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Looking for a way to explain the difference between "Black Lives Matter" and "All Lives Matter"? Try one of these six metaphors.

By Maressa Brown
June 08, 2020
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As the world stands up and speaks out for social justice, more parents are having conversations among themselves and with their children about the past, present, and where we go from here. But language matters just as much as learning. For example, given various U.S. systems and institutions act as though Black lives are dispensable, it is imperative to say “Black lives matter,” as opposed to “all lives matter.” 

“The reason ‘Black Lives Matter’ went from hashtag to a movement illustrates exactly why saying it out loud was necessary in the first place,” notes Ginna Green, a political strategist, writer, and mom of four from Stamford, Connecticut. “Anti-black racism is hardwired into America's DNA, and it touches Black lives every single day—from cop killings to predatory lending to poorly-funded schools. To say ‘Black lives matter’ acknowledges that in many ways we never did—not to suggest that anyone else matters any less.”

Explanations of the statement and the importance of not saying “all lives matter” have been popping up all over social media. Here, six examples that nail it.

1. “We Never Said Only Black Lives Matter”

black lives matter
Credit: Courtesy Sarah Smith Wills

In a moving viral photo, a 6-year-old girl named Armani from Paris, Tennessee holds a poster that reads, “We said ‘Black lives matter.’ We never said ‘only Black lives matter.’ We know ‘all lives matter.’ We just need your help with #BlackLivesMatter for Black lives are in danger!” 

Her mother, Shalyndrea Quanise, tells Parents.com, “The message itself came from another post on Facebook I had seen, and I just thought it was a strong message that needed to be seen. I explained to Armani what was going on, what we were going to do, and what the sign meant. After explaining it all to her, she was all in with smiles!” 

Quanise believes it’s important for children to be informed and involved in current events. “They are the future,” she says. “Twenty years from now, Armani will be a woman, and I pray to God she doesn’t have to do what we are doing now!”

2. It’s This House That’s on Fire

Actress Given Sharp explains in a popular TikTok video that “all lives matter” is like saying “all houses matter” when one in the neighborhood is on fire. On Instagram, she elaborated, “The fact is that white lives have ALWAYS mattered in the eyes of the government and police force. The same cannot be said for POC. No one is saying your life doesn’t matter. However, until the day comes that Black Americans aren’t being shot in their homes, in the street, and in their cars, you CANNOT tell me that all lives matter in the eyes of our society. All lives won’t matter until black lives do.”

3. A Broken Bone

Through a cute gingerbread drawing, a U.K.-based illustrator showed how saying “Black Lives Matter” is like giving necessary attention to a friend who has a broken leg. 

On Twitter, Semaj Mitchell offered a similar version of the same analogy involving a broken arm.

4. The Implicit “Too”

This Reddit thread uses an analogy of a family dinner to explain that “too” is implied at the end of the statement “Black lives matter,” and to say respond with “all lives matter” is to dismiss the statement “by falsely suggesting that it means ‘only Black lives matter," when that is obviously not the case.”

5. All Plates Matter

This video from Peace House, an organization dedicated to art and activism, features three friends and a food analogy too. 

6. A Simple Breakdown

This viral video clip created by Twitter user @JlTEAGEGE, who was just 15 when she filmed it back in 2016, makes it clear: “Black lives matter” does not mean Black people are “superior.” The content creator says, “We’re all people, of course we all matter. But are all races getting routinely killed by the police for no reason other than the fact that they are Black?”  

The bottom line: Until Black lives matter, there’s really no truth to the statement “all lives matter.” As Aliza Garza, one of the creators of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, put it in a 2014 article for The Feminist Wire, “Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important—it means that Black lives, which are seen as without value within White supremacy, are important to your liberation. Given the disproportionate impact state violence has on Black lives, we understand that when Black people in this country get free, the benefits will be wide-reaching and transformative for society as a whole. When we are able to end the hyper-criminalization and sexualization of Black people and end the poverty, control and surveillance of Black people, every single person in this world has a better shot at getting and staying free. When Black people get free, everybody gets free."

Comments (14)

Anonymous
January 19, 2021
Honestly, when you say that "Black Lives Matter," you actually are formulating Black supremacy because when bad things happen to all the other races, you could care less. For example, when a Mexican child gets taken away from their family and the parents are murdered, I don't hear you saying "Mexican Lives Matter," do I?
Anonymous
January 18, 2021
I think your comments are very narrow about the problem that exist. I think some blacks are being destroyed by a system. However, the same thing happens to other white folks who are at the lower end of the spectrum. We need to raise the social economic status of all people.
Anonymous
November 20, 2020
These comments give me hope that there is smart people in America. As someone who lives next to Portland I rarely see this.
Anonymous
November 20, 2020
These comments give me hope that there is smart people in America. As someone who lives next to Portland I rarely see this.
Anonymous
November 20, 2020
These comments give me hope that there is smart people in America. As someone who lives next to Portland I rarely see this.
Anonymous
November 20, 2020
These comments give me hope that there is smart people in America. As someone who lives next to Portland I rarely see this.
Anonymous
November 20, 2020
These comments give me hope that there is smart people in America. As someone who lives next to Portland I rarely see this.
Anonymous
August 31, 2020
Honestly who even cares why cant we just say what we want
Anonymous
August 31, 2020
Honestly who even cares why cant we just say what we want
Anonymous
August 25, 2020
Hog wash. I don't buy any of the logic in this poorly conceived article. There is no implicit "all lives matter" in the statement "black lives matter". Where is it? I don't buy any of this leftist millenial era brain washing coming out of academia either. Institutional racism? How do you explain Obama if there is such an entrenched institutional bias? If anything there is a favoritism for black talent as organizations attempt to fill quotas, push affirmative action, and destroy meritocracy with hypocrisy. White privilege? Wtf! I am supposed to feel guilty if my parents worked hard, stayed married, and invested in the education and success of their children? Isn't calling those values white privilege a bit racist in its own right? Black families matter and many do hold those values that lead to success. Put the onus on personal responsibility and hard work and not on the onerous government dependency that has desroyed the black family. Many black conservatives are seeing the reality in their communities that have been ravaged by generational poverty. It is Johnson's Great Society that has been the Jackboot on the neck of our beautiful citizens of color. Rise Up! Your oppressor is the shoddy ideology that seeks to blame white american's when personal determination and hard work is the answer. It's not ephemeral slogans, civil unrest, and criminal rioting.
Anonymous
August 23, 2020
Anonymous, I would disagree with your response. In identifying racism you must first acknowledge it. In doing so you have to use the word "black". Ignoring the most poorly treated populating as the focus and raising everyone equally will from one standpoint keep them below equal. There are other racist areas out there as well as sexism, but the movement right now is to support a specific population in the goal of equality. And right now the black population is in serious need of everyone's support if we want to truly have equality in the future.
Anonymous
July 18, 2020
Logically speaking, if "black lives matter" and "all lives don't matter," then you're implying that all black lives matter more than all lives in general, which is a formula for black supremacy.
Anonymous
June 20, 2020
To the first commenter: this article repeatedly argues that saying "black lives matter" does not mean ONLY black lives matter and to interpret it that way is to miss the point. You have missed the point.
Anonymous
June 10, 2020
Your are trying to fight racism by using the word black which in it's self is selecting an ethinic group of people who fit into that catorgory and isolating them from anyone else! It's making it sound like only black people suffer racism and no matter how many people of any colour who riot, loot, and attack under that banner, it will be blamed on black people. If we all united under all lives matter I have no doubt it will send the right message that all of us are not accepting any racism from any groups.