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Is “All Lives Matter” the New Coded Phrase for the Closet Racists?


Is the slogan “All Lives Matter” the tool for closet racists who seek to denigrate the Black Lives Matter movement and want it to go away?  Indeed it is.  And the defacement of a Sandra Bland poster in Ottawa is Exhibit A.

As Sophia Tesfaye wrote in Salon, two Canadian artists created a memorial for Bland, 28, a Black woman who died in a Texas jail cell after she was arrested following a traffic stop and held on $5,000 bail.  The memorial was defaced with a white mustache and “All Lives Matter” and offensive language was painted over Bland’s name and other areas of the mural, as CBC News reported.

The mural, which was created on a graffiti wall used as a public space for writers, was fixed overnight, as Black Lives Matter Ottawa tweeted.  Activists maintain that someone outside of the graffiti community, who disrespected unwritten rules regarding respect for other artists’ work, defaced the memorial.

“The All Lives Matter countermovement has metastasized,” wrote Tesfaye. “The attempt to quash attention to the plight of African-Americans has repeatedly reared its head in ugly ways meant to silence activists and diminish the voices of those speaking out against injustice. This time, All Lives Matter bullies decided to deface a mural memorializing Sandra Bland.”

The recently defaced mural had replaced a “Black Lives Matter” mural which had also been destroyed.

At best, the “All Lives Matter” mantra is a red herring, and that is being generous.  But at its worst, it is a tool of racist white conservatives—a quiet white riot, if you will—to downplay Black suffering in a nation that was built on Black suffering, yet never acknowledged its existence.

The #BlackLivesMatter movement is an attempt by Black people to define themselves and their situation, and to elevate the voices of those who are victimized by police violence and the criminal justice system.  Throw white paint on that message—not unlike the vandal who defiled the Sandra Bland mural—and you cover up the issues that the movement hopes to amplify, and silence a historically disenfranchised people that seeks to speak on their own terms.

As Bryan Logan wrote in Business Insider, “Black Lives Matter” is not a demand for special treatment, but a means for Black people to claim their humanity in the midst of attacks on their right to live with dignity. Black Lives Matter activists say replacing ‘Black’ with ‘All’ minimizes a movement that is meant to bring attention to the deaths of black men, women and children who have died as a result of alleged police brutality. They say it’s also supposed to bring attention to the scourge of systemic racism,” Logan said.

The agenda of the “All Lives Matter” advocates was in full view on a recent panel discussion on CNN, when former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) and conservative commentator S.E. Cupp suggested that the term “Black Lives Matter” essentially makes whites feel devalued and suggests that Black people matter more.

“We’re saying stop killing us,” said former South Carolina Rep. Bakari Sellers.  “You have African-Americans who literally do not get the benefit of their humanity,” he noted. “And that’s a problem… I’m the only person at this table whose next interaction [with the police] may cause them to be a hashtag. And that’s something that we feel, that’s a very deep pain.

Neera Tanden of the Center for American Progress echoed those sentiments.

“We have gone through these incidents, incident after incident in which African-Americans have died at the hands of police and we all see that,” she said.  “We live in this country, and that’s why people are saying Black lives matter, too. Black lives matter. We don’t need to say all lives matter because white citizens aren’t dying at the hands of police.”

Meanwhile, Cuccinelli suggested the slogan should be changed to “Black Lives Matter, Too,” as if to suggest that when Black people are dying in the streets by law enforcement, the concern should be placed on white people’s hurt feelings.

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