Thoughts on “Black Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter”

BuxMont Black Lives

Why not just say “All Lives Matter?”
These days, it makes a difference.

In a recent video interview with the News-Journal, I made the following statement statement, which appeared on DelawareOnline. Take a minute and a half (including the ad) to look at this piece of tape, then come back to what I have to say.

Shirts Bear Testimony to Lives Lost

I don’t regret saying, “There’s a sign that I’m seeing now at these protest demonstrations in Ferguson and New York, and the sign is: Black Lives Matter. And that’s what I want people to consider—that all lives matter.”

But in this post I want you to consider the subtle but powerful difference between those two thoughts. Someone close to me first brought this to my attention after watching the interview. And I also had a thoughtful email from Rev. Josh.

An email yesterday from Standing on the Side of Love discussed the meaning of these statements in more detail. I hope you will read it.

“Black Lives Matter” is about systemic racism in the criminal justice system—police use of excessive force, selective prosecution, biased grand jury decisions, and mass incarceration. It points to the injustice of a system that devalues black lives—especially the lives of black men.

“Many people of good will face the hard task of recognizing these societal ills.” —Rev. Daniel Schatz, BuxMont UU

When a sign saying, “Black Lives Matter” was posted outside the BuxMont UU Fellowship in Warrington, Pa., a local resident (perhaps thinking along similar lines as I did), asked Rev. Daniel Schatz to replace them with “All Lives Matter.” Schatz’s response is one of the reasons I am writing this unusual personal posting on the Connector. He wrote (in part):

To say that Black lives matter is not to say that other lives do not; indeed, it is quite the reverse – it is to recognize that all lives do matter, and to acknowledge that African Americans are often targeted unfairly (witness the number of African Americans accosted daily for no reason other than walking through a White neighborhood – including some, like young Trayvon Martin, who lost their lives) and that our society is not yet so advanced as to have become truly color blind. This means that many people of goodwill face the hard task of recognizing that these societal ills continue to exist, and that White privilege continues to exist, even though we wish it didn’t and would not have asked for it. I certainly agree that no loving God would judge anyone by skin color. (See his entire response here.)

“Black Lives Matter” is critical of the established order.

Its simplicity is disarming—who can disagree? Yet it exposes the hypocrisy and racism of a system in which, at crucial times, in moments of life and death, of fear and needless violence, black lives seem to matter less than they should. Less than white lives. Too often at the hands of those very authorities who are sworn to protect all lives.

Indeed, as Rev. Josh pointed out to me: “‘All lives Matter,’ while a well-intended sentiment, has emerged as a message among counter-protesters in St. Louis.  According to [Rev.] Barbara [Gadon], that is something people yell back at the ‘Black Lives Matter’ signs during vigils.  ‘Black Lives Matter’ forces people to reflect on their privilege; whereas ‘All Lives Matter’ seems to dismiss it.”

We need to have more conversations about this. The Standing on the Side of Love post by Rev. Mykai Slack of First Church Cambridge, Mass., describes that UU church’s community conversations about Ferguson. Rev, Fred Small, the lead minister there, scrapped his planned sermon after the grand jury decision was announced (as did Rev. Michelle Collins here at First U). Members in Cambridge began talking, guided by a Ferguson Conversation Guide developed by members.

Tell your friends—both within and outside of church—that First Unitarian is a place where we can begin to make a difference in the direction of our society. Read Rev. Slack’s post and subscribe to the inspiring Standing on the Side of Love email updates. This is the best of Unitarian Universalism—and its future.

—Jeffrey Lott

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