The Bulletin


News

Why is it so offensive to say 'all lives matter'?

  • Written by Karen Stollznow, Research fellow, Griffith University

This week acting Australian Prime Minister Michael McCormack uttered a controversial phrase.

Defending previous comments[1] in which he compared the Capitol riots to the Black Lives Matter protests, he asserted[2],

All lives matter.

McCormack was widely condemned[3] for his remarks, including by Indigenous Australian activists[4], Labor and the Greens.

His use of the phrase was reminiscent of One Nation leader Pauline Hanson’s failed attempt[5] to have the Senate endorse a motion that “all lives matter” in 2019. As former Finance Minister Mathias Cormann noted at the time[6], “you have to consider things in their context”.

As a linguist, who has just published On The Offensive[7], a book about offensive language, “all lives matter” is a phrase that reveals prejudice.

So, where does the phrase “all lives matter” come from? And given it is of course true that all lives matter, why is the phrase so offensive in today’s context?

Black Lives Matter

“All lives matter” was born out of “Black Lives Matter”. This is a slogan and a social movement in response to racism and violence perpetuated against Black people, both historically and in the modern era.

Protester carrying a 'Black Lives Matter' flag Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack’s comments about Black Lives Matter have outraged his political opponents. Stuart Villanueva AP/AAP

This can be traced back to a tragic incident[8] almost nine years ago. In February 2012, 17-year-old African-American Trayvon Martin was walking home in Florida, after buying Skittles at a convenience store.

Local resident George Zimmerman reported Martin to police as “suspicious”, then confronted the innocent young man and fatally shot him. Zimmerman claimed the act was in self-defence and was later acquitted[9].

After this, the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter began to appear on social media, in support of Martin and in protest against social and systemic racism — that is, racism in society and through institutions. This grew into a movement[10], co-founded by three Black community organisers[11], Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi.

Concerns and anger about racism towards Black people was reinvigorated more recently after several high-profile, racially charged incidents in the US.

Read more: Black Lives Matter is a revolutionary peace movement[12]

These include the murder of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery[13], a Black man who was shot while jogging in a south Georgia neighbourhood, and also the murder of George Floyd[14].

These tragic events inspired worldwide protests against institutional racism[15]. In Australia, Black Lives Matter marches also called for justice for Indigenous people, including Aboriginal man David Dungay Jr[16], who died in custody in 2015. There have been more than 430[17] Indigenous deaths in custody since 1991.

‘All lives matter’

What does it mean to say “all lives matter”?

When the Black Lives Matter motto arose, some people interpreted the phrase as confrontational and divisive[18]. They took it to exclude other races. The phrase “all lives matter” sprang up in response, ostensibly to argue all lives are equal because we are all human beings.

However, Black Lives Matter was not intended to mean that other lives do not matter. In a world[19] where Black people are stigmatised, marginalised, and discriminated[20] against, Black Lives Matter simply recognises Black lives matter, too.

Not a straightforward phrase

Responding to “Black Lives Matter” with “all lives matter” derails the specific conversation about racism against Black people. The phrase is seen to dismiss, ignore, or deny these problems — it shuts down this important discussion.

Read more: The backlash against Black Lives Matter is just more evidence of injustice[21]

US President Donald Trump[22], Vice President Mike Pence[23], and other US conservatives like Rudy Guiliani[24], have used the phrase to criticise the Black Lives Matter movement.

Through its use, “all lives matter” has also become associated with white supremacy[25], far-right nationalism and racism.

A racist dog whistle

Black Lives Matter is intended to promote the peaceful protest of racism against Black people, not only in the US, but worldwide. It also calls for immediate action against systemic and social racism.

Why is it so offensive to say 'all lives matter'? People around the world have marched in support of Black Lives Matter. Martin Meissner AP/AAP

When used by Black people, “Black Lives Matter” is a declaration that Black lives do indeed matter. It is a call for protection and recognition.

When said by allies — supportive people outside of the racial group — “Black Lives Matter” acknowledges that Black lives do indeed matter, and says we stand in solidarity with members of Black and indigenous communities both locally, and globally.

So, “all lives matter” can be understood as a racist dog whistle — a direct push-back against the Black Lives Matter movement. It is far from an innocent term celebrating the worth of all humanity.

References

  1. ^ previous comments (www.abc.net.au)
  2. ^ he asserted (www.theguardian.com)
  3. ^ widely condemned (thenewdaily.com.au)
  4. ^ Indigenous Australian activists (www.abc.net.au)
  5. ^ failed attempt (www.theguardian.com)
  6. ^ noted at the time (thenewdaily.com.au)
  7. ^ On The Offensive (www.amazon.com)
  8. ^ tragic incident (www.theguardian.com)
  9. ^ acquitted (www.theguardian.com)
  10. ^ movement (blacklivesmatter.com)
  11. ^ three Black community organisers (www.bloomberg.com)
  12. ^ Black Lives Matter is a revolutionary peace movement (theconversation.com)
  13. ^ Ahmaud Arbery (www.bbc.com)
  14. ^ George Floyd (www.theguardian.com)
  15. ^ institutional racism (theconversation.com)
  16. ^ David Dungay Jr (theconversation.com)
  17. ^ more than 430 (theconversation.com)
  18. ^ divisive (www.theguardian.com)
  19. ^ world (www.americanprogress.org)
  20. ^ discriminated (www.businessinsider.com.au)
  21. ^ The backlash against Black Lives Matter is just more evidence of injustice (theconversation.com)
  22. ^ Donald Trump (thehill.com)
  23. ^ Mike Pence (www.cbsnews.com)
  24. ^ like Rudy Guiliani (edition.cnn.com)
  25. ^ white supremacy (www.bostonglobe.com)

Read more https://theconversation.com/why-is-it-so-offensive-to-say-all-lives-matter-153188

News Bulletin

As Trump exits the White House, he leaves Trumpism behind in Australia

Through recent natural disasters, global upheavals and a pandemic, Australia’s political centre has largely held. Australians may have disagree...

Mark Kenny, Professor, Australian Studies Institute, Australian National University - avatar Mark Kenny, Professor, Australian Studies Institute, Australian National University

Why the alt-right believes another American Revolution is coming

The alt-right, QAnon, paramilitary and Donald Trump-supporting mob[1] that stormed the US Capitol on January 6 claimed they were only doing what t...

Clare Corbould, Associate Professor, Contemporary Histories Research Group, Deakin University - avatar Clare Corbould, Associate Professor, Contemporary Histories Research Group, Deakin University

Is it curtains for Clive? What COVID means for populism in Australia 

What can we make of Clive Palmer? This week, he announced his United Australia Party (UAP) would not[1] contest the upcoming West Australian stat...

Gregory Melleuish, Professor, School of Humanities and Social Inquiry, University of Wollongong - avatar Gregory Melleuish, Professor, School of Humanities and Social Inquiry, University of Wollongong

Trump is impeached again in historic vote. Now Republicans must decide the future of their party

Jim Lo Scalzo/EPAIn a historic vote today, Donald Trump became the only US president to be impeached twice. By a margin of 232–197, the Democrat...

Bryan Cranston, Lead Academic Teacher - Politics & Social Science (Swinburne Online), Swinburne University of Technology - avatar Bryan Cranston, Lead Academic Teacher - Politics & Social Science (Swinburne Online), Swinburne University of Technology

How China is controlling the COVID origins narrative — silencing critics and locking up dissenters

Just over a year has gone by since the novel coronavirus first emerged[1] in the Chinese city of Wuhan and the world still has many questions abou...

John Garrick, University Fellow in Law, Charles Darwin University - avatar John Garrick, University Fellow in Law, Charles Darwin University

Why is it so offensive to say 'all lives matter'?

This week acting Australian Prime Minister Michael McCormack uttered a controversial phrase. Defending previous comments[1] in which he compared ...

Karen Stollznow, Research fellow, Griffith University - avatar Karen Stollznow, Research fellow, Griffith University

You could break espionage laws on social media without realising it

Did you know you could be charged with spying[1] if you connect with someone who turns out to be a foreign spy on LinkedIn? Apparently, not enoug...

Sarah Kendall, PhD Candidate in Law, The University of Queensland - avatar Sarah Kendall, PhD Candidate in Law, The University of Queensland

No, Twitter is not censoring Donald Trump. Free speech is not guaranteed if it harms others

The recent storming of the US Capitol has led a number of social media platforms to remove President Donald Trump’s account. In the case of Twit...

Katharine Gelber, Professor of Politics and Public Policy, The University of Queensland - avatar Katharine Gelber, Professor of Politics and Public Policy, The University of Queensland

As Trump exits the White House, he leaves Trumpism behind in Australia

Through recent natural disasters, global upheavals and a pandemic, Australia’s political centre has largely held. Aust...

Why the alt-right believes another American Revolution is coming

The alt-right, QAnon, paramilitary and Donald Trump-supporting mob[1] that stormed the US Capitol on January 6 claimed th...

Is it curtains for Clive? What COVID means for populism in Australia 

What can we make of Clive Palmer? This week, he announced his United Australia Party (UAP) would not[1] contest the upco...

Writers Wanted



News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion