On Tuesday, an all-star baseball game in San Diego became political. While singing the Canadian national anthem, one member of the homegrown quartet The Tenors changed the lyrics to include "All Lives Matter" while holding a sign with the same slogan. The catchphrase is an adversarial response to the Black Lives Matter movement -- and it is all too common in Canada.
Just last summer in Ottawa, a tribute mural to Sandra Bland, the woman who was pulled over in 2015 for failing to signal and a few days later died in a Texas jail, was defaced with the words "All Lives Matter." The phrase exists for a simple reason: Too many white people instinctively see Black Lives Matter as a threat to their racial dominance.
It's no surprise that in North America, white men are the group most vocally against efforts to create a more equitable society.
Those who claim Black Lives Matter is exclusionary ignore the statement's obvious context: black lives are undervalued. There is no need to say all lives matter because white people are not discriminated against and killed because of their race. Still stuck? The best explanation comes in the form of a viral cartoon titled "all houses matter," in which a person hoses down a normal house while the one beside it burns in flames. The house on fire matters because it's in crisis, not because it's inherently more valuable. Black Lives Matter is not a movement for hippie-ish world peace, it's a response to North America's racial emergency.
Most All Lives Matter peddlers aren't outright racists who yearn for a return to the era of Jim Crow. More commonly, they are folks who deny "white privilege" because they've seen black people in suits and subconsciously want to protect their own superiority. Powerful groups are always desperate to hold on to that power. As a result, many manufacture excuses to not feel basic empathy for marginalized people and allow their emotions to overpower basic logic.
It's no surprise that in North America, white men are the group most vocally against efforts to create a more equitable society. They have spearheaded men's rights groups to combat feminism. They form the base of Donald Trump's supporters. When a BuzzFeed editor and friend of mine tweeted about wanting pitches from writers who "are not white and not male," she was accused of violating labour laws and harassed so badly she temporarily deleted her Twitter account.
But it's not only Caucasian men who too often feel entitled to be at centre of every conversation. As a white, heterosexual feminist with parents who paid for my university education, I often forget my own privilege. I sometimes write about women as if we are some monolith I can represent, when in reality the gender discrimination I face pales in comparison to the many obstacles LGBT, low-income or women of colour are up against.
We'll never have an equal society if Caucasians can't admit their own privilege.
It's hard for anyone who's been encouraged to take up space their entire lives to step aside. But the desire for white people to guard their privilege like a pot of gold is destructive and delusional. All Lives Matter is nothing more than an attempt to say white lives should continue to be prized above others. It's a rallying cry for white supremacy under the guise of a Kumbaya-like inclusionary message.
The instinct to preserve a race-based advantage results in support for xenophobic policies. There's Trump and his wall to keep out Mexicans, Stephen Harper's attempt to ban niqabs during citizenship ceremonies and transphobic bathroom bills, just to name a few. Politicians regularly label attempts at fostering diversity as "threats" so as to preserve the dominance of white, heteronormative culture.
We'll never have an equal society if Caucasians can't admit their own privilege. The All Lives Matter slogan is not a bridge that unites racial groups, it's a shield that protects white power. If you really care about all humanity, best to align yourself with the most important racial movement since the civil rights era instead of quibbling over semantics.
This post previously appeared in the Ottawa Citizen
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