transition from authoritarian rule to democracy in the same period, the Second-World countries of the former Soviet bloc. So it seems that more freedom meant more crime. Does that mean that we should go back to more authoritarian societies and give up our freedom?
In South Africa, as in other former authoritarian countries, the police were trained in detecting and neutralising perceived threats to the security of the state rather than catching criminals. One South African newspaper cartoon of the 1960s had two burglars with their loot watching a policeman passing by, and one said to other, “Don’t worry about him, he’s looking for integrationists.”
The lifting of economic sanctions against South Africa in that period opened the way for increased foreign trade, but it opened the way not only for legitimate businesses, but for crooked businesses as well, and crime syndicates from all over the world opened branches in South Africa, triads from Hong Kong, the Italian and Russian mafia, you name it. Nigerian drug dealers and Bulgarian car thieves poured in, looking for easy pickings. And the South African police couldn’t cope. They weren’t trained for such things. In addition, the apartheid government had had dealings with a lot of shady businesses for the purposes of sanctions busting, and the new government didn’t need them, so they had to look elsewhere for their profits.
So there was a crime wave, with local criminals competing with incoming criminals and the police caught fl;at-footed by the change. Was the new ANC government to blame? Yes, I believe they were, to some extent, because they did not move quickly to transform the police. They demilitarised the police in name, but not in mentality. The police learned a new politically-correct vocabulary. In the apartheid period the police had been the enemies of democracy, but parachuting in a few friendly senior officers and fast-tracking the promotion of a few others was not really transformation. They were cosmetic changes. And so there was a crime wave, and the police found it difficult to cope..
So yes, farmers probably did suffer more from the crime wave than other occupational groups, and because of the policies of the previous regime, most of the farmers who were worth robbing were white. Most of the black farmers had been deliberately dispossessed of their land and ethnically cleansed as a result of the apartheid policy.
But to call this “genocide” was simply racist political propaganda, and the government knew it, and perhaps for that very reason failed to take the problem seriously enough, and dismissed it as nothing more than propaganda. So the propagandists actually exacerbated the problem because they were more interested in making political capital out of the problem than in solving it. They actually thrived on it because it provided more “evidence” for their thesis that blacks were not fit to be in government. Just Google “white farm murders genocide” and see how they relish the blood and gore.
The other racist problem is that the “white genocide” conspiracy theorists use the term “farm murders” to refer to the murder of white farmers by black robbers. But quite a number of farm murders are the murder of black farm workers by their white employers. Those tend to get left out of the story, but they are still farm murders.
So my response to the genocide conspiracy theorists has been to say that “all lives matter”. Why single out just one occupational and ethnic group- for concern? People of all occupational and and ethnic groups suffered from the crime wave. The “genocide” theorists seemed to be more interested in promoting their political cause than fighting crime.
And then came Marikana.
That showed that the “demilitarised” police force that was called a “police service” rather than a “force” was untransformed from the days when the police shot 69 unarmed protesters at Sharpeville in 1960. Transformation had failed. Farmers’ lives matter, but so do miners’ lives. But then we can also see that the number of policemen who have been murdered by criminals in the last couple of years far outnumbers the number of miners, and possibly the number of farmers as well. Why single out miners, when police and farmers are being murdered too?
The difference is that the police and farmers are being murdered by criminals, while the miners are being murdered by the police. Nevertheless, rather than singling out a single occupational group for concern, it is better to say that all lives matter. . The #blacklivesmatter campaign in the USA is also about people who are being murdered by the police. who behave as if they do not believe that all lives matter. Believing that all lives matter is a matter of ubuntu.
Of course believing that all lives matter makes me pro-life, and the opposite of pro-life is pro-choice, that is, reserving the right to choose which lives matter and which don’t. There are some who believe that white farmers’ lives matter more than other lives, or that American lives matter more than Iraqi lives. There are those who choose to believe that black teenagers’ lives matter less than other lives, or that miners’ lives matter less than other lives, or that unborn lives matter less than other lives. But that’s another story, and I’ve told it here.