What's Wrong With 'All Lives Matter'?
January 13, 2015 1:36 PM   Subscribe

When we are taking about racism, and anti-black racism in the United States, we have to remember that under slavery black lives were considered only a fraction of a human life, so the prevailing way of valuing lives assumed that some lives mattered more, were more human, more worthy, more deserving of life and freedom, where freedom meant minimally the freedom to move and thrive without being subjected to coercive force. But when and where did black lives ever really get free of coercive force? One reason the chant "Black Lives Matter" is so important is that it states the obvious but the obvious has not yet been historically realized. So it is a statement of outrage and a demand for equality, for the right to live free of constraint, but also a chant that links the history of slavery, of debt peonage, segregation, and a prison system geared toward the containment, neutralization and degradation of black lives, but also a police system that more and more easily and often can take away a black life in a flash all because some officer perceives a threat.
George Yancy interviews Judith Butler for NYT: What's Wrong With 'All Lives Matter'?

This is the latest installation of Yancy's 'philosophers on race' interview series, published by The Stone [NYT]. Previous installations are linked and excerpted below.

November 5, 2014: What 'White Privilege' Really Means by George Yancy and Naomi Zack
The term "white privilege" is misleading. A privilege is special treatment that goes beyond a right. It's not so much that being white confers privilege but that not being white means being without rights in many cases. Not fearing that the police will kill your child for no reason isn't a privilege. It's a right. But I think that is what "white privilege" is meant to convey, that whites don't have many of the worries nonwhites, especially blacks, do. I was talking to a white friend of mine earlier today. He has always lived in the New York City area. He couldn't see how the Michael Brown case had anything to do with him. I guess that would be an example of white privilege.

Other examples of white privilege include all of the ways that whites are unlikely to end up in prison for some of the same things blacks do, not having to worry about skin-color bias, not having to worry about being pulled over by the police while driving or stopped and frisked while walking in predominantly white neighborhoods, having more family wealth because your parents and other forebears were not subject to Jim Crow and slavery. Probably all of the ways in which whites are better off than blacks in our society are forms of white privilege. In the normal course of events, in the fullness of time, these differences will even out. But the sudden killings of innocent, unarmed youth bring it all to a head.
November 16, 2014: Lost in Rawlsland by George Yancy and Charles Mills
In the case of race, we need to do various things, like exposing the racism of most of the important liberal theorists (such as Kant), asking what the actual color-coded (rather than sanitized for later public consumption) versions of their theories are saying (are blacks full persons for Kant, for example?), and how these racially partitioned norms justified a white-dominant colonial world. (See my "Kant and Race, Redux" in the forthcoming special issue on race and the history of philosophy of the Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal.) As I said above, we need to recognize and investigate the workings of racial liberalism/imperial liberalism, since this is the actual version of liberalism that has made the modern world and that, more subtly today, is continuing to help maintain its topography of illicit racialized privilege and disadvantage. In the title of one of my papers, we need to be "Liberalizing Illiberal Liberalism," a reconstruction of liberal theory.
December 5, 2014: White Anxiety and the Futility of Black Hope by George Yancy and Shannon Sullivan
Class and poverty are real factors here, but they don't erase the effects of race and racism, at least not in the United States and not in a lot of other countries with histories (and presents) of white domination. The challenge philosophically and personally is to keep all the relevant factors in play in thinking about these issues. In that complex tangle, you hit the nail on the head when you said that black life continues to be valued as less. Poor white people's lives aren't valued for much either, but at least in their case it seems that something went wrong, that there was something of potential value that was lost.

Let's put it even more bluntly: America is fundamentally shaped by white domination, and as such it does not care about the lives of black people, period. It never has, it doesn't now, and it makes me wonder about whether it ever will.
December 23, 2014: Black Lives: Between Grief and Action by George Yancy and Joy James
In a democracy, the implications for an ill-informed citizenry are grim. The recent tragedies remind us that this violence is sadly familiar to those who have a complex memory. We've grappled with racial animus and hatred from overseers, Klansmen and -women, police, segregationists, integrationists and various sectors of society from academia to athletics.

The implications of public servants and deputized vigilantes violating black life with impunity are profound, especially for young black people. We need to publicly debate whether it is just, moral, and appropriate, or even safe and sane, to believe in modern policing, given the fallibility, corruption and danger present in the institution. Police agencies have a history of racial bias and violence that has been investigated and condemned by governments as well as civil and human rights organizations. Citizens are supposed to flee or fight criminals, not the police. But reality teaches you that in black life you need to be ever vigilant for both.
Previous works by the interviewer and interviewees:
· George Yancy's author page at Amazon
· Naomi Zack's author page at Amazon
· Charles W. Mills' author page at Amazon
· Shannon Sullivan's author page at Amazon
· Joy James' author page at Amazon
posted by divined by radio (23 comments total) 87 users marked this as a favorite
Great post as usual dbr.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:46 PM on January 13, 2015 [9 favorites]

The intern tab in today's issue of Today in Tabs seems apropos today.
I’ve never bought the bullshit about “offending everyone equally”; it doesn’t exist. Some are always—simply, inevitably—hurt more than others. We cannot ignore history, its omnipresence and inescapability.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 2:26 PM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

I saw that great Judith Butler post and didn't realize there was more from the series. Oh man, thank you so much!
posted by joyceanmachine at 2:31 PM on January 13, 2015

While reading some of the quoted examples, it occurred to me that the term "white" seems to be used as a substitute for "not black". For example, replacing "white" with "east Asian", for example, seems to read mostly the same.
posted by enamon at 2:36 PM on January 13, 2015

Could you honestly swap Latinos, Native Americans or Middle Easterners out for "white" in those quotes, enamon?
posted by Selena777 at 2:49 PM on January 13, 2015 [5 favorites]

Depends. You're listing ethnicities which tend to differ greatly in appearances. But my point is that these viewpoints completely ignore other races, ethnicities, and the social dynamics between them.

Also, I should point out that, at least on the US Census, Middle Easterners are considered white. I don't know what kind of appearance comes to your mind when you think of someone from the Middle East but there are tons of different ethnicites and cultures there. There is no standard, uniform "Middle Eastern look". Same thing goes for Latino and Native American.
posted by enamon at 3:03 PM on January 13, 2015

There is no standard, uniform "Middle Eastern look". Same thing goes for Latino and Native American.

And for Caucasians and Africans. So what's your point in all this?
posted by Etrigan at 3:05 PM on January 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

Mod note: A comment deleted. If you want to make a post about a subject related to, but different from, this one, feel free to do so, but it's not on to try to make this fairly specific post about something else. Thanks.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 3:14 PM on January 13, 2015

If we jump too quickly to the universal formulation, “all lives matter,” then we miss the fact that black people have not yet been included in the idea of “all lives.”

This is perfect. I read (on tumblr, obvsly) someone's breakdown of why "Black Lives Matter" was necessary and vital, as opposed to just saying "all lives matter". It basically boiled down to the fact that it's black lives being ended by the police; which I think is the other side of the coin to what Butler is saying in the quote above. When you say "all lives matter" while black people are being murderd, it's almost like a no true scotsman fallacy-you're saying black lives aren't lives, and that's part of the fucking problem.
posted by FirstMateKate at 3:43 PM on January 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

I think "zero deaths" (mentioned in one link) is a good slogan. It's the kind of simple and rallying goal that requires a lot of complex changes to achieve but is clear and cutting enough to guide and measure those changes.
posted by michaelh at 3:44 PM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is only a comment on the first pull-quote, but I think it's relevant: here's what's wrong and profoundly ahistorical with that quote:
"When we are taking about racism, and anti-black racism in the United States, we have to remember that under slavery black lives were considered only a fraction of a human life"
There is a persistent misunderstanding of the three-fifths compromise. It is taken nowadays to mean that slaves were less important, less explicitly valued, but in actuality the southern slave states were desperate to have every slave counted as a full person with regard to their share of representation in the House of Representatives. The slave states wanted to bolster their power by representing their slaves as full persons, but denying them all other rights. The non-slave states insisted that a slave NOT be counted as part of the population that accounted for representation, as they were considered property and not citizens by their owners (and by the constitution).

While the rhetorical point is accurate -- in huge swaths of the country, a black life is considered less valuable than a white one -- people really need to stop connecting it to the three-fifths compromise, because that's a profound misunderstanding of the three-fifths rule.
posted by chimaera at 3:50 PM on January 13, 2015 [9 favorites]

If it's true that the result of the 3/5 compromise was to not count slaves as people the same as everyone else, how is it ahistorical to point to it as evidence that slaves' lives weren't valued as human by the South? The non-slave states were just trying not let the south have it both ways. If it was true that the South valued black lives they would have stopped trying to fight for slavery.. Oh at any time in their history. They still haven't started valueing all lives equally (see: the prison system, Jim Crow, share cropping, welfare, not accepting Medicaid expansion, police brutality, voter ID, etc).
posted by bleep at 6:17 PM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Okay, it's "a profound misunderstanding of the three-fifths rule" in the sense that it's too generous. Is that what you were getting at?
posted by uosuaq at 6:37 PM on January 13, 2015

Me? I just don't get how it's a misunderstanding at all.
posted by bleep at 6:51 PM on January 13, 2015

It’s a misunderstanding partly because of what chimaera wrote, but also because “3/5ths” is giving the slave-owning states way too much credit. I doubt they considered a slave even 1/5th of a full person.
posted by El Mariachi at 7:39 PM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Black Lives Matter is important because shit like this makes the third page of the Chicago Tribune.
posted by srboisvert at 7:53 PM on January 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

Black Lives Matter is important because shit like this makes the third page of the Chicago Tribune.
But if there ever were a textbook case about the use of excessive force by police and the killing of an innocent American, it's this one.

And trial is scheduled to begin this week in south suburban Markham in the courtroom of Associate Judge Luciano Panici. A Park Forest police officer, Craig Taylor, stands accused of felony reckless conduct in connection with Wrana's death.

It just makes me so fucking angry that they can't see past this.
posted by Talez at 8:06 PM on January 13, 2015 [9 favorites]

The only time the slave states wanted to count slaves as more than zero percent of a human being is when they wanted to bump up their census numbers.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:08 PM on January 13, 2015

#AllLivesMatter is the equivalent of charging into the funeral of someone you don't know and shouting "BUT I TOO HAVE SUFFERED LOSS!"
posted by dry white toast at 8:33 PM on January 13, 2015 [22 favorites]

It's not, like, "black lives matter," it's, like, "black lives MATTER, stupid!" It's not a philosophical position, or a sociological observation, it's an correctional admonition.
posted by carping demon at 10:45 PM on January 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

"Why not 'All Lives Matter'?" feels dangerously close to "How come there's no White History Month?"
posted by Mister Moofoo at 11:05 PM on January 13, 2015 [8 favorites]

While reading some of the quoted examples, it occurred to me that the term "white" seems to be used as a substitute for "not black". For example, replacing "white" with "east Asian", for example, seems to read mostly the same.

There was a very interesting FPP previously about Asian-American assimilation and how the definition of whiteness and the privileges that accompany it shift over time (and even then, the link in the FPP elides the different experiences of privilege and prejudice in being South Asian or East Asian). I would say that in terms of confrontation with the police, "east Asian" functions pretty damn similarly to "white".
posted by kagredon at 7:46 AM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

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