Written by Remi Joseph-Salisbury (March 10, 2016)
Mark Zuckerberg has expressed dismay and disappointment at Facebook employees’ continued defacement of Black Lives Matter slogans at a Facebook Headquarters in California.
Despite already having confronted employees about the issue, this week ‘Black Lives Matter’ was once again crossed out and replaced by ‘all lives matter’. This defacement is indicative of a culture of resistance to Black activism, and an unwillingness to face up to both the historical and contemporary realities of anti-Blackness and racial inequality.
As Zuckerberg acknowledged on an employee company announcement page, ‘There are specific issues affecting the black community in the United States, coming from a history of racism and oppression.’ So whilst it is indeed true that All Lives Matter, for white Americans the notion that their lives matter has never been in doubt. For Black Americans, however, this is constantly in question and is therefore in need of persistent assertion; Black Lives Matter!
Black Lives Matter, as a slogan, came to prominence in 2012 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of unarmed Black teenager Trayvon Martin. Building on the anger and frustrations of Black America (and soon Black people everywhere), Black Lives Matter quickly became a movement that challenges anti-Black racism as it operates at all levels of society. Taking an intersectional approach that recognizes diversity of gender, sexuality and disability, the movement seeks to be inclusive of and sensitive to multiple forms of oppression. However, this movement is unapologetically Black in nature; this is its essence and its power.
To focus on ‘all lives’ precludes the very nature of the problem. Not all people are harassed, assaulted and murdered by the police. Disproportionately, Black people are.
Not all people are schooled in a system that erases, through a white curriculum, the great historical and contemporary achievements of their community. Nor are all people disproportionately excluded from school and sent along a school-to-prison pipeline that acts to feed white corporate interests through the mass incarceration of Black Americans.
Not all people have a life expectancy rate that falls below the national average by 5 years; Black Americans do. Not all people have disproportionately low access to health care, are disproportionately filtered into under-resourced schools or, are disproportionately likely to be living in poverty; Black Americans are.
Each of these issues, and countless others, are very real problems that are inseparable from the influence of race and racism. Failure to recognize the way that racism operates, acts only to maintain these inequalities. This is the potential harm that is inherent in each contestation that ‘all lives matter’.
At its most innocent, and ill-informed, it is the same ill-informed colour-blind logic that leads many to well-meaningly (and some more cynically) pronounce that they “don’t see race”. This is the same logic that led Bill Clinton to claim that ‘we’re all mixed-race’, and Meryl Streep to claim that ‘we’re all African’. But if race is unimportant, and we are all the same, then why are only some of us systematically and persistently subjected to the pernicious effects of racism?
This is a logic that is ignorant to how deep-rooted and embedded anti-Blackness is. In order to dismantle the racial inequality at the heart of society, it is imperative that we do see race. We must see race.
That white lives matter is abundantly clear. It is clear in the all-white Oscar nominations. It is clear in the white dominated boardrooms of top companies, and it is made clear daily by the media.
But Zuckerberg could do more than pay lip service to this issue. The importance of white lives is clear at Facebook too, where only 2% of staff are Black. It was also made clear when Facebook made it possible to incorporate a French flag into profile pictures in order to show solidarity with (majority white) France after the Paris attacks. But what about (majority non-white) Lebanon and Nigeria, and the countless other countries who have suffered from acts of terror? It seems Facebook’s empathy doesn’t extend to all lives.
The reason it is necessary to loudly and repeatedly say that Black Lives Matter is because this is a notion that is still not widely appreciated. Rather than attempting to derail the Black Lives Matter movement, perhaps Facebook employees could try to understand their own position of white privilege.
This article was originally published on the Voice-online, and has been republished here with the express permission of the author.