On “All Lives Matter”
Defenders of the counterclaim that “all lives matter” against accusations of false universalism and willfully ignorant decontextualization tend to double down in their empty demands for an often previously unexpressed impassioned plea for justice for all races.
Philosophers may be useless in this discussion because they can’t or won’t be understood, so instead “all lives matter” has been debunked in layperson terms by a series of analogies and hypotheticals.
Imagine that you’re sitting down to dinner with your family, and while everyone else gets a serving of the meal, you don’t get any. So you say “I should get my fair share.” And as a direct response to this, your dad corrects you, saying, “everyone should get their fair share.” Now, that’s a wonderful sentiment — indeed, everyone should, and that was kinda your point in the first place: that you should be a part of everyone, and you should get your fair share also. However, dad’s smart-ass comment just dismissed you and didn’t solve the problem that you still haven’t gotten any!
The problem is that the statement “I should get my fair share” had an implicit “too” at the end: “I should get my fair share, too, just like everyone else.” But your dad’s response treated your statement as though you meant “only I should get my fair share”, which clearly was not your intention. As a result, his statement that “everyone should get their fair share,” while true, only served to ignore the problem you were trying to point out.
as well as Matt McGorry’s Twitter feed:
#BlackLivesMatter doesn't mean other lives don't. Like people who say “Save The Rainforests” aren't saying “Fuck All Other Types of Forests”
— Matt McGorry (@MattMcGorry) July 18, 2015
Over at Daily Kos, snowman3 offers:
Imagine a house that was on fire. Now imagine the homeowner, Janet, running to her neighbors, crying out for help, but instead of her neighbors helping, they take offense. “Why should her house get more attention than mine? I need a new roof!” thinks one. “Look at that rude Janet, yelling and screaming, I’m entertaining guests!” says another to her husband. Janet knocks on another neighbor’s door, only to be greeted with a surly “I’m sorry, but all our houses are important”.
Although clever, these analogies are all potentially undercut in their effectiveness by their focus on individual rather than structural responses to, if not causes of, racism. A father figure, a metaphorical rainforest, and a house on fire (unless it’s MOVE) are unlike mass incarceration, police brutality, an institutionally racist judicial system, the subprime mortgage crisis, draconian public sector budget cuts, and the war on public unions. Understanding racism as purely personal misses the fact that it’s not caused by racists such as Dylann Roof or George Zimmerman but rather is systemic and requires structural legislative, judicial, and financial change.
Perhaps a better analogy would be a revised version of the now-classic “glass of water” scene from White Men Can’t Jump (1992), in which Gloria (Rosie Perez) explains to Billy (Woody Harrelson) that he doesn’t understand how she wants him to feel what she’s feeling.
“When I said I was thirsty, it doesn’t mean I want you to bring me a glass of water.”
“If I have a problem, you’re not supposed to solve it. Men always make the mistake of thinking they can solve a woman’s problem…See, if I’m thirsty, I don’t want you to bring me a glass of water. I want you to sympathize. I want you to say, you know what, I, too, know what it feels like to be thirsty…I want you to connect with me.”
“When I say I’m thirsty it means if anybody in the room has a glass of water, I’d love to have a sip. When I say I want to make love, it means let’s screw.”
Only, in the revised version, rather than telling Billy “I’m thirsty” as they lie in bed next to each other, Gloria would tell him “please don’t shoot me” as she lies prostrate and hogtied at his jackboots on the motel room floor and he waves an ARWEN 37. Then Billy’s friends who work for the local SWAT team would pull up outside in MRAPs, each equipped with a half dozen German shepherds and 15 stun guns plus the odd embedded reporter, all of whom would enter the motel room fully locked and loaded as Gloria would recall that this saga all began when she and Billy were arguing and she told him, “Fuck you too!” After begging “please don’t shoot me” for another half hour, Gloria, still prostrate and hogtied on the floor, would eventually sigh, “I’m tired!” At which point a frustrated Billy would sigh in return, “We’re all tired!”
This, I think, would be clearer.