Its effect is to stall conversations about anti-Black racism and instead either pretend that all lives do matter, or talk about everybody’s lives all at once—whether or not particular groups are subject to particular injustices right nowby Arianne Shahvisi / July 3, 2020 / Leave a comment
One item that survived my recent wardrobe clear-out is a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “Refugees are welcome.” Taken at face value, it’s a lie. In the UK, refugees are decidedly not welcome, and never have been. Asylum seekers’ applications are readily rejected, many are detained and deported, and an alarming proportion of refugees are homeless. Yet the statement is meaningful as an expression of hope: I want to live in a world in which refugees are welcome. It’s a message of protest, a provocation, an objective.
We often use slogans that aren’t strictly true in the hope that stating them publicly prompts a moral conversation which might culminate in their truth. Like “girls can do anything” (in our sexist societies, they clearly can’t), or “all love is equal” (again, not without marriage equality, or if homophobia prevails), or the fact that we hold “Pride” marches even though internalised homophobia and transphobia means many people aren’t proud. These are rallying calls around which people organise their resistance to injustice. To see their sense, you have to step back and take in their social context: widespread sexism, racism, homophobia, and transphobia.
What do we mean by “Black Lives Matter”?
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement grew out of a hashtag that trended in 2013 after George Zimmerman was acquitted of murder, having shot dead a seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin when he was walking back from a corner shop in Florida, sweets and drink in hand. Seven years later, there has been a new surge of outrage and energy following the recent killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by US police.
The tagline of this growing global movement against anti-Black racism operates similarly to those described above. It expresses mournfulness and anger, but also yearning.
“Black Lives Matter” points to two things:
As far as various major social institutions are concerned—the police, the criminal justice system, medicine—Black lives don’t matter as much as other lives. Black lives should matter as much as other lives.
Taken together, these statements form the basis for challenging anti-Black racism.
The first point is a descriptive statement. It describes the world, and its truth can be verified…