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Jul 12 2016
by Jake Smith

Let's Talk About #AllLivesMatter

By Jake Smith - Jul 12 2016

This week has been one of the worst in recent American history. I, like many others, have spent the last few days in a deep fog of sadness and uncertainty. I was horrified when I saw Alton Sterling’s life reduced to an execution on the pavement outside of a convenience store. I cried when I watched Philando Castile take his final breaths as blood soaked his shirt, the murderer still pointing his weapon at his fading victim. I went numb when I learned of the deaths of five police officers and the grave injuries of nine more people at a peaceful protest in Dallas.

There’s nothing much I can say here that hasn’t been said much better by people much more qualified. Essential pieces by Ashley Weatherford, Michael Eric Dyson, Stacia L. Brown and a multitude of others have explored the sobering, tragic reality of living and dying while black in America. I am one of the countless people who is struggling to come to terms with the fact that an entire group of people - almost 46 million of them - could be killed for a broken tail light or for selling cigarettes or for playing with a toy outside.

I am white, so no matter what I have to say, I will never be the best person to explain this issue. This article is an attempt to explain something to an audience that might miss this lesson otherwise.

Police brutality reduced two more black men to two more hashtags this week. Immediately, Black Lives Matter made their presence known, affirming the importance and legitimacy of those whose lives are stolen for no good reason for too often. At the same time, the more insulated side of America also began tweeting, using #AllLivesMatter after white officers were killed in Dallas.

The #AllLivesMatter side of Twitter was conspicuously silent on the issue of two black men senselessly killed in less than 24 hours, two men that they claim to care about equally, until the shooting in Dallas. If you look closely, they’ve also been very quiet when other acts of police brutality surfaced online. Sandra Bland? John Crawford? Freddie Gray? #AllLivesMatter wasn’t there nearly as proudly and passionately as its counterpart. Only after the tragedy in Dallas did I see the so-called #AllLivesMatter supporters in full force. They switched from apathy to passion as soon as a white life was stolen, completely forgetting about the “all lives” part of their own hashtag. It is used much too often to silence rather than support. #AllLivesMatter has no place on social media, and the reasoning behind why you use it is critically important to understand why #BlackLivesMatter is the better option.

So, why do you use #AllLivesMatter?

If you truly believe that all lives matter, there’s an easy fix. It can be hard to understand at first (and believe me, I definitely didn’t), but #BlackLivesMatter isn’t about putting down white people. The movement exists, in their own words, “[to work] for the validity of Black life… #BlackLivesMatter is a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society.” When you actually look at the people behind the movement, there is no hate. There is only the desire to be accepted and to feel free in a country that so often that so often cannot live up to those standards.

The hashtag is an affirmation of self-worth, established not to spawn hate but to spread acceptance. White lives are affirmed every day by society, by police, by the media. White people should be allies, but we just don’t need to appropriate and insert ourselves into the movement like we do with almost everything else produced by black people. We don’t grow up wondering if we mean anything, then having that doubt reinforced at every moment. Of course all lives have worth. It’s time to legitimize others, too, and a great entry point into that is using #BlackLivesMatter.

You shouldn’t feel threatened by the hashtag. It isn’t a method to make you feel bad or to bash good cops. It’s a way of reaching out, one that is only meant to spread love in a time of unfathomable sadness. It’s a way to tell Cameron Sterling and Dae’Anna Reynolds, and thousands of other children and family members of victims, that they are not alone.

One last thing: if you claim to believe that all lives matter on social media, you have an obligation to address injustice against all people, just as the Black Lives Matter movement already has. Black lives, Latinx lives, trans lives, and all others carry just as much weight as white lives. If you aren’t ready to accept the responsibility of #BlackLivesMatter, you can’t even claim the idea behind #AllLivesMatter. We should absolutely mourn for the slain police officers in Dallas, but if you can’t bring yourself to see the humanity in innocent people who were stolen from the world much too early, you need to rethink your priorities.

Black lives matter. Remember it.

Lead image credit: Tony Webster via Flickr Creative Commons.

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Jake Smith - Syracuse University

Jake Smith is a freshman at Syracuse University majoring in magazine journalism. He watches too much TV. Follow him on Twitter @seitzonsuccess.

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