The Tenors sang ‘All Lives Matter’ in ‘O Canada.’ They were wrong.

One of the better commentaries – Adrian Lee provides one of the clearest expressions of why the critics of ‘Black Lives Matter’ have it wrong:

In place of the lyrics “With glowing hearts we see thee rise, The True North strong and free,” the group sang instead: “We’re all brothers and sisters/All lives matter to the great,” raising a marker-scrawled sign “All Lives Matter,” before returning to the standard lyrics in French. (A note of pity here for Michael Saunders, the Toronto Blue Jays’ Canadian-born outfielder, who stared blankly into the sun as the camera panned to him during this moment.)

Let’s leave aside what they could have meant by “to the great,” and take a moment to explain why the statement “All Lives Matter” alone here is thoughtless, at best. As a dismissal, or even a response to the statement “Black Lives Matter”—a movement and rallying cry for black communities in America, Canada and beyond who have witnessed, experienced and felt acts of discrimination (both overt and subtle) and are refusing to accept societal norms that have produced police brutality and other acts of violence—it is unworthy. It is a statement that salves the oppressor; it is a sentence that erases the pain by equating that pain to those experienced by everyone. It is, as the popular argument goes, the equivalent of telling a neighbour whose house is on fire that all houses matter. It is, as my colleague Jason Markusoff noted on Twitter, the rhetorical equivalent of interrupting those solemnly pausing on Remembrance Day to say “Never forget” with a haughty “No, it should be ‘Never forget all genocides’.” Never mind that taking vitriolic offence to the brusque response one often receives to “all lives matter” takes away from the actual issues at hand. “All Lives Matter” is, at best, unhelpful because it refuses to acknowledge that people are different, and some people are hurting right now.

Some may point to U.S. President Barack Obama’s more diplomatic note at the recent NATO summit in Warsaw: “When people say ‘black lives matter,’ that doesn’t mean blue lives don’t matter. That just means all lives matter.” This, it’s worth noting, is a different point than merely saying “All Lives Matter.” That’s because saying “Black Lives Matter” does not mean “only black lives matter”; that’s a flawed premise too, and it’s a defensive reading that refuses to acknowledge that those lives actually do. The conceit of “Black Lives Matter” is about focus, and not about exclusion; the reality that most of North American society has focused expressly on lives that are not black makes this urgent, and makes “All Lives Matter” particularly cruel.

Source: The Tenors sang ‘All Lives Matter’ in ‘O Canada.’ They were wrong.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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