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Black Lives Matter and/or All Lives Matter?

14 November 2016


Black Lives Matter and/or All Lives Matter?

#BlackLivesMatter and/or #AllLivesMatter? Both hashtags (trending topics on social media) have ignited a national conversation on the use of police brutality, and the mistreatment of minorities in America. While they don’t have to exist separately, the way they have been discussed in the political arena of the 2016 election has pitched them against each other. One such culmination of this was in the Democratic Presidential Debate, when candidates were asked “do black lives matter or do all lives matter?”

Despite existing since 2012, the #BlackLivesMatter movement didn’t receive significant media attention until the months after the Ferguson protests in relation to the killing of Michael Brown. In the 4 hours following the not-guilty verdict, the hashtag was used 92,784 times. #BlackLivesMatter is self-described as “a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates American society.” The intention of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag is to broaden the conversation around state violence to include all of the ways in which Black people are intentionally left powerless at the hands of the state.

In public discussion surrounding the movement, #AllLivesMatter has been used as an alternative statement. Unlike the Black Lives Matter movement, it has no specific origin, but instead developed throughout debate as being a less-exclusionary statement. South Carolina’s First Black Senator since Reconstruction, Tim Scott, used the statement in an interview on CNN, citing that this statement allows us to see what we have in common and bridges racial divides. The All Lives Matter movement therefore places inclusion as a motivator behind it’s use of the phrase.

However, publicly using one statement over the other can be seen as controversial, as seen in the phrasing in the question in the Democratic Debate. Those who use “All Lives Matter” are accused of denouncing the events that only Black individuals specifically experience, whereas those using “Black Lives Matter” are accused of being exclusionary to other discriminated groups.

The tweets below (and the responses to them), show the rhetoric around this debate:

How did the Presidential candidates use the phrase/s?

Presidential Nominee for the Republican Party, Donald Trump, has been vocal about his support for the phrase “All Lives Matter”. He argues that “the fact is all lives matter - that includes Black and it includes White and it includes everybody else”. He also weighed in on the Black Lives Matter movement itself, saying “I think they’re trouble. I think they’re looking for trouble . . . I was watching the head of Black Lives Matter being interviewed the other night. And I said to myself, give me a break. All lives matter”.

Democrat Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, stated that “we do need to listen to those who say Black Lives Matter. Too many black Americans, especially young men, feel like their lives are disposable.”

Similarly, The Green Party’s Jill Stein has pledged her support for the Black Lives Matter Movement. In her statement on Bernie Sander’s decision to “work with Hillary Clinton”, she cites his support for Black Lives matter as being an important contribution to the rising demand for change among average Americans.

Gary Johnson, nominee of The Libertarian Party, was questioned on his position regarding Black Lives Matter, after an audience member during debate suggested that Libertarians respect, but do not embrace the Black Lives Matter movement. Johnson responded “Yes, Well I do. And I’ll come back to the drug war. If you’re of color, there’s a four times more likelihood that you’ll end up behind bars than if you’re not of color. And I think so much of ‘shoot first’ has to do - has its roots in the drug war.”

President Barack Obama has aimed to provide clarity on the debate. He argues that the reason the organizers use the phrase “Black Lives Matter” is because there is a specific problem that is happening in the African-American community that’s not happening in other communities. He continued, “this isn’t a matter of us comparing the value of lives. This is recognizing that there is a particular burden that is being placed on a group of our fellow citizens”.

Despite this, the public still remains confused and conflicted on the debate. A study conducted by Pew Research found that only 12% of whites and 33% of blacks say they understand the goals of Black Lives Matter. In particular, for white adults, support for Black Lives Matter is divided among party lines, with just 4% of white Republicans expressing support for the movement, in comparison to 29% of white Democrats.

This issue is still hotly debated among the public and politicians alike. Moreover, public debate is likely to continue about what #AllLivesMatter means as a response to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. If these two social movements continue to be exclusive from each other, then the stances candidates take on them may change future legislation to come.

 Hannah Spencer is a British exchange student at The University of Texas at Austin, majoring in Government and a current intern with Vote Smart. For more information on internship opportunities with Vote Smart, contact us at or by calling 1-888-VOTE-SMART 

Related tags: 2016, all-lives-matter, black-lives-matter, blog

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