I’ve been trying to flesh out the ‘logic’ of the “# All Lives Matter” posts and tweets I’ve been seeing. Yes there’s holier-than-though paternalism, discussion of which is a mere search engine away. What I haven’t seen discussed as often is it’s a logical fallacy, several fallacies: The False Dilemma of implying that someone saying “Black Lives Matter” is automatically excluding all others. An Appeal To Emotion by saying that there are ‘levels’ of caring, which becomes False Equivocation that ‘care’ means the same as ‘exclude’, or that ‘care’ means the same thing in all cases. Which leads to a False Privation asserting that someone doing nothing but sharing an “All Lives Matter” pass-around on Facebook is actually better than someone who is actively speaking out in public under the banner of “Black Lives Matter”.
Even if one ignores the statistics for the US, that the relative proportions of unarmed blacks killed by law enforcement is higher than whites, and even if one ignores systemic racism inherent in the perceptions of law enforcement, the overall justice system or hiring practices, or whatever… One can’t help but wonder why “Black Lives Matter” needed anything more than the reply “Yes, they do.”
Which is where the argument becomes confusing. The assertion “All Lives Matter” and the newly fashionable “Wake Up America” is to say that what they’re really doing is asserting the police shouldn’t be shooting anyone who’s unarmed. “All Lives Matter”, so the argument goes, is a much more broad-minded and non-exclusive philosophical critique of the very concept of police brutality, really of violence in general. Which seems like more of a “Care-Off” competition than a thoughtful critique of inclusive language. It ultimately makes “All Lives Matter” an attack on itself. If “All Lives Matter”, someone caring about “Black Lives” is still caring about “Lives”. Why doesn’t that count? Because there aren’t enough blacks in the world? What began as a supposed statement of inclusion becomes a childish game of one-upping where the ‘winning’ child declares “Oh yeah?? Well I’m right times infinity!” And who could argue with that…
This level of recursive pedantry and Care-Off hairsplitting would be nothing more than a snake eating it’s own tail, except for one simple fact: “All Lives Matter” supporters aren’t popularizing “Life Matters”, or even “CopsAreBrutes”, or “EndSWAT”, it’s riding on the backs of the “Black Lives Matter” statement, and one-upping it. Literally changing only one word and maintaining the phrase does not constitute ‘a totally unique interpretation’ or even a ‘reinterpretation’, it’s a direct over-write. It’s taking out the word “Black” specifically. And wasn’t that what the point of “Black Lives Matter” was in the first place? That the “Black” of “Black Lives Matter” was being ignored…
“All Lives Matter” and “Wake Up America” isn’t a broader perspective. It certainly isn’t an appreciation for all life. It’s direct bigotry (intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself). So much so that they have to literally line out the word that offends them in order to make their point. Which is a pretty profound testament as to the true content of their actual statement.
After all, if someone had popularized “OceansMatter” would there be an immediate, more ‘thoughtful’ reply of “RememberTheBees”? Doubtful. The way I can say that? Because it already happened, someone already coined “Oceans Matter” before “Black Lives Matter” even. It’s the twitter name for the Marine Education Foundation and one of the first times it was used was in June of 2012 to celebrate World Ocean Day.
Oddly they get hardly any traffic about how they should really stop being so exclusive because bees are more important, or the Brazilian forest tribes, or Cecil the Lion, or the earth itself. Oddly they get very few people finger-waggingly telling them “All Life Matters”. The very opposite is more often true. “Healthy Ocean, Healthy Planet” is a phrase that appears commonly on their threads.
The Care-Off competition never materialized. People seeing “Healthy Ocean” paralleled with “Healthy Planet” readily acknowledge that caring for the ocean is caring for a substantial part of the planet itself. Strangely that same suggestion coming from “Black Lives Matter”, namely that fixing police brutality towards blacks is substantially addressing police brutality, does not get the same traction.
Entertainingly too, @OceansMatter does get ‘critiques’. Many of them are amusing. @OceansMatter has a follower named @WhySharksMatter who has said things like “Pity the earth is so overpopulated with humans…” Suggesting that the problem of ocean ecology could be solved if humans would just go swimming more often, perhaps where sharks like to hang out. But that’s a jocular critique, not a full frontal “How Dare You Not Focus On My More Important Topic??” Clearly it is possible to have a ‘favored’ topic, and still appreciate others for their contribution to the whole. Plus, there’s almost no mention of “Black Lives Matter” somehow ‘stealing’ the “Oceans Matter” thunder, or appropriating its message. While all black people gathered together in one spot likely would not overwhelm all of earth’s oceans, no one has yet proposed that a worthy critique of “Black Lives Matter” is “Oceans Matter”, or tried to set them against one another.
Which means “Black Lives Matter” can be answered with “Yes, they do.” It just isn’t being answered that way. If the difference between “OceansMatter” and “BlackLivesMatter” is that one is discussing race and the other is clearly not, the implied ethical superiority of the clicktivists popularizing “AllLivesMatter” and “WakeUpAmerica” are forcing the question: “Wake up to what?” Because the only people seemingly unaware of what’s going on are the very people passing around the message of self-delusion.
In the “All Lives Matter” over-write, or as it could as easily be called “PleaseStopMentioningBlackPeople”, the specter of “NotAllMen” is hard to miss. When women first started tweeting about horrible brutality at the hands of men, and the “GamerGate” faff went into full swing, the reply from many men was to say “Hey, not all men rape women”. Which reduced nicely to “NotAllMen”. The trouble is, that’s not what was being discussed. What was being discussed was the men who -did- rape. The women who -were- victimized.
Someone coming into a discussion of violent sexual assault and immediately expecting a pat on the back for not being an active rapist was at best childishly silencing, at worst re-victimizing the silenced. It was literally a vicious version of a humble-brag: “Enough about your being raped and all, let’s talk about me and how great I am at not being a rapist for a sec.” So too, ultimately, is the “All Lives Matter” statement really a vicious humble-brag silencing technique: “Enough about how much black people are suffering at the hands of an oppressive system, let’s talk about how totally badass I am at being inclusive for a sec.”
What’s more frustrating about such one-upping behavior, from a strictly civic, social justice, and equality standpoint, is it reduces all calls to action to a bizarre game of semantic gainsaying. As with the “Oceans Matter” example, and Arthur Chu’s ‘Funeral Crashers’ back at the beginning of this article, the context of cultural bias alone is used to justify convoluted expectations of shame that silence the very people pointing to their invisibility. It’s the now popularly known “call-out culture” at it’s most condescending and manipulative. Purporting to correct a vocabulary oversight but pointedly establishing a hierarchy of the ‘truly’ inclusive and the ‘fake’. Where the truly inclusive are the ones playing word games on Tumblr, and the fakers are the ones speaking at political rallies and getting bodycam footage from police officers released so that verdicts are overturned.
At that point the follow-up of “Wake Up America” becomes pointedly ironic. More importantly, if all “Wake Up America” and “All Lives Matter” is trying to do is tell us how great they are at being non-racist, specifically by silencing blacks, their argument becomes self-defeating. Bigotry comes in many guises, not all of them shave their heads and aggressively goosestep. Sometimes it is more subtle, seemingly innocuous, but that is when it is at its most pervasive and insidious. When you’re being flattered into doing nothing, while chiding those who are actively fighting because somehow they’re not doing enough, it’s time to question why you’re being flattered into passing on that message.