Why the Debate Over ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘All Lives Matter’ Actually Matters In Reclaiming the Black Narrative

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black-livesThe debate over whether #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter has reignited once again in a significant way, providing an opportunity for a nascent Black movement to place their self-worth at center stage.

It started at the Netroots Nation presidential candidates’ forum in Phoenix on July 19, when former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Sen. Bernie Sanders stumbled and fumbled all over the stage when confronted by #BlackLivesMatter activists. In light of the deaths of Black women in police custody— particularly the most recent example of Sandra Bland—the protesters demanded to know if O’Malley would advance a racial justice agenda and dismantle structural racism in the United States.

Ultimately, O’Malley was forced off the stage when he said, “Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter.” Since then, other high-profile figures have chimed in.

Stephen A. Smith, the ESPN commentator, created controversy when he defended O’Malley, and asked why there is no outrage among “Black lives matter” advocates when “Black folks are killing Black folks.”

As was reported in The Blaze, Smith went to Twitter, writing: “I’m a black man. Of course I know #BlackLivesMatter.” He added,  “You can’t boo a presidential candidate just b/c he says ‘all lives matter’.”

Ultimately, Smith spoke on his SiriusXM radio show to stand by his remarks, arguing that people should not apologize for saying “all lives do matter.”  Further, he suggested that Black people should not be surprised when “people who don’t happen to be Black don’t appear to care about us, when we’re not only not caring about them, but we’re not caring about ourselves enough to bring the same kind of attention to that issue when we’re killing one another.”

Smith, who received a proper beatdown from #BlackTwitter over his remarks—was called a number of choice words for taking his position.

Matt McGorry, the actor from Orange Is The New Black and How To Get Away With Murder, tweeted that, “For people who think they are being more inclusive by saying #AllLivesMatter in response to #BlackLivesMatter, they are in reality (un)consciously undermining the purpose of the moment because THIS particular movement is about SPECIFIC issues, as any decently effective movement is.” He went on to tweet, “I’ve never seen promoted by someone who actually fights for social justice. So someone getting up in arms bc of while they sit on the sidelines and do little to nothing for Black lives or anyone’s other than their own is probably not actually promoting that “All Lives Matter (Equally)” as much as they’re trying to take down the idea that ” and denying its necessity and value.”

Hillary Clinton—who had received criticism for saying “all lives matter” at a Black church near Ferguson, Mo. in June-declared on Facebook that “Black lives matter. Everyone in this country should stand firmly behind that.”

Meanwhile, Marc Lamont Hill, the Morehouse College Professor and host of BET News and HuffPostLive, exchanged words over Twitter with British journalist and television personality Piers Morgan. Much of their exchange is below:

The debate taking place in politics, in social media and the public square over the #BlackLivesMatter movement is an important one. Voices in the Black community and the anti-racism movement would argue that the rush to say “all lives matter” is at best to ignore that Black lives need special attention, and at worst to validate white skin privilege and affirm white supremacy.  Never in the history of this nation have whites been truly forced to confront and affirm the value of Black people.

The Declaration of Independence declared that “all men are created equal” at a time when Africans were held in bondage.  In that seminal document, “all lives mattered” in theory, or at least on paper, but Black lives really did not matter. In practice, the American experiment has been built on the affirmation of white lives, bolstered by the legal system and reinforced in every corner of society, at the expense of Black lives.  The Constitution made us three-fifths of a person, a part of the badge of slavery that rendered us  a criminal element in the eyes of white America, by heredity and in perpetuity.

And Black people find themselves in the same predicament today, viewed as less than human.  Due to white supremacy, we are paid less and die younger, and not unlike the days of slavery and Jim Crow, navigate through life under the constant threat of death.  #BlackLivesMatter is a struggle against the violence Black people face, but it also is an attempt to place the Black narrative on the front burner.

White supremacy is the norm in this country, so any attempt to uphold Black lives is viewed as abnormal, objectionable, or even a form of “reverse racism”— whatever that means.

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