BLM, ALM, and the Stupidity of Debating Slogans
In the wake of George Floyd’s death, debates on race relations, police reform, and inequality were thrust into the center of the nation’s discourse. One of the least productive and most vitriolic debates has been the argument over whether we should say that “Black Lives Matter” or “All Lives Matter.” “Black Lives Matter” supporters flooded social media with the slogan and were met with contrarian replies by “All Lives Matter” advocates. In response, BLM proponents spent time and resources organizing #AllCountriesMatter for the Fourth of July and #AllBirthdaysMatter for Trump’s birthday in an effort to satirize the “All Lives Matter” response.
Clearly, all lives do matter. Anyone who refuses to admit this is either evil, stupid, or arguing in bad faith. If all lives matter, then black lives necessarily matter as well. Therefore, no person honestly arguing either of the two slogans is arguing that black lives do not matter. As such, the rhetorical argument stands to achieve little: those who believe that “All Lives Matter” already accept the fact that black lives matter.
The two sides are not engaging in a substantive debate over whether all lives do matter or if only black lives matter. This argument is purely rhetorical. Virtually none of those in the BLM crowd criticizing ALM claim that all lives, in fact, do not matter. They instead argue that “All Lives Matter” inappropriately takes the focus away from the black lives they see as being more threatened. However, the “Black Lives Matter” camp commits the same error that it critiques the “All Lives Matter” defenders for: distraction from solving the issue. By focusing on the debate of slogans, both sides take the focus off of substantive questions directed towards achieving productive change in laws and police practice.
The US has many tough and important issues to face in the coming months and years centered on how police should maintain order while protecting liberty. Questions about police use of force, qualified immunity, collective bargaining, no-knock warrants, and police funding are positioned to have profound impacts on American life. Debating whether we should say “Black Lives Matter” or “All Lives Matter” is a distraction that does nothing to help resolve the issues we face and produce positive, substantive change. Instead, debating slogans wastes time and the public’s attention.
“Black Lives Matter” defenders may counter by stating that the slogan is a rhetorical device used to raise awareness of the importance of the issue. However, the issues are already at the center of the national stage. We do not need to be focused on awareness of the issue now. Instead, we need to be focused on solving the complex issues in front of us. Further, discussions and debates on substantive change can simultaneously raise awareness and solve issues, especially when tied back to concrete examples of inappropriate use of force. Perhaps more invidiously, the BLM movement could see the slogan as a Trojan horse to push through its desired policy outcomes through the use of rhetoric when it does not believe that substantive debates would yield the outcome that it wants. If this is the case, the focus on the rhetorical argument would be inappropriate as it would play to emotions rather than reason.
It does not matter how many people repeat the rhetoric that “Black Lives Matter” if no substantive change is accomplished in laws. The country has a challenging task ahead. Inciting animosity between people because of slogans when they agree on the underlying contentions will only hinder positive change.