Since the inception of #BlackLivesMatter, critics have often responded by using a loaded retort: #AllLivesMatter, they say. The turn of phrase is a more polite way of drowning out a rallying cry affirming black life than one offering the politically-incorrect assertion that black lives don't matter at all.
#AllLivesMatter is a rhetorical flip that suggests particular issues impacting black people — like over-policing, hyper criminalization and economic disenfranchisement — aren't exceptional when, in fact, they are. It is also a less overt way of insinuating the lives of white people matter, too. But the creators of #BlackLivesMatter were clear about the intent of the hashtag when it was created. It was never intended to mean black people, and black issues, matter more, but that black people, and the issues impacting black lives, haven't mattered throughout the history of the U.S.
"When we say Black Lives Matter, we are talking about the ways in which black people are deprived of our basic human rights and dignity," Alicia Garza, co-creator of #BlackLivesMatter, wrote at The Feminist Wire. "It is an acknowledgement black poverty and genocide is state violence. It is an acknowledgment that 1 million black people are locked in cages in this country — one half of all people in prisons or jails — is an act of state violence. It is an acknowledgment that black women continue to bear the burden of a relentless assault on our children and our families and that assault is an act of state violence."
Despite Garza's explanation, the debate continues. But the #AllLivesMatter vs. #BlackLivesMatter debate is one not worth having. Those who proclaim #AllLivesMatter are demonstrating their lack of desire to listen to and empathize with the conditions impacting black lives. Instead, they choose to deflect attention away from the issues the movement for black lives has brought to the fore.