Opinion: Stop Saying All Lives Matter

John Hess is a senior political science major. Contact him at jhess14@kent.edu.

John Hess is a senior political science major. Contact him at [email protected]

John Hess

This December, I returned to Kent from a semester spent in the exotic city of Columbus, Ohio. Having been away for so long and having followed Black United Students’ incredible work following the Darren Wilson non-indictment, I was eager to get involved. I attended the final Black Lives Matter event of the semester outside the M.A.C. Center during the performance of comedian Kevin Hart. The demonstration was a rousing success, allowing us to connect with many of the audience members as they left the show. However, there were several members of the audience who took offense at the “Black Lives Matter” slogan. A group of well-intentioned students insisted “All Lives Matter.” There was no animosity and a productive conversation developed. I would like to have a similar conversation with you right now.

The whole point of Black Lives Matter is that while we may say that all lives matter, the reality is that black lives are regularly and systemically devalued in the current social and political environment. Saying black lives matter isn’t asserting that black lives matter more; it’s saying that black lives matter in the first place.

The aim is to build a world in which all lives do matter, and to make that happen, people need to start respecting black life. “All Lives Matter” minimizes black lives and experiences. It caters to white people who may feel threatened by the idea of black people organizing themselves and demanding change. For those of us who imagine racism to be over or, at worst, the stuff of awkward dinner conversations with older relatives, this is jarring. It can make us very uncomfortable.

And it should.

We are a generation that has grown up on fantasies and convenient half-truths. In our schools, we are taught to speak of racism in the past tense and celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day by staying home and doing nothing. For many white Americans like me, this is a comfortable state of being. It is how we were raised, it is how we perceive the world, and we don’t like it to be questioned. Unfortunately, it’s not the truth, or at least not all of it.

People like us don’t have anything to fear. We aren’t in danger from the police and from vigilantes in the same way that Michael Brown and Tamir Rice were in danger from the day they were born. No one is questioning the value of our lives. The value of our lives is beyond question. We get full human dignity. The lives of black people simply aren’t given the same social, political and legal standing. Black Lives Matter seeks to win for black people what white America often takes for granted.

And so we see that Black Lives Matter is not an exclusive or reverse-racist movement. It does not demand anything for black people that white people do not already have. If you really do believe that all lives have value then please take up the call #BlackLivesMatter.

For more on the Black Lives Matter movement, check out Amanda Paniagua’s column in tomorrow’s Kent Stater, where she will connect the modern struggle to the civil rights movement of the ‘60s.

If you have any thoughts, feel free to stop me on campus and share. I’d be glad to talk.