How we use words matters
When All Lives Matter started trending it was used by people who didn’t want to acknowledge there was a problem. They reacted to what they felt was a lack of inclusivity (Black Lives Matter, too) and felt the movement was born of hatred aimed at them. Instead it revealed their own insecurities and indifference. The push back was justified and damning. Anyone who used it was vilified and if you use it today you will be ignored or shamed. There is a huge problem with avoiding a phrase that symbolizes what you say you are about it. Avoiding it means we ignore the voices of those who actually do believe “All Lives Matter”.
It is the action that gives context. It is the way we use it to acknowledge or dehumanize others that matters. The people who are using those words to dehumanize others were the real problem. Much the same way someone can say “I love you” and then hit someone they “love”. It doesn’t mean we should back down from saying “I love you” when we mean it. Words will change their meaning over time. We need to focus on those who don’t fly under the banner of brotherly love. They have long since moved on to more offensive and defensive words. A group of armed men protested against public health guidelines saying that it was a fluke and unconstitutional. It was apparent wearing masks constricted them unfairly. I can’t breath, they said. They way they said it and used it did not steal the thunder of the “I Can’t Breath” rallies taking place nationwide right now. I can’t breathe, Eric Garner had said. I can’t breathe, George Floyd had said.
It shouldn’t be offensive to those who believe all lives matter and really want it to matter. By shutting up and shaming people who have big hearts and are willing to back that up who use those words, it bullies and alienates people who do actually care. They are potential allies, those who are late to the discussion but trying to understand what’s going on. People are on different levels of “working on themselves” and their personal bias. All Lives Matter IS a unifier because it isn’t “obvious”.
It is a process to learn why systemic racism is a problem.
Samuel Sinyangwe an activist and policy analyst remarked in 2017 “I thought I understood racism and mass incarceration. But nothing prepared me for what I saw in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.”
As human beings we need to see these stories in contrast to understand what people have accepted as normal and why it is so hard for people to unlearn that normal. When the rallies and the turmoil from the riots calm down there will be people still trying to figure it out because we have to have those uncomfortable conversations. It might start off with people yelling at the top of their lungs but we have to start somewhere. We don’t know how to talk about what matters without dismissing it out of hand. Especially when we don’t agree with it or it is something that has not been openly talked about in your social circles before. In the long run Black Lives Matters has a real potential to help achieve equality for themselves. But what’s to keep the void from being filled by another group of people, unless we embrace the belief that all lives matter. If we don’t fix this single minded narrative we will be right back where we started. Fighting the same battle over and over again for each and every one of us.
The confusing message I am personally receiving is that I am only allowed to participate and support a cause if I am only, exactly, as angry, and passionate as those marching. It makes me wonder if there is room for other kinds of support and helpers to pitch in with their own meaningful way? It is hard to say when it feels like I am both wanted and not wanted in a movement that rocks our nation. I am not allowed to ask questions. It overwhelms the participants. I am suppose to wield my privilege, that I didn’t know I had the power to wield, but I have to figure it out. I cannot hear the stories of friends who think I may not get it because we don’t look alike. I cannot ask it of strangers because it makes them feel too vulnerable to share them.
I have to wait until the stories like the one above trickle in from a public space. I have to process this on my own and I do that by choosing what it all means to me. I chose All Lives Matters to mean it includes Black Lives Matter, too. Because All Lives Matter isn’t being insensitive when it represents your love and concern for your fellow neighbors. It isn’t neutral when you mean it to be inclusive. To figure this out we all have to be actively involved in the healing process, or we will be right back where we started. We have to include everybody even those who don’t have the full story. We need to take it up as a banner that unites us. We need to make it the policy we all live by, no excuses-no exception. You don’t have to make it yours, you do you and I’ll do me, you don’t even have to like it. But I am making it mine because that is the best way I know to support both my humanity and yours.