Hey White Progressives, Saying “All Lives Matter” is Not Okay


One of several mind-boggling aspects of the whole O’Malley / Sanders Town Hall debacle is the insistence of white progressives that saying “all lives matter” is an acceptable response when asked whether black lives matter.

I was confronted with this on Saturday at Netroots Nation, and again yesterday on Facebook. I even encountered genuine anger about Martin O’Malley apologizing for saying all lives matter.

I struggled in responding, because to me it’s instinctive that “all lives matter” is an inappropriate, unfeeling response. That’s the mind-boggling part. I can’t believe people need this explained to them. Especially those who consider themselves progressives.

I’m guessing Donna encounters this feeling on a regular basis from commenters to her posts who need an explanation why their chauvinistic (or even misogynistic) comments are unacceptable. Donna, I’m feeling your pain.

“All lives matter” is dismissive. It’s an implicit denial that racial disparities exist. People really need this explained to them?

This issue has taken on a life of its own. Dara Lind, at vox.com, addresses it well in Why Martin O’Malley had to apologize for saying “all lives matter” Any progressive who is struggling with why “all lives matter” is not okay should read Lind’s entire piece, but I’ll share this analogy she quoted from Reddit, which is brilliant in its simplicity:

Imagine that you’re sitting down to dinner with your family, and while everyone else gets a serving of the meal, you don’t get any. So you say “I should get my fair share.” And as a direct response to this, your dad corrects you, saying, “everyone should get their fair share.” Now, that’s a wonderful sentiment — indeed, everyone should, and that was kinda your point in the first place: that you should be a part of everyone, and you should get your fair share also. However, dad’s smart-ass comment just dismissed you and didn’t solve the problem that you still haven’t gotten any!

So, white progressives who insist that “all lives matter” is okay as a response to “Black Lives Matter”, after reading that analogy, do you still not get it?


  1. While I agree with what you say regarding the use of words, I do not come to the same conclusion as you when it comes to the implied meaning of “Black Lives Matter”
    “For example, to me, the “non-literal” meaning of the phrase “Black Lives Matter” (as the ferocious arguments on this Blog and the attached references imply) is really “Black Lives Matter More”.

    Or, to paraphrase the Pigs in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”: “All lives matter, but some lives matter more”.’

    It’s obvious to me that it means, “Black Lives Should Matter As Much” . But again, when words are not used properly, it leaves a lot of room for interpretation for those who are literal thinkers, or for those who are not capable of thinking through to find the real meaning. Whoever came up with the campaign slogan for this movement should be fired. Sure, people are talking– just not about what matters.

  2. Bob, I know you are probably tired of hearing from me, but as I was reading some more of the responses to what you wrote, I found myself laughing because it occurred to me that all this discussion about “Black Lives Matter” is taking place among what appears to be an entirely white audience. We are all very seriously going back and forth about what it means, what context must be used in understanding it, about what the candidates have done (also all white), or they should do, or they shouldn’t do, who is right, who is wrong, etc. And yet, as far as I can tell, not one of us has first hand knowledge on what it actually means to be black. It is like we are the proverbial twelve blind wise men, each one of which tries to describe the elephant based on what part of the elephant they are touching.

    I don’t mean to diminish the conversation – because it is important – but it does strike me as a little surreal. So many experts, yet so little expertise.

    • If you read my earlier post, you’ll see that I actually interviewed a woman who helped organize the disruption. And if you read the reports about O’Malley’s apology, it’s fairly clear that the statement is offensive. This really isn’t hard stuff, Steve. I know you’re struggling with it, but it’s just not that hard to get. You should read the vox piece I linked to, and perhaps a couple of the other articles out there on the subject. I you try hard enough, you’ll be able to understand this.

      • By golly, you are correct, Bob. My apologies for the oversight. You know, I sense I have worn out my welcome with you on this subject, so this will be my last comment. I will leave further discussion to the tender mercies of your more understanding and knowledgeable commentators.

        Thank you for posting a couple of interesting Blogs (based upon the number of responses you received)!

  3. Yes, Bob, I needed it explained to me. I consider myself a progressive, and I don’t consider myself either ignorant or stupid. But I was surprised by the reaction to O’Malley and his subsequent apology. I did some reading about it and then I understood. But I disagree that instinctively any progressive mind should know that and I think it would be more constructive to make more white liberals understand that they need an education on the black experience in this country rather than chastising them for not knowing it instinctively.

    • “I did some reading about it and then I understood.”

      Loral, in countless conversations over the weekend and comments to this and other posts (both here and on Facebook) of mine, you’re the first person to say “hey, now I get it.” I don’t fault people for not knowing it instinctively, I just have trouble understanding that. But what do you make of people who’ve had it explained to them (often multiple times) and, unlike you, they still don’t get it? Same goes for O’Malley, who actually did get it after having it explained, but what was going on with his campaign that he was entirely unprepared like that? It was like in 2008 when Bill Richardson needed to be educated that people are not gay or lesbian by choice, they’re born that way. He got it once it was explained to him, but how could he have been so badly out of touch not to have learned it earlier?

  4. Remember the african-american woman shot by the police who’s casket was pushed through downtown phoenix streets. I didn’t see white elitist liberals did you?

  5. I heard the best analogy last night, but my Romnesia-afflicted brain can’t find it. Can anybody help? It’s about serious/fatal diseases that “matter.” One AIDS or the HIV virus. Thanks in advance.

  6. They fact that this catch phrase requires so much explanation is a clear indication of the problem. “Black Lives Matter” is a terrible phrase for bring attention to the issues present in the black community. Black Lives do matter– but, ALL lives matter is a clear and logical response to the phrase. I’m not white, a misogynist, or a chauvinist. I am also not as literal minded as many folks so I understand what the the message is. But people less literal minded are probably struggling with it. On another note, when did it become O.K to refer to African Americans as black?

    • ” I am also not as literal minded as many folks so I understand what the the message is.”

      Words have meaning and are meant to be taken literally. The problem that arises when words are not taken literally is confusion as to what is actually meant. This uproar over “all lives matter” versus “black lives matter” is an excellent example of what happens when words are not meant to be taken literally…the words become meaningless, or, worse, they become a form of “code speak” for something no one wants to say outright. For example, to me, the “non-literal” meaning of the phrase “Black Lives Matter” (as the ferocious arguments on this Blog and the attached references imply) is really “Black Lives Matter More”.

      Or, to paraphrase the Pigs in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”: “All lives matter, but some lives matter more”.

  7. Bob, were you there at Netroots Nation? I didn’t see your name in the mobile app’s list of attendees.
    I heard another analogy…the fire department shows up in your neighborhood because one house is burning, they don’t say “all houses need to be saved” and squirt water on all the houses, they concentrate their efforts on the one house that is burning and needs their immediate help because…it is an emergency!
    Black people are being murdered by law enforcement in America, that is an emergency!

    • I was there, but I registered late on Wednesday, so I probably didn’t make the mobile app list.

  8. “So, white progressives who insist that “all lives matter” is okay as a response to “Black Lives Matter”, after reading that analogy, do you still not get it?”

    I am not a “white progressive”, Bob, so that is probably why I don’t get it. It seems to me that ALL lives DO matter, and not just black lives. I didn’t understand your analogy at all because it made no sense in itself.

    Hold on a minute…in reading your response to Captain Arizona I think I might be on to something. White Progressives should get it, but seem to be having problems; White Centrists are bad at getting it; so-o-o, to interpolate, White Conservatives are probably incapable of understanding it. Right?

      • Although my earlier response to you was somewhat tongue in cheek, I really do wish I could understand this difference you see between “all lives matter” and “black lives matter”. It seems very important to you liberals that the distinction be made. I can’t help but think that if I could get my mind around it I might have a little better insight into what makes liberal behave the way they do.

        I didn’t read the article you referred to. For some reason I wasn’t able to open it. I am going to try again in a few minutes and see what it states on the subject. Perhaps I can get a better insight into what the difference is and why it is so important to you all.

  9. Mrs Clinton gets it bernie doesn’t or his white elitist supporters and o’malley is nobody.

    • I thought Clinton stepped in it on “all lives matter” as well. Are you sure she “gets it”?

      And, this should have gone without saying, but as embarrassing as white progressives are on this front, white centrists (where Clinton gets a lot of her support) are even worse.

        • I think earlier on she said all lives matter. What she said on Facebook two days after the event is pretty close to meaningless.

          • In my article from May 13, I linked to a news story about Hillary Clinton’s speech at Columbia University (April 29, 2015) in which she called for body cameras on all law enforcement officers, ending mass incarceration, “racial imbalance” in policing, recent murders of innocent young blacks by police officers, militarization of local police, etc.

            Quoting the article from CNN:
            …reforms she said that need to be felt “on our streets, in our courthouses, in our jails and prisons, in communities too long neglected.”

            Clinton linked the need for reforms to income inequality issue, too, an issue her campaign has said she will champion on the trail. “We also have to be honest about gaps that exists across out country, the inequality that stalks our streets,” she said, arguing that good policing will only do so much if issues like unemployment and poverty are not also addressed.

            The presidential candidate called for federal funds being spent to “bolster best practices” not “to buy weapons of war that have no place on our streets.” Her suggestion come after many on the left and right have questioned the militarization of law enforcement during protests in Ferguson, Missouri last year.

            Here is the article:

            My article also links to another article where Hillary calls for ending discriminatory voter suppression laws passed by Red States.


          • So, the Sanders’ and O’Malley campaigns knew for 2 months what Clinton’s position statement was and didn’t bother to develop statements of their own. Unbelievable. Thanks for pointing that out.

      • She doesn’t get it. I agree wholeheartedly with your piece….the fact that you have to explain this, or try to negate real feelings of Black lives matter…makes my head hurt. Just shows how clueless and heartless some people are. I agree with Bree Newsome…

        Bree Newsome @BreeNewsome
        If you truly believe all lives matter, then the importance of saying “#BlackLivesMatter” should not be vexing to you
        12:07 PM – 18 Jul 2015
        2,473 2,473 Retweets 2,734 2,734 favorites

        • “If you truly believe all lives matter, then the importance of saying “#BlackLivesMatter” should not be vexing to you.”

          Cheri, I am not vexed by the idea that “Black Lives Matter”. I am just puzzled as to why black lives matter more. The current kerfufle on this site make it clear that, somehow, black lives matter more than all others and I don’t get that. I am not a stupid man, nor do I think I am clueless or heartless. I just don’t understand why black lives are valued above all others.

          • In this country, right now, they are not valued at all. That’s the entire point of #Blacklivesmatter!

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