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‘All Lives Matter’ Is Code For “I’m So Privileged That I Don’t Think Black Lives Matter”

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By David Mallory

Black Lives Matter‘ arose out of the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2013 and the, all-too-frequent, murder of people of colour by American police forces as well as the attendant system of institutional racism within which police brutality is situated. ‘All Lives Matter’ and ‘Blue Lives Matter’ arise out of a privileged misconstrual of Black Lives Matter.

Black Lives Matter Demonstrators March In New York City
Source: Kena Betancur/Getty Images

It seems obvious that ‘All Lives Matter‘ is the latter-day version of saying, “I don’t see colour” or “colour doesn’t matter”. ‘All Lives Matter’ is the refusal to acknowledge differentiation of privilege and the ways in which white privilege informs and reinforces institutional racism.

I am free to say that all lives matter when my life has always mattered as a white person.  I can say that colour doesn’t matter when my life chances and choices have not been constrained due to the colour of my skin.  By refusing to recognise institutional racism and its performance by privileged actors on a daily basis, racism is perpetuated.

All too many Americans slam ‘social justice warriors’ for perceived over-reactions on the issue of police violence against people of colour, just as they denigrate the LGBTQ movement or try to turn feminism into a dirty word.   These dismissals are interconnected; however one feels about the cultural trappings of social justice movements or the efficacy of social media activism, to reject them is patently reactionary.  Similarly, pernicious denials of racism aren’t only ignorant, they are nefarious when the outcome is the maintenance of the status quo.

‘Black Lives Matter’ and the multiplicity of ‘New Lefts‘ are pushing against entrenched systems of exploitation and oppression; even if their horizontalism leads to diffusion of focus, they are, nevertheless, fighting the good fight.   Whatever our racial or socio-economic position, we need to answer the very simple question: what side am I on?

It is critical to look at the big picture and affirm the truth that, whatsoever constrains the realm of the possible for the forces of oppression and the state apparatuses, is positive. Tactics and strategies will change but the pressure mustn’t stop. That which forces individuals to examine their own privileges and prejudices is positive.  To be white and uncomfortable means that things are moving in the right direction.

Similarly, if and when there are perceived missteps in such a chaotic struggle, we must recognise that these are small prices to pay for progress. Attempts to reframe the conversation around the shooting of police officers in Dallas or black-on-black crime or to divorce socio-economic issues from the moorings of institutional racism are ways, the forces of privilege are attempting to silence the opposition. Instead, they should be acknowledged as such and rejected as alternative narratives to the narrative of ‘Black Lives Matter’. Those who automatically drift towards the side of the police and are willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, when they don’t give the benefit of the doubt to people of colour, reveal their true colours.

blm 4
A list of names of black people who have died due to police brutality. Source: Yana Paskova/Getty Images

Institutional racism and personal racism are mutually reinforcing internal relations.  ‘Black Lives Matter’ targets institutional racism by shining a light on police brutality against people of colour and the inaction by the judicial state apparatuses.  ‘Black Lives Matter’ targets personal racism by pushing issues of white privilege into white consciousness.

Racism directly impacts the life chances of people of colour and that’s why we have to say ‘Black Lives Matter’. Institutional racism is most clearly visible in the state apparatuses: the judicial system, the prison system and the police. The facts are overwhelming and belie anyone’s anecdotal complaints to the contrary:  Blacks are three times more likely to be searched by police during a traffic stop and four times more likely to encounter police violence during their interactions with police.  Despite making up only 13% of the US population and 14% of illegal drug users, 37% of drug arrests are African-Americans. African-Americans receive, on average, 10% longer sentences than their white counterparts, for the same crimes. One in three African-Americans will serve time in prison throughout their lifetime. In India, the story is much the same with comparable incarceration rates to percentage of population for Dalits and Muslims. Black college graduates have double the unemployment rates and have twice as hard a time finding employment as their white counterparts.  Black wealth is typically 6% of white wealth. The statistics that demonstrate institutional racism go on and on and are reinforced by personal racism and implicit prejudices. In virtually every measureable category, whites exert enduring and noticeable privilege.

We can also see institutional racism dovetail with the imperatives of capitalist exploitation through black unemployment and under-employment (11.4% unemployed compared to 5.3% for white Americans). Black America serves as a key element of the Reserve Army of Labour. Racism as ideology, serves to justify the narrowing of choices and chances for certain groups of people in terms of employment opportunities, options and remuneration in comparison with the dominant group – White America. This is a parallel process to the way public patriarchy subsidises low wages for working people by viewing the labour-power of women’s domestic work as part of the wage.

Despite these facts white Americans will spout nonsense about ‘reverse racism‘ just as many in India will bemoan reservations. This is the institutional corollary of ‘All Lives Matter’; in the face of the documented existence of ongoing discrimination, there is the insistence to treat everyone equally, where equal means the perpetuation of white privilege. Affirmative action/positive discrimination/reservation is essential to address these systemic inequalities. ‘All Lives Matter’ is the perpetuation of the status quo, an articulation of privilege in the face, to an organised and legitimate challenge to that privilege; privilege never cedes ground without a fight.

Again, we need to ask ourselves which side we are on and why.  Let us recall that in 1963, 60% of the US population opposed Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s March on Washington. Today only 40% of white Americans support the Black Lives Matter movement. When the underlying causes of racism have not been uprooted then we will see that history runs in the same old patterns.

As we move forward we must put pressure on the state apparatuses that enforce institutional racism but we must also seek to change our interpersonal relationships as those of us with privilege unlearn our conditioning and seek to engage in a more equitable and aware manner. Those of us who are white must realise that we have racist baggage to deal with and that this is a process, not a one-off rectification. Above all else, we must always be on the side of those at a structural disadvantage, especially against the armed and militarised power of the state.

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  1. Ayushman Mishra

    Where should I start? Let’s talk about reservations and I’ll relate to BLM from there on (Bear with me).

    Reservations were a chosen solution to remove caste system or to be more precise to help those that society did not want to help.

    There has always (I mean always) been a part of society that didn’t like the caste system; the size of that part of society might have increased over time. Does that mean that providing reservation to Dalit’s has worked?

    Let me put through another line of thought here, see if you can follow. 5% of India’s current population are brahmin (minority?), these numbers have only decreased after Independence, I don’t see any setup for reservations? If you doubt this please go ahead and read:

    Please read : http://www.rediff.com/news/2006/may/23franc.htm

    It was the financial support and ease of job provision that helped the Dalit’s move above the restrictions of society, but the tag of being a “dalit” stuck with them, some even carried it themselves.

    What helped the Dalit’s was the economic support that was given to them, and I will say that not all of them got this support. But the ones that did; never stopped taking it. If you say the common man comprises of the economically average person then why aren’t reservations based on economy? If you want to end the caste system why do you incentivize it by providing reservations and financial help?

    A system that was setup 60 years ago and hasn’t helped solve the problem rather grown to such a percent that 50% quota is being given; has a problem. I’m pointing out that problem.

    By all standards the only reservations that should be present are ECB (Economically Backward Class), this category would encompass every individual that needs help irrespective of their caste or religion or color. It would not incentivize being poor as this would ensure that help goes to those that live below a line.

    Now, yes you may say but this system has helped so many people, they have become IAS officers, officials and many respectable people who achieved a lot! Why should we think of changing it?

    This is where reservations in India get related to BLM movement:
    Is it fair to put Billions on only 50% of the education seats available and “SC/ST” are given the rest 50% as quota? Would you consider this injustice to the rest of the population?

    I myself have been an engineering student(lucky me my parents had the money to pay for the management quota; a lot for my family) because all the seats were taken by state or central quotas. During my time there, I had friends of mine who had well to do families and backgrounds but used their “ST/SC” quota to pay 1/10th the fees I had to pay, they were still my friends, they agreed it wasn’t right but it’s how things worked. On the other hand I have a friend belonging to a “higher caste” who is working in a shop as a salesman to pay his own college fees. I am proud of him, I like him and all my friends. They being lower caste or higher caste is not the problem, the problem is the way this system is setup. It should only be judged on the economical background of a person to provide reservation.

    The BLM movement is moving towards the same goal.

    The police brutality which appears to be targeted mainly towards the black community is something that nobody denies, but also give a reason for it. Needless to say, it has to change, the unchecked power of the police force and their mentality for suspecting a black individual over a white reasoning the imbalanced crime rate committed by black Individuals does not suffice; A criminal should be taken as a criminal no regards for his ethnicity. At most his deeds mirror his/her life, not their community.

    Now having said that, BLM does not play the same tune, it paints every white individual as a racist and as someone who needs to atone for sins by his forefathers or by other people of the white community. This is “Racism”, or what you call “Reverse Racism”; (all white community is bad). According to me and many more like me, there is no “reverse racism”, because there is no high or low or direction in which power flows, all ethnicity are equal for us. You, like the current system in India portray that there is a lower ethnicity and a higher ethnicity (use of margins for relating the BLM and reservations), and that racism only can be done by a higher “privileged” race to a lower “under privileged” race. That is where we see a sense of racism in YOU!

    Because you see the difference and we don’t. We do see people hurting people because of their ethnicity but we feel they are wrong, and you stand almost next to those people because you emotionally hurt another community of ethnicity.

    I urge you to think again, I do not argue that there isn’t racism against black community but I also say that BLM movement is racism in itself, and following it will not solve any problems.

    Asking for special treatment; the motive of the movement is unjust. Prodding incidents of police brutality and placing it under BLM movement to further their objective is what loses it, when people say all lives matter, they mean it. A rally against police brutality will gain you all the support. A rally for open tests and undisclosed candidates for job applications will also gain all the support. But BLM is not the movement that I or people like me would support because to fight evil I will not support another evil even though it is a lesser evil.

    In the end I pray for all the lives lost civilians and officers and that their be a solution fitting a country of the free and brave.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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