How to Speak to a “…Lives Matter” Supporter, Because You Must

Posted by Jason Gladfelter, M.A. on July 15, 2016  /   Posted in Articles

Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter. Which do you support? Don’t answer just yet. Let’s take a look at the controversy surrounding them.

Black Lives Matter has been criticized for concentrating only on black lives. Retorts like, “what about other lives?” and “why are blacks so special?” are popular. Perhaps the most common response is “All Lives Matter”. Here is where a dispute is born, and the hyperboles starting spinning out of control.

The message behind Black Lives Matter is not obvious to many people, mostly because three words are not enough. The intent behind Black Lives Matter is “working for the validity of Black life“. To bring awareness to the fact that black lives have NOT mattered—and there’s plenty of evidence to back this up.

But this intent is not easily or readily perceived. While Black Lives Matter supporters insists “black lives matter” intends a “too” on the end, many All Lives Matter supporters hear/see “only” at the beginning. It’s intent versus interpretation. Some say that “all lives matter” as a response to “black lives matter” is dismissive to the injustice blacks endure. But All Lives Matter supporters claim that their intent is to advocate equality across the board. And back and forth we go.

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Is it “Black Lives Matter, Too” or “Only Black Lives Matter”?

Is “All Lives Matter” dismissive of injustice towards black lives, or is “All Lives Matter” an advocacy for equal rights?

The intent and interpretation dilemma is in full force here. There is misunderstanding on both sides. How is the audience to know intention if it’s not expressed? Sure, the audience could ask clarifying questions if they don’t understand something. Although, this assumes that they realize they don’t understand.  The onus is on the speaker to get her/his message across with clarity. And using only 3 words makes this difficult. On top of that, the tendency in today’s world is to interpret things in negative light.  

Unfortunately, this dilemma is a diversion.  Time, energy and thought are diverted to arguments over what each phrase really means and what the “other” phrase indicates. People are hastily dumped into one of the interpreted camps: The “only” or the “dismissive”. You either think that black lives matter only, or you think nothing is wrong. Each claims the other perpetuates the problem. The hyperboles combine with impersonal assessments, quick judgements and bias to add venom to words and sustain aggression.

Now we see arguments of Blue Lives Matter as anti-black. Black Lives Matter as anti-police. The extremes are even more polarizing, which pulls the middle further apart. At worst, it confuses people who are not familiar with any of this.

Yet, after all of this back and forth, the root problem persists. It hides underneath its symptoms, which act like layers of camouflage. Racism is the most obvious symptom. Many claim it to be a root problem (as evident by both sides’ accusations), but it actually comes from somewhere. We are not born racists. Racism is learned.  The charge of racism has been leveled by both sides and the staunch line in the sand has been drawn. The worst thing to do is alienate potential partners in a struggle against a root problem. 

Another symptom is trust, or more accurately, mistrust. The above dilemma has only fueled the fire of mistrust between police officers and civilians (and quite possibly black and white). When two distrusted parties, suspicious and nervous of each other, come together in a power infused moment involving guns, not much good can come from it.

Still another symptom is righteousness. Some Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter proponents focus mostly, perhaps only, on their position being correct; commonly done by claiming the other is wrong. Their goal is to win the argument, not address the problem. 

We need to understand the horror of not mattering, where it comes from and how it subsists. We need to understand that many people will never fully appreciate this horror (because it’s almost impossible to imagine if it is not experienced). We need to understand that there are a few very bad apples of every color, and not let them obstruct progress. We need to understand that a vast majority of people want equality. And we need to understand that it’s an uphill journey to achieve it.

As humans, we need to figure out exactly what the problem is. It’s going to take time, there are a lot of weeds and overgrowth in the way, but we can do it. We can start by asking these questions: 

  • Who teaches racism (and other biases)?
  • How is it taught?
  • Why is it taught?
  • Where does it originate in our species history?
  • Do we inherently fear or mistrust “others”?
  • How do we overcome that?
  • Do we somehow gain some sort of satisfaction by being racist? (why do we do it?)

As Americans we need to pool our resources to dig at these questions and defeat the root problem. We are all in this together. America is a melting pot of various backgrounds, experiences, thoughts, histories and philosophies. Currently, we are throwing away this most advantageous aspect of our country. Let’s refocus and not  do that. 

So, who do you support? How about both. Or neither.  The problem with labels is that they always create in- and out-groups.  Instead, let’s focus on similarities and common goals.

Note on Title:  The title of this piece is a slant on Ann Coulter’s book, “How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must)”. The “if” part always bothered me, because when finding solutions is a priority you must talk to a liberal (or conservative). Focusing energy on ridiculing the other draws energy away from solving problems. So I used “because you must”, because…well you must talk to the other side. How? By understanding their views, ideas, thoughts and energy to seek a common solution. You may just find that you have more in common than previously thought, and fewer differences.

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