Skip to content

How anti-racism became racist: All lives matter

12 July 2016

I keep seeing more and more articles and links to articles like the following:

These headlines are factoids.

A factoid is a lie that is repeated so often in the media that people eventually come to believe it is true.

In reading those articles, I can only think that the people who write them have lost their moral compass, or their sense of logic or both.

If one takes a charitable view of it, one could say that the logical and moral flaw is assuming that if people say the right thing for the wrong reasons, then the right thing becomes wrong.

A less charitable view is that those who maintain that “all lives matter” is wrong really believe that some lives matter more than others.

In either case, the denigration of “all lives matter” is American exceptionalism at its worst.

The logical flaw in this is illustrated in a cartoon that was attached to the first article listed above:


This cartoon is altogether disingenuous, and thoroughly misrepresents the meaning of “all lives matter”.

It would be more accurate if it showed several burning houses, and the “all houses matter” people would be trying to put out the fires in all of them, while that ones who don’t believe “all houses matter” would be spraying water on some houses, and petrol on the others to make them burn faster.

A few months ago there was a terrorist attack in France, and Facebook offered its users a French flag to cover their profile picture to indicate solidarity with the victims. Last week there was a terrorist attack in Iraq, and there were many more victims than in the French attack, but Facebook did not offer its users an Iraqi flag. The people at Facebook clearly believe that French lives matter, but Iraqi lives don’t matter as much. But they are not racist, oh no! It’s believing that all lives matter that is racist. Believing that some lives, like French lives, matter more than other lives, like Iraqi lives, is not racist, according to the arbiters of political correctness who wrote the articles cited above.

But we live in an Orwellian world where nonracism is racism and antiracism is racism.

If believing that all lives matter is racist, then the term “racism” has lost its meaning.

I’ve written about this before: on the American exceptionalism aspect of it here, and in relation to Black Lives Matter here. But it seems to me that it is getting worse, that logic and moral sense have flown out of the window. The meme that believing that all lives matter is racist has become a factoid, and it really needs to be stopped.

So I repeat:

If people say the right thing for the wrong reasons, that does not make the right thing wrong.

Unless, of course, you really do believe that not all lives matter.



17 Comments leave one →
  1. 12 July 2016 9:46 am

    Why did you not include the whole cartoon?

    • 12 July 2016 11:50 am

      That was all the cartoon I saw at the site (the first one cited above).

  2. brucealderman permalink
    12 July 2016 5:34 pm

    I think context is important here. These articles (as well as my own blog post) are addressing “all lives matter” in the context of the current U.S. situation. Even the Guardian article puts it in the context of a Donald Trump rally.

    Whenever an unarmed black man is killed by police, we hear protesters saying “black lives matter”, and then we hear counter-protesters saying “all lives matter”. But then, when a police officer is killed, the same ones who previously said “all lives matter” are the first to insist that “police lives matter”.

    Why are these people comfortable saying “police lives matter”, but not saying “black lives matter”? Because they are racist.

    I don’t know if you have the same thing in South Africa, but in the U.S. we call this “dog whistle politics”, where racists politicians uses words that sound good at face value, but have a coded meaning for their followers.

    For example, the phrase “law and order” a few decades ago, or “states’ rights” before that. Just like “all lives matter,” these phrases are neutral or positive in themselves, but in the context of U.S. politics, they are all code for “I’m a racist.”

    But you’re right that we should be able to say “all lives matter” if we really mean it, without being accused of racism. It’s just hard to see how to get to that point, at least in the U.S. context. Maybe one solution would be for the “black lives matter” movement to co-opt that phrase, and start saying “black lives matter–all lives matter”.

    • 12 July 2016 9:03 pm

      Bruce, I’m aware of the context. I did read the articles that are linked. But the meme, the root idea that is being spread abroad by those headlines, is that it is wrong to think that all lives matter. m If it said that some who said it were hypocritical, I’d have no quibble. But those statements inn the headlines are absolute, not relative. You should stop saying it;.It is and always was racist. That absolutising of it is just evil. It is spreading a poisonous idea, a poisonous meme.

  3. Rangjan permalink
    12 July 2016 7:29 pm

    I don’t understand your argument. “Black lives matter” arose in a context of racism in the USA (and incidentally elsewhere), where only white lives matter. As a response to the (unspoken, but ubiquitous) fact that only white lives mattered (in the media, in politics, in society generally) the movement asserted that “black lives matter”. There is an implicit “too” (as in “black lives also matter”, or “black lives matter as much as white lives”). The slogan “black lives matter” was inherently anti-racist. This is not to say that it can’t get subverted or change meaning over time. However there is nothing in the slogan which implies that white people can’t be victims of racism or discrimination. However it would be naive or disengenious to assume that racism against white people is a comparable problem (in the USA or elsewhere). To argue that “black lives matter” is racist, and that one should instead say “all lives matter” is something that white supremacists are saying in an attempt to undermine the real lived experiences of black people. I think it is OK to qualify “black lives matter” for example, “black lives matter because all lives matter” (but this is part of the implicit “too” which I mentioned above). It is also not what the white supremacists are doing: they are saying “black lives don’t matter because everyone is equal and there is no problem specifically faced by black people. In fact black people are unfairly disadvantaged by equal opportunities legislation”. That is why people are saying that you need to be careful. Do you identify with the oppressed or oppressor?

    • Rangjan permalink
      12 July 2016 7:31 pm

      Correction: …black people are unfairly *advantaged* by …

    • 12 July 2016 9:17 pm

      My argument is very simple: it is that all lives matter, and that saying that it is wrong to think so is itself wrong.

      Denying that all lives matter is a sign of sectional nationalism, ethnocentrism and racism, and identifies with the oppressor. It is oppressors who think that the lives of those they oppress don’t matter, or matter less than the lives of the Herrenvolk who think are entitled to do the oppressing. Yes, French lives matter, but Nigerian lives and Iraqi lives matter too.

      War criminals like George Bush and Tony Blair do not think all lives matter, and the propaganda saying that it is wrong to think that all lives matter plays into their hands.

      • Rangjan permalink
        13 July 2016 12:29 am

        But saying “black lives matter” is saying “all lives matter”.

        • 13 July 2016 4:21 am

          Not to people who explicitly tell you that it is wrong to think that all lives matter. And that is what I am talking about here. I’m not arguing against #blacklivesmatter, I’m arguing against the “it’s wrong to say ‘all lives matter'” meme.

          • Rangjan permalink
            13 July 2016 11:51 pm

            Look the articles you link to explain the point better than I can. I am baffled that you don’t get it.
            The point is that people are saying “all lives matter” not as a truth, but as a way to undermine a truth. And it is hurtful, because they are negating the experience of black people.

  4. mome permalink
    13 July 2016 3:59 am

    American political conversation (and I’m an American) is completely ridiculous. Completely.

    I think the “Black lives matter” mantra is meant to be read as “Black lives matter, too” or “Over and against your opinion (or actions) to the contrary, black lives DO matter.” It’s a retort to the presumed indifference many have toward black lives. Society treats black lives like they don’t matter (like Facebook treats Iraqi lives), so the slogan is meant to affirm that, yes, black lives do matter. It’s not meant to suggest that any other lives don’t matter because it’s already taken for granted that those lives matter. What’s not taken for granted in American society is that black lives matter, so it must be insisted upon. At least, that is the argument (and I’m sure you already understand this).

    But once these things enter the idiot machine of American political discourse and the liberal/conservative lines have been drawn, there is absolutely no way to undo them because for anyone to cede ground to the other side in any way is anathema. There is no interest in reaching an understanding or finding common ground, or even to jettison a less helpful slogan for a more helpful one. There is no interest in nuance. There is only an interest in winning and crushing your opponents and accusing them of total vileness. That is American political discourse in a nutshell (and it is truly “nuts”).

    • 13 July 2016 4:30 am

      Yes, I do understand what you say in your first paragraph. What I think needs to be countered is the idea that in order to right a wrong you must suppress a right. Propagating the notion that not all lives matter (as the articles I cited do) is very, very convenient for US imperialism, which goes droning on, and certainly doesn’t want people to think that all lives matter.

  5. 13 July 2016 10:17 am

    I blame twitter for a lot of this. As slogans, #blacklivesmatter and #alllivesmatter represent competing groups, and each slogan has a lot of unstated subtext.

    #blacklivesmatter, presumably, means “black lives matter [just as much as all other lives, so please don’t ignore black suffering!].”

    But it can be taken to mean, “Black lives matter [and all other lives don’t].” The response to the latter meaning, of course, is “All lives matter [just as much as black lives.]”

    “Black lives matter [just as much as all other lives]” and “All lives matter [just as much as black lives]” are both true statements, and represent a tautology, and of course neither is racist.

    The articles you cite assume (quite reasonably, in some cases) that in some cases “Black lives matter [just as much as all other lives]” is being countered with “All lives matter [but black lives matter less].” Which absolutely is racist.

    And so the subtext of these headlines is, ” ‘All lives matter [but black lives matter less]’ is and always was racist.” So it is.

    As neutral statements, with no context and no subtext, of course “Black lives matter” is a subset of “All lives matter.” Both are true; one is more specific. In the context of the United States, where these two hashtags originated and gained popularity, #blacklivesmatter and #alllivesmatter represent competing camps. They are no longer truth-statements to be evaluated as such, but become slogans, and it is the sloganeers who bear evaluation.

    But as long as these are slogans- hashtags!- countering one another, there is so, so much unspoken subtext that has to be assumed, and is usually misinterpreted.

  6. 13 July 2016 10:23 am

    Countering #blacklivesmatter with #alllivesmatter is, at its very best, a simple tautology that adds nothing to the conversation. So it’s unnecessary. At worst, it absolutely has the subtext that black lives matter less, and is absolutely [within this context of hashtag wars] wrong.

  7. Bill cairns permalink
    14 July 2016 8:08 pm

    Steve, I think that you have entirely missed the point.

    • 15 July 2016 12:17 pm

      I’m not sure what point I’m supposed to have missed.

      I reread the first article, which purported to give 9 reasons why I should stop saying “all lives matter” and I’m unconvinced. I shall continue to maintain that all lives matter, and that attempts to show that it is wrong to think that are disingenuous or just plain evil.

      Granted that a bunch of idiots in the USA misuse the phrase, that’s a long way from here, and, as I’ve tried to point out here, misuse does not invalidate proper use, unless you think that there is no proper use, and really believe that some lives don’t matter.

      Reports from the USA are sketchy, but I would be interested in knowing if those who misuse the phrase are also among those who go investigating the history of people who are reported as having been killed by the police and find that some of them have had criminal records, and trumpet that as if it justified killing them. If you really believe that all lives matter, then all means all. It does not exclude those with a criminal record. Criminals’ lives matter too, and it is not the job of the police to kill them extrajudicially but to arrest them, charge them and bring them to trial. The protests against killing suspects (as opposed to convicts) in the Philippines is based on the principle of “all lives matter”.

      And the principle of dolus eventualis, much publicised in the trial of Oscar Pistorius, also supports the notion of “all lives matter” — no matter who was behind that door, their life mattered.


  1. Disgrace | Notes from underground

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: