The Devolution of All Lives Matter

I’ve been thinking a lot about the statement “all lives matter,” probably more than it deserves. Where once it may have required a reasoned explanation to the well meaning (but frankly, kind of naive) individual about basic language and social interaction, there’s little doubt that in 2020 those who spout the phrase know exactly what they are doing when they say it in response to “Black Lives Matter.” It is now very clearly a rebuke, counter-protest, and verbal middle-finger to the movement that would have us focus our collective attention on the dangers and injustices faced by the Black population.

Yet memes and social media posts continue, attempting to explain what should need no explanation. They give the benefit of the doubt that there are people out there who STILL haven’t realized “all lives matter” in reply to “Black lives matter” is – at best – insensitive, and the unaware just need a remedial lesson in English composition and manners. 

In 2016 I Facebook-shared this article from Gawker (hey, remember them?), which explained it in the best way I’d seen, taking the tack that if you do indeed mean well, you’re better off finding another catchphrase because it’s basically irredeemable. Since then “all lives matter” has only devolved, so now is it not only a proverbial sling and arrow, it might actually be used in combination with a literal one of the latter.

So while I appreciate the various memes that have been created and shared recently, trying to bring it home to someone who just doesn’t get it, I’m not so sure those people exist anymore, or exist in a significant way. Better now that the phrase be drowned out by the beats of K-Pop than for activists to put forth energy into explaining social norms to those who are fully aware of them and who are simply, willfully flouting them.

Still, as a way of putting an end to my personally stewing on a topic fueled by lingering incredulity, I’d like to highlight a few of my favorite anti-all lives matter memes and share one of my own, adapted primarily from the Gawker article written by Tom Scocca, but also drawing upon aspects of the others. In part, to provide a resource if someone wants to share one or all of them, if they are still in that mode to debate the issue, but also to illustrate the different ways “all lives matter” has been dissected and disavowed.

I don’t want nor expect this to be the final word on the matter, but I do expect future messages and memes will shift with how use of the phrase has shifted, recognizing it’s no longer a maxim co-wielded by the well-intentioned, but now an empty notion completely taken over by those in virulent opposition to Black Lives Matter. Though I wouldn’t necessarily use the same words as Seth Rogen, he seems to be on the right track.

My Favorite Anti-All Lives Matter Memes

For the one sincere about justice for all

“It doesn’t discredit or diminish any other group, it just brings awareness and support to the group that needs attention.” – Unknown Author

For the one willing to listen

“But if I change my mind now, doesn’t that make me a hypocrite? Nope. It means you’re growing as a person.” – @scarecrowbar

For the one who needs empathy

“‘All lives matter’ is truthful. But it’s hurtful and cruel in the moment.” – Doug Williford

Gawker’s article, meme-erized

Also available as a web slide.

Adapted from There’s No Good Way to Say All Lives Matter by Tom Scocca.