• Karen Tran-Harding

Why do some people say “white lives matter” or “all lives matter”?

Updated: Jan 9

Photo by Chris Henry

In my pursuit to find out how others think, the Black Lives Matter movement always comes to mind. It’s hard for it not to. Black people and their ancestors in this country have long been mistreated and disenfranchised by no fault of their own and it’s mainly because of systemic and not so subtle racism.

That’s why the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is so important. It began in response to George Zimmerman’s acquittal for the fatal shooting of innocent Trayvon Martin in 2013 with the death of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin sparking the Black Lives Matter civil protests of 2020. It was created to demonstrate that Black lives matter just as much as other lives.

However, some people don’t exactly align themselves with BLM social activism and instead respond with 'White Lives Matter' or 'All Lives Matter'. Some may do it accidentally because they don’t understand that such statements undermine what BLM is working for – not that Black lives matter more than any others, but that Black lives should matter just as much. The unfortunate truth is that slogans such as “white lives matter” or “all lives matter” diminish the damage and danger that the black community has long suffered throughout history.

And yes, I do know quite a few of these certain people.

Tina is one of those people - someone that asserts that “all lives matter”. And let me just preface by saying that she is not a “evil” person – far from it. She’s a mammographer who takes care of and helps diagnose women with breast cancer. Tina is an extremely kind and compassionate person, even offering to drop off groceries on struggling stranger’s doorsteps for free. A breast cancer survivor herself, she once spent over 2 hours trying to convince a patient to leave her car to receive cancer treatment and succeeded by sharing her own story.

But here’s an some excerpts from a Facebook post she made:

“I kept asking myself why the term "white privilege" bothers me so much and then I realized that I believe it's more of "rich privilege”.

I come from a LONG line of honest, hardworking, good, but very poor people. I am certain they never felt "privileged". I remember my dad telling me how he and his friends were stopped one night in a nicer area of town because the policeman recognized them from their neighborhood. He wanted to know why they were driving there and their intentions. They were stopped for no other reason than they were poor and the cop knew it. They were not troublemakers, never been arrested, just poor and humiliated.

One time in high school, I was part of a project where we went into stores dressed nicely and one where we were dressed not so great. The difference in the way we were treated was amazing. Again, we were all white, just looked poor. There are so many cases where a judge's kid, politician's kid or just a very rich persons kid has received a slap on the wrist for an offense that I know my ancestors would have served time for.”

Jessie, one of Tina’s co-workers, responded with this:

“It’s hard to ignore the fact that regardless of how they are dressed people of color are looked at as “poor” or in the wrong part of town. You can dress nicely and avoid the assumption, black people can not.”

“Oppression was and is a real thing. Something as simple as equal job opportunities are RECENT issues. Not opinion. Fact.”

Tina and Jessie went on to argue about affirmative action with Tina ending with:

“I would feel that I would be OFFENDED If someone assumes that I cannot reach my goals in this country in 2020 because of the color of my skin. I have too many intelligent, successful black people in my life to think otherwise.”

Another response to Tina's original Facebook post

So how do two white women, working and living in the same town, with the same jobs have such different perspectives?

It could do a lot with their environment – both while they were growing up and their current social situations. Obviously, Tina’s viewpoints came from her upbringing and the experiences her father told her about being poor. She is in her 50’s, married with children and chances are she may not be meeting as many people outside her close social circle. Jessie is also married with children but is younger and has more recently finished training. It’s possible that while in her technologist program, Jessie likely has met many people of different ethnicities facing struggles. Her childhood and influences may have been quite different from Tina’s as well.

I don’t doubt that Tina has black people in her life. But I do wonder how often she converses with them about deeper issues. I don’t know if the black people she knows actually honestly speak to her about their experiences being black in America. And yes, the fact that Tina doesn’t believe that the color of someone’s skin can hinder them from reaching their goals may be a little bit misguided especially when this study in 2003 showed that employers would more likely consider white candidates with criminal records than black candidates without them.

Tina also believes that the problems faced by Black Americans have to do with socioeconomic disparity but doesn’t acknowledge that these issues can stem from two reasons, not just one. I will always remember when I was in New York years ago standing in line for a Bank of America ATM machine. A white woman in her 60’s was leaning in to input her pin code but as soon as she saw a young black man waiting in line with a friend, she proceeded to make a show of covering the pin pad. After she left, I shared the exasperation felt by the gentleman when he said out loud, “Come on! I’m wearing a suit!”. Indeed, his suit did look expensive and he appeared as though he had just stepped out from his Wall Street job for a lunch break.

The Black Lives Matter movement was never invented to belittle other ethnicities, it was created to promote equality for everyone and to highlight the injustice against the Black community. And whether or not those that use the “White Lives Matter” or “All Lives Matter” slogans accidentally or on purpose, not all of them are actually “bad” people. Those people, like Tina, may have their own perceptions of the movement or a fundamental misunderstanding of BLM.

But I think that if Tina and those who have similar viewpoints continue to have non-judgmental and civil conversations with co-workers, friends, families, and even strangers that have different opinions than her own, then there are possibilities that Tina and others like her can open up to the racial injustices in the U.S.

And just like a lot of other issues in America that divides all of us, this is another example of how stepping outside of your own comfortable social zone, immersing yourself in someone else’s life experiences, and having candid conversations about discrimination can make us gain more empathy for the struggles of so many others.

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