It can often feel tricky or intimidating to respond to someone who says “All Lives Matter”, but the consequences of remaining silent are serious– they maintain the status quo that affords White people safety and legitimacy at the expense of Black people.
As the Black Lives Matter movement has gained traction in articulating the systemic violence against Black people globally, an unfortunate response that often crops up is the correction that “All Lives Matter.” While this retort may be well intended, we know that it is often used to deflect responsibility for systemic racism and diminish the voices of Black people. It can often feel tricky or intimidating to respond to someone who makes such a statement, but the consequences of remaining silent are serious– they maintain the status quo that affords White people safety and legitimacy at the expense of Black people. Using this guide, you will gain the tools and confidence to navigate this statement. One way you can help someone start reflecting is by reading through this list of privileges, or unearned advantages, together, and identifying which of them you each hold.
- I have never been mistaken for a member of support or waiting staff in a professional setting.
- I can easily find the kinds of hair products I need and/or cosmetics that match my skin color.
- I can walk through a store without fear of being followed by security.
- I can make mistakes and not have people attribute my behavior to flaws in my racial/ethnic group.
- I would never think twice about calling the police when trouble occurs.
- The history of my ethnic community is not one of collective trauma.
We know all lives matter, but White lives historically and presently matter more. We can see this through the accumulated positive outcomes that White people have received because of the kinds of privileges on this list. While White people are given greater access to intergenerational wealth, housing, and higher education, Black Americans are twice as likely to be shot and killed by police as White Americans, and Black Women experience maternal mortality at 2 to 3 times the rate of White Women.
We won’t get any inclusion work done if we apply the same solutions to everyone (as “All Lives Matter” implies) when there are some people who are systematically disadvantaged. Sometimes articulating focus for one group can feel like a reduction in privilege to another group, but we can see materially that this is not true. For example, if White people are treated as law-abiding or professional by default, and have had access to more opportunities as a result, they likely do not need additional resources to fairly get the job they deserve.
Take a look at the following workplace inclusion examples, and pick which one is the odd one out, that does not bring about inclusion.
- An Employee Resource Group is created for Black Women in the workplace to share their experiences and track their promotion rates in an organization.
- An Employee Resource Group is created for White Men in the workplace to share their experiences and track their promotion rates in an organization.
- An employee requests that programs in Latin America prioritize Spanish-speaking panelists.
Discuss with a colleague in what way each example either does or does not provide additional resources or access to a marginalized group. How might the second example further oppression?
If we are to make progress that meets the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement, we must invest in the difficult conversations. Once you have the tools to explain the need for targeted solutions to racism, you will need to think about the appropriate approach in responding to a statement like “All Lives Matter.” Use the following table for some helpful reframing. If you know a colleague may not respond well to the phrases on the left-hand side, we offer some other phrasing to bring them into the solution.
|Instead of saying
|“All Lives Matter” is racist.
|If we want to disrupt racism, we need to focus on the heightened level of violence that Black people specifically face every day. Saying All Lives Matter ignores this heightened experience of violence and may even suggest it doesn’t exist.
|Check your privilege.
|Sometimes we can’t see how others are continuously denied access to safety and legitimacy, because these privileges are taken for granted or seen as natural for us individually.
|White people aren’t victims.
|Just because you have privilege, doesn’t mean you don’t suffer. But White people do not collectively suffer in predictable ways because of their race, the way that Black people are targeted.