The Problem with Saying ‘All Lives Matter’

There's a difference between "true" and "helpful."

Imagine that you wake up late one night to the sound of your home being burglarized. Through the crack in your bedroom door, you see several figures hauling out your television, computers and nice china to their getaway car parked outside.

Thinking quickly, you dial 911 on your iPhone.

“911, what’s your emergency?”

“Help!” you whisper. “My home is being robbed!”

“Stay where you are, Miss,” the other voice assures you. “We’ll look into it.”

“Thank you,” you whisper. “My address is—”

“Woah, Ma’am,” the voice on the other end says. “Why are you bringing addresses into this?”

“What?” you say. “My home is being robbed! Aren’t you going to come and stop them?”

“Well, I don’t know why you need to make this about your home, ma’am,” the operator says. “All houses matter.”

By continuing to use “All Lives Matter” to drown out the cry of “Black Lives Matter,” the real problems the movement is trying to address are being ignored.

There is a difference between something being true and something being relevant. In the above conversation with an imaginary 911 operator, what he was saying was very true. All houses do matter. But at the moment, it wasn’t relevant. It wasn’t even helpful. All things considered, it was downright dangerous. You had an actual crisis going on at your house—that’s why your house mattered. While the operator was lecturing you on how important all houses are, bandits were trying to figure out whether they could get all your stuff in one load or if they’d have to make two trips.

It’s the same error people who respond to “Black Lives Matter” with “All Lives Matter” are making. It’s not that what they’re saying isn’t true. It’s just that it’s unhelpful. It’s an attempt to erase an actual crisis under the guise of being fair. And by continuing to use “All Lives Matter” to drown out the cry of “Black Lives Matter,” the real problems the movement is trying to address are being ignored. “All Lives Matter” is useless. It is destructive. It is hurtful. We need to stop saying it.

Black Lives Matter

Following the death of Trayvon Martin, three women named Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi began tweeting #blacklivesmatter. What started as a hashtag became an ethos, and has transcended Twitter to become a true movement, one of the most forceful and ubiquitous of this young century.

It has no official leaders or spokespeople. There’s no agreed upon charter. The only thing being insisted upon is the value of black lives. As the website has it, it’s “a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-black racism that permeates our society.”

The idea that racism remains a very real reality in America is contentious, but it shouldn’t be. The studies proving anti-black racism remains a common, if not foundational reality of everyday American life are too numerous to cite in one article, so we’ll go with just a few.

We might as well begin with pre-school. Black children make up 18 percent of America’s preschool population, but represent nearly half of all out-of-school suspensions. This treatment continues into the court system, where black children are 18 times more likely to be tried as adults than their white peers. It also extends to the job market, in which white college graduates are twice as likely to land a job as black college graduates. We haven’t even gotten to the justice system yet, in which black people are given 20 percent longer sentences than white people are for the same crimes.

(For more on institutional racism, go read every word of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ "The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration.")

Context Matters

These numbers could go on and on, but even if they didn’t, it should be clear that the people who say racism remains a real, frequent reality in America have their heads on straight. They are not making this up. Those who suggest that black people are imagining racism aren't just devaluing someone else’s experience—they’re ignoring the plain facts.

It was in the face of these facts that #blacklivesmatter sprung, but now anywhere that cry is heard, you can be sure that someone else will come along with the rebuttal: “All Lives Matter.”

The context of “Black Lives Matter” is not that other lives don’t. The context of “Black Lives Matter” is that the value of black lives remains under assault in the United States.

It certainly sounds reasonable enough and in most contexts, it would be. But the thing is, when people say “Black Lives Matter,” they are acknowledging an important context that involves several centuries of slavery, civil rights, mass incarceration and brutality. It’s specifically highlighting the value of black lives because, historically, this country has often ignored that value.

The problem is “All Lives Matter” is that it ignores context. Like the 911 operator who doesn’t understand why you’re worried about your own house. Or, as The Daily Beast’s Arthur Chu says, like someone who “runs through a cancer fundraiser screaming ‘THERE ARE OTHER DISEASES TOO.’” The context of “Black Lives Matter” is not that other lives don’t. The context of “Black Lives Matter” is that the value of black lives remains under assault in the United States.

Love Matters

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When a parent says, “I love my son,” you don’t say, “What about your daughter? Don’t you love all your children?”

When the president says “God bless America,” we don’t say, “Shouldn’t God bless all countries?”

And when a person says “Black Lives Matter,” we should not say “All Lives Matter.” It is an attempt to to diminish the ongoing reality of white supremacy in America. It’s effectively a way of demeaning other people’s stories, like Job’s friends who kept trying to point to the bigger picture of God’s ultimate plan instead of truly listening to Job and mourning his grief. It is rude. It is hurtful. It is dismissive. And it has to stop.

And yes, some people who associate themselves with #blacklivesmatter have called for police deaths. Some Christians have called for abortion clinics to be bombed. The cries of a few fringe groups do not invalidate an entire movement, thank God.

So when you hear the words “Black Lives Matter,” don’t be so quick to assume it’s a judgement about white lives. Instead, see “Black Lives Matter” for what it is: a rallying cry to make a difference and take down the unjust status quo that holds racial equality at bay in America. You can join the movement and commit yourself to the social and economic liberation of black people, or you can choose to stand on the sidelines. But don’t silence the cry with the words “All Lives Matter.” This is an emergency.

Top Comments

Ross Mitchell


Ross Mitchell commented…

I wish black lives mattered when it came to abortion. That's the problem. The #hashtag only comes up when a black person is affected by someone who is not black. Why doesn't the #hashtag come up when there is a black on black crime? There needs to be consistency. Your example of the house being broken into is so silly. Of course, if a black man is shot, people are going to grieve and be hurt because of the situation. If my friend John gets shot, I won't look at my buddies around me and talk about how much their lives matter to me. No, I'm going to be focused on John and his life and how much it meant. It should be John's life matters. It should be Trayvons life matters. Your example is saying the focus shouldn't be on all lives but the black lives that are affected. Well in that case, the focus shouldn't be on black lives but the life that was affected. If we focus on every life individually wether black, white, asian, then unity will exist, but if we only focus on one race at a time, then division will exist. I listen to Urban Family Talk every single day and they talk about this from a black persons perspective in a biblical view and they would disagree with everything that you have said. I say all this because what you are saying will just continue to cause divisiveness. Urban Family Talk would say this movement is actually racist, because it's saying that black lives are more important than white lives, asian lives, latino lives.

Justin Barfield


Justin Barfield commented…

The way I see it, if All Lives Matter, then we shouldn't complain when some of those lives are pointing out the racism they are experiencing.


Karinne Stevens


Karinne Stevens commented…

Oh Tyler......did you just come up with that analogy out of desperation of a deadline? I can think of 5 better analogies just off the top of my head and I don't support what you are arguing.

1. You could compare attending to sick after a disaster - why are those with the most injuries being helped first if all lives matter?

Anyway - no need to go on to any more - this is a ridiculous notion. The black lives matter movement is racist. period. This has and always will be not an issue of race but one of police training and until that is address ALL LIVES will die in what seem to be needless ways.

Gabrielle Brown Drumm


Gabrielle Brown Drumm commented…

I am not really surprised this article was posted on this magazines FB page but I am disappointed. Mostly because I find it less and less "Christian."
Let me be the first to tell you that my two best friends are "black" and YES absolutely black lives matter. But my issue is that this article is propagating the very opposite thing men bled died for in the civil rights movement, equality. Do we as a society still hold prejudice and aught against each other? Yes. Does that need to change and be vocalized? Yes! But you cannot be deceived enough to think this hasn't become a movement and one of extreme violence. And to tell me that because I believe ALL LIVES MATTER and hold value I'm some how doing anything other than promoting equality is insulting.

Jialin “GamingCom” weng


Jialin “GamingCom” weng commented…

So let's bring it back to your analogy. The person's house is not the only one getting robbed. What the black lives matter campaign is doing is it is more or less supporting that hey your house can wait but my house is more important to your house. They need to think that other people have a house to not only them. They need to understand that other races get rekt really hard to not only them. Other races never make such a big deal out of such a small accident.

Jonas Pell


Jonas Pell commented…

Since blacks commit over half of total murders, and 90% of the inter-racial murders, as well as 2 times as many whites get killed by the police as blacks. That is why I spit on those vile amoral race baiting phonies and hustlers in BLM. They are Al Sharpton clones
If they really cared about black lives, then here is an idea, Get your black people to stop killing and committing so many crimes besides armed robbery, rape, car jacking etc
Call me racist, I guess reality is racist too.

Brenna Dawn Phillips


Brenna Dawn Phillips commented…

Wow, what a far off article. Your examples suck. The race card is over used and old. When I hear people tell me I can't say "all lives matter" because it is racist... Wait what? What the hell is wrong with love for all people? Isn't that oppression as well? No black lives don't matter more than everyone else. I see all races in the dumps and treated like crap. If you've got a bad attitude people are going to treat you like an ass. If you commit a crime, you need to be punished like everybody else. Things shouldn't be handed to you because of your skin color. Work hard, have integrity, lead a good life, and you'll be just fine. This goes for the whole box of crayons. So, just to piss the real racists off I'll say it on more time. All lives matter.

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