Context, Common Sense and Compassion: Why ‘ALM’ is not an appropriate response to ‘BLM’

Context, Common Sense and Compassion: Why ‘ALM’ is not an appropriate response to ‘BLM’

Imagine you are at the funeral of a five year old girl who tragically died unexpectedly. The little girl’s mother is delivering a eulogy to a group of friends and relatives who have gathered to mark the sad occasion. The mother is speaking through tears about how precious her child was, and how much she cared for her, and how much the little girl mattered to her… Then somebody yells out from the back of the room “All children matter!”

Most people would think “OMG, why would you do that!?”. Most people understand that expressing how much somebody or something matters doesn’t automatically mean that nothing else matters. That should be common sense, yes?

When we see people protesting about domestic violence, and how our mothers, sisters, aunts and daughters lives matter… normal people don’t respond with “Hey, actually, all people matter”. We understand that this group is particularly concerned with the issue of domestic violence and its impact on women in our communities. It’s a good cause, and we support those who are raising awareness of the issues.

We see groups gathering to raise awareness of Breast Cancer – we see stadiums full of people wearing pink… do we respond by saying “Hang on, all cancers matter!?”. Of course, we don’t. We see a legitimate issue and acknowledge people are showing their support.

So why is it that when Aboriginal people protest to raise concerns about the deaths of Aboriginal people in custody, using the phrase “Black Lives Matter”, there are some people who insist on responding with “All lives matter!”?

Of course all lives matter, the same as all children matter, all women matter, and all cancers matter. Just because we say we care about one thing, doesn’t mean we can’t care about other things. It is possible to multi-task compassion.

Responding to “Black Lives Matter” with “All Lives Matter” can appear to be saying: “Actually black lives don’t matter unless it’s in a situation where all lives matter… so it only matters if white lives are also affected”. It has a flavour of colonial attitudes towards Aboriginal people – “You don’t matter unless we say you matter”.

Sadly, I believe that most people responding to “Black Lives Matter” with “All Lives Matter”, are exactly the reason why we need the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

Underpinning the “All Lives Matter” response are things like deep seated racism, bigotry, unconscious bias, ignorance, and often likely a desire to ensure that Aboriginal/black people don’t get any “special treatment”. And if that somehow isn’t the case, I can assure you that from the perspective of most Aboriginal people (and many others) that it certainly comes across that way. So, if you are meaning to show solidarity or support for Aboriginal or other black peoples – please do not do so using the ALM tag.

If one-day Aliens come and attack the planet and are killing humans indiscriminately… please feel free to protest and wave placards saying: “All lives matter”. Until such time, please drop it from your conversations as it is offensive in the current global context of protesting systemic and institutionalised racism and can be seen as a deliberate antagonism to people and communities who are already experiencing grief and trauma.

There is no good reason to respond to “Black Lives Matter” with a comment that “All lives Matter”. The appropriate response is “Yes, they certainly do. And what can I do to help make a difference?”.

Note: All opinions expressed are those of the author. Credit to others who have used similar analogies on social media – I did borrow a few ideas (thank you!), but the words here are my own.

Nathan Tyson


1 thought on “Context, Common Sense and Compassion: Why ‘ALM’ is not an appropriate response to ‘BLM’”

  1. Well said, Nathan.

    I’ve shared this approach a couple of times, so apologies to those who’ve seen it before, but ….

    Father runs down front path calling out #prodigalsonslifematters
    Elder brother mopes around, refuses to attend welcome home party, declaring #allbrotherslivesmatter
    Father responds, of course they do, but right now #itsnowjustaboutyou

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