To say Black Lives Matter has faced adversity is an understatement. To say that it has been painted with broad, unfounded, logically unsound strokes by detractors is even more of an understatement. What is Black Lives Matter, and why do so many white people totally miss the point?
The origin of Black Lives Matter is not unlike the origins of many previous movements that have sought equality for black people through black empowerment. The logic of Black Lives Matter rests on the premise that black people are subjected to unequal and unfair treatment both culturally and legally in the United States today. If you do not accept this basic premise, there is not a lot I can do to help you see the logic of Black Lives Matter, but I would encourage you to look for unbiased sources of data and cogent, rational arguments based on that data to realize that this fundamental premise is in keeping with all of the best evidence that exists on the subject.
Black Lives Matter starts from the acknowledgement of unequal treatment of black people, and seeks to remind everyone that black lives do matter, even if statistics, public sentiment, racist demagoguery, and the everyday mistreatment of black people seem to indicate that a lot of people think black lives don’t matter, at least not as much as other lives. It is asking everyone to remember that black people are people — human beings — and, if you believe that human beings matter at all, then please keep in mind that black lives also matter. Some nihilists may disagree with the notion of there being any value to human life (or anything), which is their prerogative, but even a nihilist can acknowledge that certain lives are being treated like they matter more than others by the entire socioeconomic system of the United States today and, for people who do place some value on human life, that it makes sense to remind people that Black Lives Matter.
Some of the pushback against Black Lives Matter comes from unapologetic racists who view black people as inferior, who really don’t believe that black lives matter, and there’s likely no way I’m going to sit here and convince any of them to stop being racist. At best, maybe their children won’t be as racist as they are, or maybe a few of them will have an awakening at some point in their lives. The other pushback against Black Lives Matter, occasionally even from well-meaning people of all colors, comes in the form of insisting that all lives matter.
The all lives matter argument is, unfortunately for its adherents, rooted in a logical fallacy, that somehow saying black lives matter implies that other lives don’t matter. In fact, nowhere in the statement “black lives matter” do we find the words “and other lives don’t.” Nowhere does it suggest that white lives or any other lives don’t matter. It says, simply, that black lives matter. Full stop. Nothing else is being claimed by this statement, and all arguments that “black lives matter” implies this or that are straw man arguments, implying a false choice that someone either thinks that all lives matter or they are being racist. If people choose to infer something that is not implied, or if people wish to invent implications to back their resistance to the idea that black lives matter, that is on them, not Black Lives Matter. It’s a simple yes or no: do black lives matter to you? If yes, then black lives matter. If no, you’re at best a nihilist, but more likely a racist.
An analogy may illustrate this “subtlety” for those who still don’t believe that, when I say black lives matter, I am not saying that other lives don’t matter. Suppose I had a shirt that said, “The Sky Is Blue.” Would this be a problem for the all lives matter people? After all, there are other blue things in the world besides the sky. By their logic, I should be wearing a shirt that reads, “All Blue Things Are Blue.” By their logic, am I not implying with my “The Sky Is Blue” shirt that other things aren’t blue? Surely they should not let such a divisive, obviously false statement go unchallenged, should they? What about the blue ocean? What about the Toronto Blue Jays? What about the Kelly Blue Book? What about all those other blue things! What about Beast, Nightcrawler, AND Mystique!? Should the all lives matter set not believe that I am denying the blueness of all those other blue things with my “The Sky Is Blue” shirt? Isn’t that outrageous?
Of course, nobody thinks that. Nobody would think twice about my “The Sky Is Blue” shirt. It would not be remotely controversial. It would just be the case of a person wearing a shirt that makes a statement, which is something we see everyday. People wear all sorts of shirts that make statements. Some factual, some not, yet nobody really cares about the vast majority of them. Does anyone think twice about whether the person wearing a Lakers shirt also likes other franchises or people in sports and, if so, why this person isn’t wearing a shirt that says Lakers, Tarheels, Kim Yuna, Bubba Watson, Usain Bolt, and Real Madrid? So, why the pushback specifically against Black Lives Matter? Any reasonable person has to agree that, on a purely logical level, a “Black Lives Matter” and “The Sky Is Blue” shirt are the same. They both make a statement. Neither makes implications about anything else. No one is saying other things don’t matter or that other things aren’t blue.
Take me at face value. When I say black lives matter, I am saying black lives matter. I am saying this because I believe black lives matter and, what has prompted me to say this, is that I believe that black people are still being subjected to oppressive inequality in the United States. I am not saying other lives don’t matter so don’t tell me I am. I am not interested in arguing whether I’m right or wrong in my understanding of systemic oppression; I’m quite certain I’m right. I’m just saying black lives matter. If you really believe that all lives matter then you agree with me that black lives matter, because black lives are a subset of all lives, so there’s no need for an argument. We both agree that black lives matter.