Over the weekend, democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley was booed off stage at Netroots Nation after crowds of protestors demanded to know what he would do to help stem systemic racism if he were elected. O'Malley answered, in part: "Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter."
Wrong answer, dude.
O'Malley fell into an all too familiar trap, telling a group of black activists who were demanding accountability on issues of racism that, actually, "all lives matter."
But why, exactly, is that phrase so problematic? On Reddit, user GeekAesthete broke it down with a perfect analogy:
Imagine that you're sitting down to dinner with your family, and while everyone else gets a serving of the meal, you don't get any. So you say, "I should get my fair share." And as a direct response to this, your dad corrects you, saying, "Everyone should get their fair share." Now, that's a wonderful sentiment — Indeed, everyone should, and that was kinda your point in the first place: that you should be a part of everyone, and you should get your fair share also. However, dad's smart-ass comment just dismissed you and didn't solve the problem that you still haven't gotten any!
The user continues:
The problem is that the statement "I should get my fair share" had an implicit "too" at the end: "I should get my fair share, too, just like everyone else." But your dad's response treated your statement as though you meant "only I should get my fair share," which clearly was not your intention. As a result, his statement that "everyone should get their fair share," while true, only served to ignore the problem you were trying to point out.
Then, the kicker:
Just like asking dad for your fair share, the phrase "black lives matter" also has an implicit "too" at the end: It's saying that black lives should also matter. But responding to this by saying "all lives matter" is willfully going back to ignoring the problem. It's a way of dismissing the statement by falsely suggesting that it means "only black lives matter," when that is obviously not the case. And so saying "all lives matter" as a direct response to "black lives matter" is essentially saying that we should just go back to ignoring the problem.
It's been hard for some to grasp the significance of saying that "black lives matter." Some, like O'Malley, later realize their errors and apologize. (He later said that he "did not mean to be insensitive in any way or communicate that I did not understand the tremendous passion, commitment and feeling and depth of feeling that all of us should be attaching to this issue.") But the confusion keeps coming up, again and again.
In the words of Alicia Garza, a #BlackLivesMatter co-founder, who made the distinction late last year in a post on the Feminist Wire: "When we deploy 'all lives matter' as to correct an intervention specifically created to address anti-blackness, we lose the ways in which the state apparatus has built a program of genocide and repression mostly on the backs of black people."
This Redditor finally helped make that point resonate.