While the coronavirus pandemic may have shed light on the flaws of existing social constructs, it did serve one positive purpose — bringing acts of violence to a near halt. But as restrictions are lifted, human hatred rears its ugly head again. The tragic news of police brutality claiming yet another life in George Floyd sent shockwaves around the world, sparking riots in cities across the United States and discourse demanding justice for him.
Twitter sparked into frenzy, with those calling for the arrest and sentencing of the cops involved dominating the trending pages. But every call for justice seemed to be met with an all familiar retort — “All Lives Matter”. While the idea makes perfect sense on paper, it glosses over the realities that the oppressed all over the world have to deal with.
A noble sentiment suggesting that every human life matters sounds great, but it is important to note context. “All Lives Matter” started in opposition to the “Black Lives Matter” movement, not in support of it. It continues to be used as a means of dismissing the very real systemic oppression faced by the African American community for decades. It dismisses the very real disparity in privilege faced by all sorts of historically marginalized groups.
Today’s interpretation of “All Lives Matter” is closer to “It’s OK To Be White” than the ideas such a movement would espouse on paper and this is blatantly wrong. Fixing this seems crucial now more than ever, as we find ourselves living in times that will likely be enshrined in history books for generations to come.
But how can we adopt ideals that are more fitting of an “All Lives Matter” rhetoric?
Well, the movement must hold those guilty and those in power accountable — there’s often great overlap between the two.
For any movement to be taken seriously, there would need to be no infighting. Demanding the best from everyone who’s part of a movement is great, but there can be instances where people think of only one ideal way of making a difference. In reality, there exist many ways of making a difference, all of which deserve appreciation and respect. Every contribution should be appreciated and energy simply cannot be wasted trying to fight the wrong enemy.
Now that the basics are out of the way, a good first step to take would be to appropriately acknowledge the diversity of identities. The use of appropriate language while addressing communities based on race is key, something wildly different from “not seeing color”— a well meaning approach that does more harm than good. This is about giving identities the attention they deserve.
Referring to people based solely on race does a disservice to a person’s identity. Calling people ”Black” or “Brown” based on race reduces them to mere shades of color. It also grossly oversimplifies the difference in cultures that fall under a single race. The term “Brown'' is often used to refer to people hailing from South Asia but completely ignores the diversity in identity that is so prevalent in that part of the world, while “Black” does not do enough to distinguish between Africans, African Americans and Afro-Caribbean people.
Acknowledging diversity of identity through use of appropriate and specific language opens doors for wider discussions about cultures. Humans tend to fear what they do not know or understand well enough. Using appropriate language helps ensure that cultural differences are made apparent and are thus on the table for discussion. It is also important to note that respect for other cultures does not require one to forego their own culture and values. Indeed, it serves to open up one’s world view.
Use of appropriate language and greater discussions about diversity alone will not be enough, as people will still cite inaccurate stereotypes as excuses for gross misconduct. Such stereotypes can be countered by fact-checks and combating malicious misinformation on social media platforms, but that is easier said than done. It is true that generations of programming can be hard to overcome, but the aim is to grow as a movement and render such people powerless, through strength of human resolve and sheer numbers.
Speaking of power, we cannot ignore or dismiss the concept of privilege.
Privilege is real.
From income disparities to health-based disparities, privilege is well documented. Income disparities result in inadequate education for youth belonging to marginalized communities, which in turn results in limited representation in workplaces and a vicious cycle continues, further cementing certain groups as more privileged than others.
Therefore, it is imperative that people who find themselves in positions of privilege make use of it for the greater good. There is no shame in acknowledging privilege — it is a result of existing social constructs and one cannot be blamed for being born into privilege — but there is great shame in silence. It is almost human duty for those in privileged positions to engage in actions that benefit those less privileged, creating room for respect and equal footing for growth. Actions on a small scale can add up to overcome the existing, flawed status quo.
Privilege and disparities bring up the concept of intersectionality — wherein multiple socio-economic factors create unique situations of disparity in conjunction. Any fight for social reform must involve this concept. It is important to understand that a movement like “Black Lives Matter” does not seek to put down others, but rather focuses on the systemic discrimination faced by the African American community. Such experiences of marginalized groups can be best explained by the concept of intersectionality, as it does justice to all facets of one’s identity.
Any greater, all-encompassing movement befitting a name like ”All Lives Matter” should work in tandem with existing movements led by marginalized groups. It should be clear that being privileged is not a crime in itself and that all lives do matter, but some lives need movements like these much more than others. This is not about bringing down the privileged. This is about elevating the marginalized to where they should be, on equal footing, being treated as humans.
Anupras is a Sophomore studying Computer Science. What do you think of today’s situation of police brutality? How do you feel about the existing “All Lives Matter” retort? Send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org